Our digital dilemma – Does technology have an effect on our mental health?

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A quick search on Google and you will find the verdict is still out. The contrasting views on whether technology or social platforms truly effect our mental health are endless. Academic studies vouching for each side making it relatively tricky to navigate what is accurate and what is based on theory.

Digging deeper into the research does however paint a picture that technology and social platforms, when combined with what is required in life to keep a mind and body healthy, does leave a fine line to walk.

When we think of “health” for our body and mind, we know the basics, eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, be productive, spend time with loved ones and take some time out to relax. We also know there are only 24 hours in a day.

In most cases, eight hours of that are spent working, most likely behind a screen. And, according to a study done by RescueTime across 11,000 users, an average of 3.15 hours a day was spent on smartphones (that’s 47 days a year). The study also concluded that over 60% of those users checked their smartphones over 50 times a day generating a behaviour of “Multitasking” with the remote distractions aided by technology.

Based on cognitive science and more recent studies on multitasking by Paul Atchley, Ph.D. a professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Kansas, multitasking as we think of it scientifically does not exist.

It has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking.

Multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation.”

Being present and productive

In Layman’s terms, we have conditioned ourselves to believe we are being present, and productive when our brains are constantly functioning from a place of urgency, distraction, stress and information overload. And we are doing so for hours on end.

When we add in the hustle and bustle of life, traffic, dinner times, Netflix and the recommended sleep time of six hours, how much time are we left with to spread across our weekday for self-care and quality connections with those we love without interruption?

Although the research on the effects technology and social media has on our mental health is inconclusive, the neuroscience behind our brains function and the lack of more hours in a day does beg to question whether we are using the time we have, to be productive and present?

And are we prioritising what benefits our mental health in the long term?

If you’re like me, and fall into those statistics, of over three hours of screen time and constantly picking your phone up. It might be thought-provoking how frequently we are “too busy” to do the things we love or to spend more quality time with our kids.

How do we get that time back? (22 hours a week).

With cold turkey off the menu for us working folk, using monitoring apps such as RescueTime, Apple’s Screen Time and Google Digital Wellbeing can seem like a canny way to cut down on phone use.

Although my research didn’t give me definitive answers to the effects of technology use on mental health, the numbers had me looking for tips for a healthy relationship with technology:

  • Setting a schedule and a time limit for social media and news platforms.
  • Switching off notifications for apps that are not required for work.
  • Reducing screen time before bed – sleep mode on smartphones.
  • Implementing more technology free time.
  • Set limits around response times to messages.
  • Delete apps that don’t benefit me.

The only trouble is, as Audre Lorde said, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”.

So, mediating our technology habits are going to depend mainly on our own self-awareness, common sense and willpower – with other tactics being useful but supplementary.

Read more: Historical changes to how we consume technology

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Mariette Tolmay
Mariette Tolmay
Mariette Tolmay is the marketing lead at Stratus Blue. She can be contacted at mariette@stratusblue.co.nz.

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