When choosing a therapist, it is important to consider their Areas of Practice. specializes in:

When choosing a therapist, it is important to consider their Areas of Practice. specializes in:

When choosing a therapist, it is important to consider their Areas of Practice. specializes in:

Toward Digital Health

Some historians as well as the medical community have now termed this current catastrophic milestone as “peak content.” Nowadays based on previous metrics in media usage, Americans are exceeding 11 hours of time spent daily reading, interacting with, listening to, and watching media content. Combined with both sleeping and eating, this exceeds our daily allowance for regular life activities. Whether the consumption of incessant You Tube videos for Gen Z or becoming immersed in the amusing world of viral tweets, consuming large amounts of media will have repercussions. Greg Hochmuth, one of Instagram’s founding engineers, realized he was building an engine for addiction. “There’s always another hashtag to click on,” Hochmuth said. “Then it takes on its own life, like an organism, and people can become obsessive.” Instagram, like so many other social media platforms, is bottomless. Facebook has an endless feed; Netflix automatically moves on to the next episode in a series; Tinder encourages users to keep swiping in search of a better option. Users benefit from these Apps and websites, but also struggle to use them in moderation.

According to Tristan Harris, a “design ethicist,” the problem isn’t that people lack willpower; it’s that “there are a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job it is to break down the self-regulation you have.” As of 2017, 1 in 5 Americans are now maintaining mental health challenges. Millions are suffering from mild to more acute versions of anxiety and related mood challenges. Suicide rates continue to rise within the last two decades. More work is yet to be conceived tied to the causal link between media diets and navigating depressive circumstances. The newest and latest technologies that fuel our media consumption far outpace the latest and brightest scientific inquiry; this makes these effects much more challenging to understand and even digest.

Not all of media consumption can be weighed as negative

Social media Apps as Twitter and Instagram are in direct antithetical representation to others as Headspace and Calm. Whether these digital products are promoting better vision for behavioral health or have the potential to become altogether another addiction into the onlooking of the digital presence of others – certain digital tools and assets have the potential for good versus not.

Digital literacy retains many benefits and is pushing our digital culture to understand and ponder ways to reflect on a more rewarding, safer, and healthier existence. Analogous to food, we deserve a greater understanding of digital nutrition in simpler and stronger terms. Addressing both the benefits and risks of our digital age is a necessary reflection and part of the ongoing national conversation. It is paramount to also give consideration to how digital hygiene can impact our most intimate relationships, sense of belonging versus loneliness, sleep, food consumption, and other innately psychological and biological factors.

Literacy and hygiene around our digital culture is mission critical in order to effectively navigate these current trends. Abstention can be a healthy alternative but when unaided and unassisted by other methodologies, it will not work. The compulsion toward consuming is too powerful. Force of habit to withdraw from content can be ineffective. Abstinence from media interaction is nearly impossible – but certainly cannot be fully achieved by itself as a practice for the large majority. “The impact of social media has been huge,” one clinical psychologist indicated. “Social media has completely shaped the brains of the younger people I work with. One thing I am often mindful of in a session is this: I could be five or ten minutes into a conversation with a young person about the argument they have had with their friend or girlfriend, when I remember to ask whether this happened by text, phone, on social media, or face-to-face. More often the answer is, ‘text or social media.’ Yet in their telling of the story, this isn’t apparent to me. It sounds like what I would consider a ‘real,’ face-to-face conversation. I always stop in my tracks and reflect. This person doesn’t differentiate various modes of communication the way I do . . . the result is a landscape filled with disconnection and addiction.”

Tech giants as Apple and Google have already started to implement digital tracking tools and screen usage safeguards

Healthy skepticism as well as objective critical support can be altogether applicable toward a healthy digital life. Introduced filters, scheduled downtime from connected devices, and regular opportunities for digital withdrawal and detox are all employable strategies from major tech infrastructures. Some Apps are taking specific measures to address toxic content on their platforms as well. A like on Facebook and Instagram strikes one of those notes, as does the reward of completing a World of Warcraft mission, or seeing one of your tweets shared by hundreds of Twitter users. The people who create and refine tech, games, and interactive experiences are very good at what they do. They run thousands of tests with millions of users to learn which tweaks work and which ones don’t—which background colors, fonts, and audio tones maximize engagement and minimize frustration. As an experience evolves, it becomes an irresistible, weaponized version of the experience it once was. In 2004, Facebook was fun; in 2016, it’s addictive.

More recent advances in neuroscience and psychology have increased our current understanding of how neurotransmitters such as dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and GABA. These are strongly correlated with specific feelings, and they can be triggered by various types of digital material. This implies that we can begin to identify, list, reveal, and teach people what’s actually in their videos and digital assets. Most of these clinicians firmly believe that people deserve to know the possible effects of the content they consume, not just their theme, temperature, or portion size. If we desire and endeavor to achieve better behavioral health outcomes, people everywhere need a greater degree of transparency. And there’s plenty of reason to believe in the promise of proper labeling, based on prior success in similar categories—from food labeling to TV ratings.

Tech is not seen as morally good or bad until it is wielded in certain directions by the corporations that fashion it for global consumption. Apps and platforms can be designed to promote rich social connections; or, like cigarettes, they can be designed to addict. Today, unfortunately, many tech developments do promote addiction. Many in broad tech sectors, the entertainment industry, policy makers, and academics alike are resorting to a labeling system to better categorize and identify various types of digital content. Still in early stages – there is a greater level of enthusiasm and optimism surrounding these dynamics.

Digital Health

Here are simple and accessible tactics for promoting healthy and meaningful connection in relationship to our age of digital media

We need to be more responsive, timely and urgent in how we navigating these trends, and this list will help:

  • Minimize screen time and enjoy the outdoors as a family. Going outdoors can minimize electronic pleasures and empower the brain toward a general positive mood. As parents, look past the collision between social media and early development and pursue outdoor activities as a way to establish re-connection and emotional intimacy within the family. Reinforce the notion that, as a family, you can put down the phone and still have meaning and purpose.
  • No one should sleep within 10 feet of a smartphone. The blue light that the smartphone emits is equivalent to our brains interpreting it as sunlight, and will keep us awake and disrupt quality cycles of sleep, reducing the sleep hormone melatonin, and making it harder for us to sleep. Buy an inexpensive alarm, put the phone away from your bedroom environment and avoid the wake-inducing light and stimulating material that are seen to disrupt the quality of sleep.
  • Create opportunities for face-to-face dialogue. Developmental Psychologist Susan Pinker highlights that societies that integrate more face-to-face dialogue actually experience a higher quality of life. Additional reflections from Susan Pinker on the social landscape of the nation can be viewed here. Recent studies show that teens and young adults who spend more time in person with friends and family are noted to be happier, less lonely and less depressed overall in contrast to those that spend more time interacting within media.
  • Promote healthy behavioral changes with electronics. More recent neuroscience studies are identifying that the premier way to battle excessive screen time for youth will be to implement activities that release dopamine. Physical exercise, meditation, dancing, a cold shower and listening to music all contribute to the brain’s pleasure center activity being turned on. If your child has a smartphone, you as the parent can get specific Apps that limit time spent on certain sites, lock the phone after a certain amount of time or allow you to see if your child is being a responsible user. It can be better to install controls and limits first, before giving your child access to a smartphone, such that your child does not use the smart phone as the central focus.
  • Use a 5-minute rule for distraction. The human brain is known to not attend, remain focused or be present when there are multiple cognitive tasks that are presented and require our conscious attention at the same time. Whether for studying, reading, or other related content, remain focused on the task for 20 to 45 minutes until you are fatigued or need to re-focus. Then spend 5 minutes on media before returning to your task. During work or study, putting the device away can enable greater focus on the task at hand and minimize distraction. Set an example for your child by using your device in moderation.

In the smartphone era of our digital culture, Psychologist Les Greenberg explains, “The whole person self is… created by a dialectical interaction of two streams of consciousness – immediate direct experiencing and ongoing symbolizing and reflexive explaining that organizes experiences to create an enduring sense of self.” In this perspective, it is the ongoing use of digital media that has contributed to this repetitive dance between real-life experiences and creating an ideal version of the self.

Healthy skepticism as well as objective critical support can be altogether applicable toward a healthy digital life. Introduced filters, scheduled downtime from connected devices, and regular opportunities for digital withdrawal and detox are all employable strategies from major tech infrastructures.

By Deepak Santhiraj, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

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