Social Media and Mental Health

Today’s scene: I’m at one of my favorite lunch spots with some friends engaged in a lively conversation catching up on all things important: the latest show on Netflix, jobs, pets, volleyball, kids, stress…you name it, we’ll talk about it. Within the first five minutes of our meetup, I feel engaged, connected, and important to my partners in this game called life. If you passed by our lunch table that day, you’d see smiles, hugs, laughter, lots of food, and a limited number of cell phones, if any.

Wait, what? No cell phones? What if we missed a call, text, email, or social media notification?? What would happen if we weren’t accessible in that very moment??? Unless it was a rare emergency, probably nothing, actually. We were willing to forego that discomfort to connect with each other and disconnect from distraction. And, who fondly remembers that time everyone met for lunch and stared at their phones the entire time and said nary a word to each other? I’d imagine not many.

We need these boundaries and time away from technology. Research shows that excessive use of technology and social media can have significant and negative impacts on our mental health. To challenge the notion of “staying connected” (which really just seems to translate as “being accessible”) through social media, I’d like to also advocate for a better balance of being both accessible through technology and social media as well as being able to connect with the real world in a meaningful way without distractions and without demands from the ethos.

How is this boundary setting done? It’s challenging to disconnect or regulate your technology access when you live in a world of immediate access, information, and gratification. I admit that I did at times find myself feeling “itchy” wondering what texts and other notifications I was missing at lunch. And then it dawned on me how much technology had impacted my mood and my ability to be present for real life matters such as friends, work, and trying not to walk into a pole while texting. I then took a deep breath and enjoyed the peace of not being “on demand” all the time.

Sometimes the cell phone needs to be out, because reasons. Simply put, there are no hard and fast rules for setting boundaries with technology, but they are important to talk about with others, and to consider for yourself. Why not start the conversation next time you’re out with friends or family, and take a minute to set technology “ground rules” for the event. I bet you’ll see some sighs of relief amidst the protests.

Stay truly connected, and not just accessible. Make sure you disconnect sometimes and experience the real world. Your happiness and well-being depend on it!

In solidarity, and in kindness, Dr. Farwell