Healing our Relationship with Technology for Better Mental Health

Let me ask you something: are you currently reading my words through a mobile screen? If the answer is yes (to which, I would not be too surprised), you’ll probably resonate with my words for the next six to seven minutes. Why? Because most of us consume content online on a daily basis. Even better, we consume content, engage with it and connect with people. All through our devices; mainly our phones, I must say.

If you are reading my words via a smartphone, don’t worry; there is nothing to be ashamed of. Since Apple added the ‘screen time’ option to iOS, I have been particularly interested in analysing my very own trends when it comes to being ‘plugged in’.

Millennials and Gen Z are more connected than ever — and that has been a key player in the way their mental health is performing on a day-to-day basis, even more so than the older demographic.

A survey of UK smartphone users by Chinese phone maker OnePlus suggests that young people are five times more likely to lose their temper because of slow download speeds than older phone users. The phenomenon, called “load rage”, is linked to data showing that two-fifths of millennials admit feeling the symptoms of burnout — including fatigue, insomnia and anxiety — because of the digital-heavy nature of their lives (The Scotsmanonline).

This kind of data is not just linked to sensational headlines; it also can prove a very serious correlation between burnout, anxiety and technology. The truth is, we know that our screen time is affecting our mental health. The same OnePlus research suggested a high level of awareness about excessive phone use among younger people, with nearly half of those aged between 16 and 24 claiming they would like to reduce their screen time.

In early 2019, Instagram announced a test to hide the likes from the platform. Despite arguing this is part of a bigger business ploy, there could be mental health benefits for users as well. When asked about this major change, a spokesperson told Mashablethat Instagram is “exploring ways to reduce pressure on Instagram”.

Scientific studies show just how much social media affects our mental health, with a direct correlationbetween social media use and depression. It’s making us more anxious, too. Anecdotally, you’ve probably felt social media anxiety at some point and, with this, you may have revalued your relationship with technology altogether.

You are not alone. What we are still missing is a clear solution (or a series of practices) that we can implement when awareness is high. Nevertheless, there are more and more studies looking into how we interact with the online world.


Reconnecting with boredom


Over the last 100 years, the way we consume content has drastically changed; think Netflix, for example. “We are very used to being passively entertained,” says John Eastwood, PhD, in Smithsonian Magazine “We have changed our understanding of the human condition as one of a vessel that needs to be filled”.

Essentially, we don’t know how to do “nothing”. Nevertheless, reconnecting with boredom can be incredibly beneficial not just for our mental health, but also for our creativity: “we, as humans, do our most original thinking and best problem solving when our brains are allowed to wander”, shared Manoush Zomorodi, author of Bored and Brilliant. Studies clearly back this up by suggesting that activities like walkingcan improveboth productivity and creativity.

If you are up for a challenge and looking to test this theory for yourself, try to take the 48-hour challenge on Instagram.


The burnout generation


Our relationship with technology is quickly exacerbated when technology is the most important tool for our working life. Millennials are workaholics — a study in 2018found that 23% of American workers feel burned out “often or always”.

In the New York Timesarticle “Is Burnout Real?, Weill-Cornell psychiatrist, Richard Friedman, argues that “unrealistic and misleading” expectations resulting from “a shift in cultural attitudes” may be causing many workers to take stress or dissatisfaction as something much bigger than what it is.

Burnout can have effects on our mental health, yet it’s still hard to pinpoint it as a condition, and this is where researchers are getting stuck. Nevertheless, if you are attaching a negative feeling to your devices, or you physically feel discomfort or pain when approaching your laptop (I’ve been there myself, so I know this is as real as it gets), you are attaching a negative feeling to technology.


Bringing self-awareness into technology


Introspection is a great tool when it comes to understanding the root causes of burnout. To bring better awareness, take notes about everything that causes stress in your life — in every area that is important for you.

Lack of self-awareness is, indeed, okay since stress, over time, takes a toll on both body and mind, and the signs are there. However, from a high-achiever point of view, when you are so passionate about what you do, you often refuse the idea of being on the brink of burnout — until you freefall into it ‘without notice’. However, the signs — both physical and psychological — are there.

Being able to spot the signs and feelings I associate with being overwhelmed has been key for me when it comes to my relationship with technology. My most used ‘panic button’ is an “emergency meditation” available on Calm, my meditation app.

It’s no surprise Calm became the World’s First Mental Health Unicorn, securing $88 million dollars to invest in the mission of improving the health and happiness of the world.

Technology helping us with mental health and technology? This could just be the beginning of an amazing journey, opening up a whole new conversation about mental health and the way we consume content and engage online.

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