The Key to Maintaining Your Digital Well-Being

How to be responsible about your digital wellness and mental health.

Posted Jul 03, 2018

Have you ever found yourself scrolling through a social media rabbit hole? Perhaps you’ve lost track of time, and maybe you have even experienced difficulty recalling what you were viewing in that span of time. From morning through nights, and perhaps several hours in between, the increase and pervasiveness of digital immersion is gaining attention as a potential mental health concern.

According to the PEW Research Center, within the last decade there has been a steady increase of social media usage. Although the platforms may vary, a consistent theme seems to be the potential for users to engage mindlessly. According to the Center for Human Technology, the reason this is happening is because, "Technology is hijacking our minds and society." Considering disengagement, researchers have questioned the threshold in which use can become unhealthy and potentially problematic. Excessive social media use can put users at risk for general technological consequences such as increases in vision problems, sleep problems, distractions and/or accidents, infections, and health concerns associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Excessive use of technology has also been associated with several mental health concerns such as poor psychological well-being, poor self‐ confidence anxiety, depression, lower emotional stability, and lower life satisfaction.  Specific to social media use has been associated with problems such as sleep deprivation, stress, anxiety, self-esteem, social isolation, social comparison, loneliness, and depression.

But social media is, well, social. So aren't there benefits too? How can I tell  if use is beneficial or problematic?

Social media can be effective in connecting with others, which is helpful for overall mental health. The complexity of benefits and consequences makes it difficult to weigh the pros and cons, and to determine when use is problematic. In contrast to the concerns above, researchers at the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri found that social media use does not have a significant negative effect on social interactions or social well-being. In a survey of over 30,000 individuals across the globe, it was noted that students who use social media more often do not necessarily spend less time studying. Furthermore, students who use social media to engage about education may actually have better grades. This particular finding highlights the idea that the key to fostering digital well-being is not as simple as monitoring time of use, it is in how social media is used.

wikimedia commons
Source: wikimedia commons

When it comes to your digital well-being, you need to aware, proactive, and mindful about your use. Recognizing the need for digital wellness, companies are releasing technological improvements to help in this process. Kevin Systrom, the CEO of Instagram, shared his hope that usage would be "positive and intentional." Today, Instagram unveiled the “You’re all caught up” feature that notifies users when they have seen all posts shared within 48 hours. Similarly, Facebook is working on “Your time on Facebook” feature to help users manage their usage. Additionally, the iOS 12 will include upgrades to help users balance a digital balance.

However true mindfulness starts from within; you do not need to wait for enhancements to facilitate your own awareness. Further, to truly improve your digital wellbeing, it may be helpful to use these enhancements once available, but caution relying on them. You have the ability to heighten your own recognition of your awareness. Seek, try, and create strategies that help you to monitor your own use.

wikimedia commons
Source: wikimedia commons

Here are a few suggestions:

  • If you’re worried about falling into a time warp, use accountability strategies such as setting a time limit. For some this can be done with simply setting the intention of using a certain amount of time. If you need more structure, you can use a timer.
  • If someone else in your circle is concerned with their digital well-being, you may be able to aid one another. Have conversation about how you can help each other with friendly reminders.
  • If you are concerned about your social media use affecting your sleep, it may be helpful to charge your device in another room. Also, try to reinvent your bedtime routine. Replace with a strategy to improve mental health instead such as journaling or deep breathing.
  • Since social media use can trigger a pleasure response in the brain, The Center for Humane Technology suggests shifting your screen grayscale to remove those positive reinforcements.