Think back to this morning. What was the first thing that you did when you opened your eyes? According to a recent study by Deloitte, it’s more than likely that you reached over to your bedside table, turned off the alarm on your smartphone and delved into your Instagram feed to see what you might have missed out on overnight. An action that may seem harmless, but may in fact be contributing to rapidly increasing symptoms of anxiety and depression amongst Millennials and Gen X-ers – a segment of the population that many have aptly dubbed “Generation Anxiety.”
Though we’re quick to point fingers at social media apps like Facebook and Instagram as the main culprit, there are a variety of factors that contribute to the impact of smart technology on mental health. And despite the increasing number of studies pointing to the potentially harmful effects of the Internet age, staying connected continues to be an integral part of both our work and personal lives.
So instead of simply telling you to throw your smartphone out the window, unplug your Apple TVs and revert to a life in full analog, here are some solutions to help you unplug the technology and reconnect with yourself.
Social (Media) Anxiety
We live in a hyper-connected society, where social media is no longer simply a pastime, but a deeply ingrained part of our everyday life. Face-to-face communication has been replaced by superficial “likes” and “pokes” that mask themselves as intimate interactions. We’ve created a world in which we are alone together, placing a glass screen between ourselves and the world around us.
Social media has also created a culture of artifice – where even a simple coffee run turns into an artful opportunity to showcase your life. Through filters and hashtags, selfies and latte art pics, we’ve created artificial brands for ourselves – lenses through which we represent ourselves to and interact with our friends, family and followers. We’ve unconsciously distanced ourselves from each other, resulting in a new form of loneliness.
The remedy to this state of perennial “Fear of Missing Out” (otherwise known as “FOMO”) is not necessarily to delete every account and commit ourselves to a life entirely offline. It’s about combatting our willfulness and committing to time away from the sites and apps that perpetuate this anxiety.
1. Let Your Devices Be Your Willpower
Sure, it’s easy to say that you should minimize the amount of time spent on social media apps, but there’s often a vast distance between saying and doing in this case. Lucky for us, there are a number of apps and programs out there that do the work for you.
Apps like Freedom and SelfControl can be installed into both your laptop/desktop or mobile devices to block out sites that can be incredibly distracting when you’re trying to be your most productive and present self. These programs block social media sites and apps, as well as distracting content hubs like Buzzfeed for set amounts of time, giving you the opportunity to unplug, unwind and spend some time IRL.
2. Beat the Blue(light)s
You’ve likely heard tell of the negative effects of the blue light that emits from our screens on our sleep cycles and overall health. Though not all blue light is bad, studies have shown that blue light can have psychological effects, and may have an impact on our circadian rhythms, which can lead to poor sleep quality.
There are tools and practices to help limit the effect of blue light on your health. Try turning off all screens at least an hour before you plan to head to bed, and make your bed a screen-free sanctuary. If you absolutely must spend time on your device at night, you can install programs like F.lux onto both your computer and mobile devices. F.lux is set to slowly begin replacing the blue light of your screen with softer yellow and red tones as the sun sets, decreasing the disruptive effects of late-night screen time.
3. Read In Bulk
We’re inundated constantly with news and information – both essential and superficial – with few filters available to sieve out what’s real, researched and reliable. The political, economic, environmental and cultural realms are increasingly unpredictable, unreliable and hard to navigate. With a 24-hour news cycle, it’s no wonder that feelings of anxiety and unease are at an all-time high. Now, we are not suggesting that one completely disconnects from current events and culture – being an active participant in society is as important now as ever. With that being said, it has become necessary to be more conscious of the frequency at which we’re absorbing this information.
Programs like Google Alerts allow you to set notifications for certain keywords and news topics that are delivered to you as a bundle at set times throughout the day. Turn off the notifications you’ve set on your devices for your favorite publications and sign up for their daily newsletters instead – you’ll receive all of their top stories at the same time each day, allowing you to set time to really concentrate and absorb the information you’re being served. Trust that those breaking news alerts will still be there on your lunch break or when you get home from work.
4. Make it a No Binge Zone
How many times a night do you see the phrase “Are you still watching?” flash across your screen? If you’re an avid Netflix-er, it’s likely pretty often. Sites like Netflix, Facebook and YouTube know that the key to success is keeping users tuned into their pages for as long as possible. They are setup to continually stream, automatically cueing up similar content to suck you into a vortex of kittens, #fail memes, and music videos that just keep going until you come out of your daze and finally close your browser window.
Unfortunately, there’s no app out there that prevents this from happening (just yet). In this case, your best weapon is sheer will power. Set limits for yourself when you settle down for your evening binge, and remain mindful. Are you still interested in what you’re watching? Do you know how many episodes you’ve watched? Stay present and remember – that fourth episode of Law & Order will still be there tomorrow night.
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