Switching off for ourselves

We are well-versed in the knowledge that longer screen time is linked to anxiety and depression, but how do we make this work for us in a busy, digital world asks Dr Asma Naheed…

Often, we find that anxious people use social media to ease their stress.
A form of switching off that seems to soothe frayed nerves. But, in reality, this usage and screen time worsen their condition.

If we compare social media screen time with something such as reading in class or using a screen for eduational purposes, we can see that social media screen time has adverse effects on the brain integrity and connectivity of brain structure.

Studies show that the social comparisons typically found in social media usage, and the constant chasing of likes, follows and comments, is set up to drive unhealthy thought patterns and drain our positive energy.

Therefore, anxious minds leave their devices with new anxieties. These anxieties affect daily life, and so anxious people return to digital platform to relieve them. This cycle only increases pressure on a worried mind, ensuring it becomes a powerful reinforcer for screen time.

The problem of digital overload is undeniable – we all are struggling to create balance. A recent study looked at 18- to 22-year-olds and how social media impacted their anxiety levels. The more time they spent on it per day, ‘the greater the association with anxiety symptoms and the greater likelihood of an anxiety disorder,’ says Anna Vannucci, coauthor of the study and a research associate at Connecticut Children’s Medical Centre.

Social media overload may be even more detrimental for teens and adolescents, says Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and author of the forthcoming book iGen. ‘I think young people, especially, look at the so-called “highlight reels” people post on social and compare themselves so that they may feel depressed or negative emotions as a result,’ she says.

As a psychologist, I know that in using social media, we receive useless information that constantly shifts our attention from one source to another. This sensory overload over-activates our sympathetic nervous system and activates parasympathetic nervous systems, leading to chronic stress, which caused brain inflammation, cardiovascular disease and hormonal imbalances.

Digital overload also causes inattentive behavior, sleeplessness, brian fog, tiredness and impatience. This overload makes people feel anxious and stressed out and affects their experience of reality.

If you want to manage your digital overload, start with kindness. Unplug yourself for a few hours every day, and disable notifications, and think of it as being kind to your brain.

Fill the time you have back with mindful meditation and walking, which gives our minds a chance to re-boot and re-charge our mental batteries.

Consuming excessive information in one sitting affects our mental performance and processing and makes us less efficient. So, we need to streamline our intake capacity. When you are using your screen, be more selective about what you do, and prioritise the information that best serves you, not that which increases your anxiety.