In a world where advances in technology aim to improve our connection with society, the result has been complete disconnection. We have become disconnected from one another, and more alarmingly, even disconnected from ourselves.
In numerous studies, our over-attachment to technology has been linked to health issues such as fatigue, stress and depression in young adults. New research out of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden reinforces this fact. Four studies were conducted by doctoral student Sara Thomée and her colleagues at the University of Gothenberg’s Sahlgrenska Academy. They studied the effects of heavy computer and cell phone use on the sleep quality, stress levels and general mental health of 4,100 young adults between the age of 20 and 24. Their studies found that heavy cell phone use, as well as regular, late night computer use, showed an increase in sleep disorders in men and an increase in depressive symptoms in both men and women. They also discovered that those constantly accessible via cell phones were the most likely to report mental health issues.
One theory as to why this occurs is that the blue light from TV and computer screens affects melatonin production and melanopsin stimulation. This in turn disrupts our circadian rhythm, thus interrupting or preventing deep sleep and causing an increase in stress and depressive symptoms.
Our unhealthy relationship with technology has also given rise to a condition known as Electronic Screen Syndrome. Electronic Screen Syndrome, or ESS, causes a sensory overload that over-stimulates our nervous system. It can also lead to eye-strain, blurred vision, headaches, neck/shoulder/back pain, insomnia, carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis. More alarmingly, excessive screen use has also been shown to damage the brain’s gray and white matter.
Brain scan research performed in China found gray matter atrophy, compromised white matter integrity, reduced cortical thickness, impaired cognitive functioning and impaired dopamine function in adolescents with internet addiction. In short, excessive screen time appears to impair brain structure and function.
Another aspect of excessive screen time that may be affecting our mental health is our addiction to social media. Is Facebook making you unhappy? University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross conducted research on eighty-two Ann Arbor residents over a two-week period to determine their happiness levels while using Facebook. Kross found that the more people used Facebook the less happy they felt - and the more their overall satisfaction declined from the beginning of the study until its end. The data, he argues, shows that Facebook was making them unhappy.
One reason that Facebook and social media contribute to our unhappiness is through social comparison. We tend to determine our personal self-worth based on how we compare to others around us. Unfortunately, this way of thinking only serves to strengthen our innate insecurities.
Scientists found Facebook usage can put women in a more negative mood where they make more appearance comparisons, giving them a greater desire to change their faces, hair and skin. This ties into the social comparison theory that centers on the belief that there is a drive within individuals to gain accurate self-evaluations.
The social comparison theory was initially proposed by social psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954. Festinger believed that we engage in this comparison process as a way of establishing a benchmark by which we can make evaluations of ourselves. The more you compare yourself to others, especially via social media, the more negative headspace you create for yourself.
Disconnecting from technology, especially from social media, allows us to reconnect with the people around us. Feeling socially connected is a basic need that improves both physical health and psychological well being, as well as reduces feelings of anxiety and depression. As human beings, social connectedness is crucial to our health and survival.
Brene Brown, Professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, once said in an interview, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” Creating and nurturing close relationships with others is one of our most fundamental human needs.
Studies have even suggested that stress due to conflict in relationships leads to inflammation levels in the body.
Look at your current relationships, could they be better? Are you putting in the time and effort needed in order to strengthen them? Or are you taking your relationships for granted? Don’t make the mistake of unwittingly allowing important relationships to dissolve right before your eyes. Families break up as a direct result of neglect. Just as new plants need to be watered and fed regularly, your relationships must be nurtured with adequate love and care in order to flourish.
In recent years, there have been many studies documenting some incredible emotional and physical health benefits as a result of human touch. From a handshake to a sympathetic hug, physical contact allows your body to produce ample amounts of the “love hormone” oxytocin. The neuropeptide oxytocin, released by your pituitary gland, is a naturally occurring hormone in your body with incredibly powerful, health-giving properties. The simple act of hugging is a great way to boost your physical and emotional health.
According to one study, a 10-second hug a day can lead to biochemical and physiological reactions in your body that can significantly improve your health. It can also lower your risk of heart disease, reduce stress, boost your immune system, fight infections, fight fatigue and ease depression. Do you need any more reasons to make sure you hug someone everyday? Neuroeconomist Paul Zak, also known as “Dr. Love”, recommends at least eight hugs a day to be happier and enjoy better relationships.
Take a close look at your online habits. Do you find it easy to switch off? Or are you up late at night reading your emails, surfing the net or checking Facebook? Look at ways that you can implement “online times”, for example, dedicate only 20-30 minutes a day to checking social media. Do you think your relationships are negatively affected by your online use? Are you kids online while at the dinner table? Is checking your cell phone the last thing you do before you go to sleep and also the first thing you do when you wake up? Be sure to set some ground rules and stick by them. Even if you don’t have an over-attachment to technology, learning to develop and nurture your relationships is still a crucial practice.
Today, look at one important relationship that you value and think of ways that that relationship can be improved. Don’t discount your relationship with yourself either, as all relationships are a reflection of how you feel about and treat yourself. Can you spend more quality time with that person? What ‘gift’ can you give that person to enrich your relationship with them? Think beyond money. Of course you could always buy them a small gift to show how much you appreciate them. How about the gift of time, or love, or support, or even knowledge? Can you help them through an issue or help them to move forward in some way? Perhaps a hug is all that is needed to deepen your connection with them?
In our home, we have the ’10-second hug’ rule. When we hug, we make sure it lasts for at least 10 seconds! Nothing feels better than a loving hug from your five-year old daughter! The longer the hug, the more time you allow oxytocin to work it’s healing magic! Is there someone you can hug today for at least 10 seconds?