Digital Overexposure and Cultivating Stability
by JiJi Russell
As screen technologies rapidly expand, and indeed dominate, so many aspects of our society today, I invite you to consider the following perspective offered by wellness professional Dr. Brian Luke Seaward: “In a culture defined by short attention spans, training your mind to focus on one thing without ricocheting all around is a form of mental stability.”
Not long ago, the idea of “training” one’s mind resided off in the margins, in various camps of meditation, perhaps, or maybe within the realm of competitive sports, which demand the ability to concentrate as a means to higher performance. As a corporate wellness professional, I’m encouraged to report that training for concentration and focus has now entered, and in some places truly taken root, within the workplace as well. Such training gives us a tool to help cultivate stability in the truly unstable realms of digital media.
The time has come for American households to follow suit, to become more aware of the psychological toll that digital overexposure can place on us and our children.
The question looms: Do adults truly realize the perilous instability that might be knocking on their own mental and/or emotional doors, as a result of incessant digital connection? Not to mention the threat to the psychological stability of their children?
As Seaward stated in an interview with the Wellness Coalition of America (Welcoa): “It is the ego that keeps the brain active all night with anxiety about past and future events. It is the ego’s curiosity or voyeurism that is drawn to many of today’s digital distractions, and it is the goal of meditation to domesticate the ego for mental, emotional and even spiritual wellbeing.”
How well do you know your ego? The better understanding you have of your ego and your mental and emotional tendencies, the more powerful source of strength you can provide for yourself and your children or grandchildren living in a world of laissez-faire exposure to violence, sexual content, virtual “friends,” “likes,” and so many other psychological and spiritual challenges that confront us through the media.
Your brain on screens
One grave problem with screen time overload, reports show, is disrupted sleep. In a nation where at least half all adults suffer from poor sleep (either in terms of quantity and/or quality), looking at one variable that remains in our immediate control (screen usage) seems a reasonable practice. Researchers now believe that screens can disrupt the function of the pineal gland, which controls melatonin production (the “sleep hormone”). The blue spectrum light from screens can suppress the production of melatonin, in effect limiting the feeling of normal tiredness at night.
If all of that’s not enough to compel your attention, consider the observed damage that digital addiction has been shown to cause on the brain itself, according to multiple studies synthesized in Psychology Today.
“Taken together, [studies show] internet addiction is associated with structural and functional changes in brain regions involving emotional processing, executive attention, decision making, and cognitive control.” These results were laid out within neuro-imaging research entitled “Abnormal White Matter Integrity in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder: A Tract-Based Spatial Statistics Study.” (Lin & Zhou et al, 2012).
How much is too much?
Ask yourself to honestly assess how often you feel irritable, distracted, “foggy,” or angry when no concrete cause exists. Furthermore, how often do you take your life’s challenges or problems to social media rather than bringing them up face to face with a friend, a family member, or a professional counselor? Consider assessing your screen usage, and absolutely look at your sleep. Do you get seven to eight hours a night? You should.
You can self-assess your screen use by taking the “Digital Distraction Test” – http://virtual-addiction.com/digital-distraction-test/ or the Smart Phone Addiction Test: http://huff.to/1Amvohi.
For children, the American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends avoidance of all screens for children under two, and a maximum of two hours per day of high-quality material for older children. The AAP plans to update its guidelines on media use later this year due to the rapidly expanding landscape of media usage among children and teens. The latest findings and guidance from the AAP can be found at www.aappublications.org/content/36/10/54.
To gain insight into teen and pre-teen screen media usage, check out Common Sense Media’s illustrative graphics and data at http://bit.ly/1RO21Ze.
I don’t have studies to back this one up, but the prevailing wisdom I’ve read and heard from psychologists, wellness professionals, and wise elders goes like this: Anyone, young or old, with a nagging concern, will mostly likely find greater comfort and resolution in sharing it with a real person, face to face with human emotion, than otherwise putting it in the hands of social media, or suppressing it through a multitude of other screen technologies. Life is hard; humans need human connections to make sense of it all.