The Digital World and Our Minds

By Yulia Gorokhovsky, PsyD

These days, most of us can probably agree that we are constantly tuned-in to our devices, from the moment we wake up, until the moment we go to bed. Our smartphones function as alarm clocks, GPS devices, cameras, notebooks, wallets, reminders to do basic tasks, entertainment centers, and, perhaps, most importantly, tools to connect with others. Using our devices – in a post-pandemic world – has become a necessity. But what is the impact of staying tuned-in on our mental well-being? Is it destroying our mental health or improving our lives?

The answer to this question is not so black and white. Like other pleasures in life, there are pros and cons and it falls somewhere in the middle. The key is moderation and to practice mindfulness while being engaged.

The helpful:  Arguably, the most helpful aspect of technology for our mental well-being is remaining connected to other people, especially as many of us continue to work remotely and remain more isolated than in the past. Having the ability to connect with others allows us to stay in touch with those who live far away and make connections with those we may never have met. Connecting digitally can be a particularly helpful tool for those struggling with feelings of loneliness. In fact, research tells us that for retired adults, having access to the internet or email is linked with less likelihood of being depressed!

Our ability to connect with others can offer us support when we are feeling alone and in need of a listening ear or distraction. This in turn can help with feelings of anxiety and depression.

The not-so-helpful: On the other hand, being constantly tuned-in to the happenings in the world and the social media “highlight reels” of others’ lives can lead to increased anxiety, exhaustion, and unhelpful comparisons of those around us. As mental health professionals, we frequently hear about our clients’ heightened worries about politics and the state of the world having an impact on their mental health. While these are important topics to consider and get involved with, research finds that the more aware we are of stressful events in others’ lives, the higher our stress levels become. Moderation and balance are particularly important.

Additionally, while providing some convenience and flexibility, having consistent access to our work devices while at home can lead to blurred work-life boundaries and cause exhaustion. The constant use of technology can keep us awake at night and seriously disrupt our sleep schedule!

So how do we balance it all and take some time away?

      • Reduce the noise: Disable notifications from news apps and non-urgent email messages that are likely to cause unnecessary stress throughout the day. Also, try to mute work-related notifications outside your work hours. This way, you can take breaks to fully disconnect and choose when to tune-in on your own terms.
      • Set a nighttime routine: Creating a wind-down routine at night to disconnect and prepare for sleep can help improve our quality of sleep and, in turn, our mental health. Try keeping your technology out of bed as much as possible and reserve your bed for sleep and full relaxation so that your mind associates bed with sleep. Turning off our devices is much easier said than done, but there is one simple way to kickstart this habit: move your phone charger away from your bed so you are forced to put it away at night.
      • Build healthy habits together with your kids: Just like us adults, kids use technology to remain connected to peers, relax, and do schoolwork, but they need more help with setting limits. Help your kids set routines and set realistic limits on their screen usage before and after school.


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