How to Manage Emotional Health in a Digital Age

It’s fascinating how our emotional health can be heavily influenced by technology. The other weekend I threw a neighborhood potluck. We were midway through our meal, when my neighbor realized she forgot to bring a promised dessert. In between bites of stew and salad, she pulled out her cell phone and with a few, quick clicks on a delivery app ordered a banana cream pie from her favorite restaurant. Ten minutes later the pie arrived at my door — crisis averted.

Technology’s Impact on Emotional Health

Technology is indeed a splendid thing. Never before have we had access to so many conveniences, so much information and so many social connections. Social media, iPhones, laptops and even Bird scooters are so seamlessly woven into our lives that we often don’t give a second thought to how we use technology, how much we interact with it and the impact it has on our wellbeing. And that’s a problem.

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While there are countless benefits to technology, there’s also a shadow side to having so much available at our fingertips. As technology increasingly saturates our daily lives, more and more research is showing that how we interact with our digital world can profoundly affect our mental health.

Studies show that prolonged social media use can increase anxiety, depression and loneliness. Even Facebook has acknowledged that “passive” use of its platform makes people feel worse. Research also shows that bedtime use of our devices and the “blue light” they emit reduces sleep quality and quantity by interfering with our circadian rhythms.

The “always-on” culture technology fosters has us working overtime, increasing employee burn out. Workers spend an average of eight hours a week answering work e-mails after they leave the office, according to an Academy of Management study.

All of it leads to an essential question: How can we support our emotional health in a digital age?

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Use Technology Mindfully

Increasingly, there’s no shortage of advice. Technology experts and psychologists recommend changing notification settings on our devices or altering screens to “grayscale” so they’re not so distracting and colorfully alluring. Others advocate digital minimalism by buying so-called “dumb phones” that don’t connect to the Internet or going on a digital diet to curtail social media use. All of these steps can help us tame our digital domains.

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But what may create more lasting digital wellbeing is paying closer attention to how we use technology. Much of what decreases our mental health isn’t necessarily technology, but rather our inattentive use of it.

Mindfulness is a decidedly low-tech tool that can help us cultivate our attention and develop more awareness of our digital impulses and when our use of technology leaves us depleted. 

It’s doubtful, for example, that any of us will get a restful night sleep if we’re pecking away at our laptop before bed answering work e-mails. It’s also more difficult to have meaningful conversations with loved ones if we’re intermittently texting at the dinner table. Bringing our attention to moments like these and noticing how we feel in the midst of them, can guide us to make wiser choices about how we engage with technology. 

So can resisting the continual doing that our devices often invite and learning to simply “be.” When we practice mindfulness one of the basic things we’re learning is how to be content without constantly seeking stimulus through social media or by binging on Netflix.

“In this utterly sped-up, high-tech world, it can be helpful to retrain yourself to take interest in the “boring” and “dull,” write Diana Winston and Sue Smalley in their book Fully Present, the Art and Practice of Mindfulness. “Learning to take interest in the not-so-exciting experiences of life helps you to appreciate and be present for the simple things…”

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The Simplicity of Emotional Health

Often, it’s those simple things – a good cup of coffee, sharing a laugh with a friend or feeling the sun on your face – that build the foundation of our mental wellbeing and happiness.

Granted, it takes effort, as well as attention and awareness, to become the master instead of the servant of technology. But when you’re in control of your digital world, ordering banana cream pie and having it arrive in a moment’s notice becomes a technological convenience that’s worth celebrating.

While there may be some things in life where immediate results with minimal effort do come true, this can be a false promise that undermines our abilities for meaningful results. Learn how persistence pays off in an upcoming Mindful Daily session!

Kelly Barron. M.A., is a certified mindfulness facilitator, at UCLA and writer. She teaches mindfulness for UCLA’s Mindfulness Research Center as well as for corporations, schools and private groups. Kelly has worked as a mindfulness teacher with eM Life since 2016. She came to learn the value of mindfulness as a deadline-driven journalist. Now, she’s passionate about sharing mindfulness with others to help them live with more ease, clarity and joy. You can learn more about Kelly and read her blog at www.kellybarron.com.