Merab Gomez and Stephanie Dailey, Ph.D: 5 Ways To Create a Healthy Relationship With Screens and Technology
If people are more aware that online content is not always what it seems, it might help reduce the tendency to compare themselves to others. This awareness could also help individuals distinguish information that needs attention from the information that has been tampered with.
As a part of my series about 5 Ways To Create a Healthy Relationship With Screens and Technology, I had the pleasure of interviewing Merab Gomez and Stephanie Dailey, Ph.D.
Merab Gomez is currently a graduate student in the Master in Psychological Research program at Texas State University. She is originally from San Antonio and received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from The University of Texas at San Antonio in 2018. Her research is based on social psychological topics but more specifically, her current research revolves around examining the association between social media use and general psychological well-being. Her future career goals are to pursue a doctorate degree and shift her research to focus on positive psychology. Exploring the underlying characteristics and behaviors that contribute to an individual’s happiness, resilience and ability to cope with stress are topics that intrigue her most.
Dr. Stephanie Dailey (M.A., Ph.D., The University of Texas at Austin) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Texas State University. Her research seeks to advance research at the intersection of organizational socialization and organizational identification scholarship. Specifically, her theory-driven program of work spans three contexts: organizational membership, wellness, and social media. In addition to research, she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in organizational communication, social media, consulting, and research methods.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your backstory?
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
(Merab) I think the story of how I stumbled across my passion for positive psychology has probably been the most interesting and impactful in my career. As scientists and researchers, we are constantly exposed to information and findings giving us insights about the way in which we operate as human beings. In one of my graduate courses we discussed the topic of resilience and the specific practices backed by research that are associated with increasing mindfulness. I decided to put these findings to the test by integrating meditation and other positive activities to my own life. They have worked wonders! It is one thing to be knowledgeable about psychological topics, but it is another thing to personally witness the rewards and benefits our research uncovers. I believe these mindfulness practices have made me a better student, researcher and most importantly, a better person. I would like to contribute to the ongoing efforts in increasing awareness of the importance of mental health and therefore, have chosen this specific career path.
(Dr. Dailey) Since I started my career as an Assistant Professor six years ago, it’s been interesting to see the growth of social media use and dramatic changes in how we use social media. For example, when I began teaching my undergraduate course focusing on organizations’ use of social media in 2015, I found it challenging to locate examples of brands interacting with consumers on various platforms, and I noticed that few students were following companies on social media. Now, the landscape is much different.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
(Merab) I definitely have multiple ongoing social media projects. Presently, I am working on completing my thesis, which proposes a new method of measuring social media use. Due to social media research being relatively new, there is ambiguity when it comes to selecting the best approach for measuring behaviors and activities related to social media use. My thesis project attempts to find a universal measure that can facilitate future research studies. Additionally, I am working on projects examining how life-work conflict is associated with social media addiction. Another project I am working on explores the specific psychological characteristics that help predict the number of followers a social media user might have. Lastly, I recently completed a project identifying social media behaviors related to individuals who tend to compare themselves to others while online. I think that social media taps into so many sectors of life that it allows for endless directions and concepts that researchers can navigate through.
(Dr. Dailey) Yes! I love my job, because I get to spend time exploring answers to new communication phenomena. Currently, I am working on several projects related to social media and work. First, I’m using both quantitative and qualitative data to better understand an emerging trend, which involves people using their personal social media pages to talk about work. Through survey data, we know that the blurred boundaries between work and home (and the tensions that arise with those muddied waters) are leading people to use social media for work. In addition, our research team is interviewing people and analyzing their social media posts to better understand why individuals post work-related content and the purposes it may serve. A second, separate project is investigating social media influencers: users with a large social media following who uses various platforms to persuade others. Influencers document their lives and consumption of products in exchange for compensation. Because social media influencers serve a unique role in social media, I feel compelled to study their social media behaviors, work-life balance, and mental well-being. Therefore, we are researching the relationship between social media influencers’ identity and their work-life balance, as well as the connection between social media influencers’ behaviors and their mental health.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Between work and personal life, the average adult spends nearly 11 hours looking at a screen per day. How does our increasing screen time affect our mental, physical, and emotional health?
(Merab) I believe there are both beneficial and detrimental side effects to prolonged screen and social media time. As most of us know, one of the reasons technology is so intertwined in our daily lives is due to the efficiency it provides. In some cases research has found that screen time allows us to stay connected to our friends and loved ones. This might improve our sense of belonging, perceived social support and allow us to complete our tasks quicker. In other cases, an excessive amount of screen time can potentially be strenuous to our health for various reasons. As we use these devices, we are exposed to a lot of information. This overload of information can overwhelm or distract us from our life and work responsibilities. As social media users, we are also exposed to the activities of other individuals. For some individuals this might increase the likelihood of comparing themselves to others which can be emotionally and mentally taxing at times. Although most of my research examines mental health, spending 11 hours looking at a screen generally seems to be concerning. It would be useful to assess the physical toll that excessive screen time might have on us for a future project in order to further our understanding of this kind of lifestyle.
(Dr. Dailey) Most of the research I have done has focused on how screen time affects our mental health; although I have read compelling evidence of its effect on our physical and emotional health, too. Specifically, our team’s work shows that several social media factors are associated with the presence of major depressive disorder. For example, individuals who tend to focus on people who they think are “better off” then they are (i.e., upward social comparisons) and people who spend so much time and effort on social media platforms that it interferes with their regular life activities (i.e., social media addiction) are more likely to feel depressed. But there is still much work to be done. Screen time is complex, and we use technology in drastically different ways for various daily activities (in the case of the work I’ve published, from tracking steps to trolling).
Can you share your top five ways people can improve mental wellness and create a healthy relationship with technology?
(Merab) I think people should firstly establish limits and boundaries for the role technology plays in their lives. These limits may vary from person to person but the idea is to reflect on what we as individuals are willing to allow. A good place to draw the line is when technology becomes a hindrance to an individual’s personal growth.
People might also benefit from taking time out of their busy days to be present. Although avoiding technology is not feasible for most of us, a person might chose to set their phone or device aside for 5 minutes and simply look at their surroundings to remind themselves that there are other events occurring outside of their screens. For others, an entire week’s worth of a social media cleanse might be necessary to gain a little clarity.
My third strategy for a healthier relationship with technology is to filter what you follow. Sometimes we feel obligated to follow certain individuals or pages that can cause anxiety or negatively affect our moods. I suggest replacing stressful media with positivity pages, accounts that promote healthy lifestyles and posts that make us smile/laugh. Having high quality content may shift our feelings toward technology and enhance our emotional state.
Previous research has mentioned the presence of a positivity bias within social media platforms. This refers to the idea that users tend to share desirable characteristics and accomplishments more than negative life events or unwanted traits. If people are more aware that online content is not always what it seems, it might help reduce the tendency to compare themselves to others. This awareness could also help individuals distinguish information that needs attention from the information that has been tampered with.
Lastly, it is important for people to actively seek the improvement of their mental and physical health. A person who is mindful and holds their physical health high in value will generally possess the ability to make better decisions in regards to technology. A person that is concerned with their well-being will be able to detect and reduce maladaptive behaviors sooner than someone who is unaware or apathetic to topics such as these.
(Dr. Dailey) There are benefits of social media, and we don’t need to eliminate it from our lives, but recognizing how to create a healthy relationship with technology is important. There are several things you can do. First, you can take stock of who you are following on social media, since our research has shown that making upward social comparisons of people who are “better off” than yourself can have deleterious effects. Take an inventory of your connections and consider unfriending or unfollowing individuals or groups that make you feel worse about your current situation. For example, as a new mom who works full-time, I get anxious looking at images of mom influencers, who post glowing pictures of their baby bumps, picture-perfect birthday parties, and gorgeous aerial shots of their entire family frolicking on a blanket. Comparison is the thief of joy, so assess the type of content you are consuming and consider how it makes you feel.
Also, be cognizant of how social media might be interfering with your daily activities and relationships with others. Taking breaks or using social media less may be helpful to curb social media addiction. Studies show that many of us open social media apps when we are bored, without even realizing we are doing so. By simply making the app harder to access on your devices (e.g., moving it to another screen or deleting a bookmark), you are taking a healthy step in the right direction. Lastly, our team is beginning to explore the time of day people are using social media, as there is new research suggesting that by limiting our use of social media right before bed and immediately in the morning might foster mental wellness. Instead of turning to our devices during morning and bedtime routines, there are likely healthier alternatives.
Between social media distractions, messaging apps, and the fact that Americans receive 45.9 push notifications each day, Americans check their phones 80 times per day. How can people, especially younger generations, create a healthier relationship with social media?
(Merab) The 5 strategies I mentioned above are relatively applicable to individuals of all ages. More than anything, I think that simply discussing the dangers and benefits of technology brings awareness to younger generations that are in their formative stages of development. It is important for parents and adults to lead by example in this quest for finding the right balance when it comes to social media use.
(Dr. Dailey) As I suggested above when mentioning studies that show many of us open social media apps subconsciously when we are bored, I think that making apps harder to access on our devices (e.g., moving the app to another screen or deleting a bookmark on our web browser) is a healthy step in the right direction. Many of us think that we can do multiple things at once, whether that be listen to our kids while texting, or calling a coworker amidst the “dinging” of our email inbox. Yet research also shows that we are actually quite bad at multitasking. Recognizing that might help us better segment and create healthier relationships with the devices and people around us.
80% of smartphone users check their phones before they brush their teeth in the morning. What effect does starting the day this way have on people? Is there a better morning routine you suggest?
(Merab) Currently, most research specifically inspecting how use of phones at the start of the day affects mental health is still in the process of being conducted. Therefore, it is a bit difficult to generate a concrete answer. My prediction for individuals with healthy patterns of technological use, is that the times of day in which these individuals chose to use their phone might not be problematic. On the other hand, it would not be surprising to find that individuals who use their phones as soon as they wake up are those who are most defendant on technology. I think taking the first and last hour of your day to self-reflect and unwind is a good routine to consider.
(Dr. Dailey) I read an interesting analogy recently (here) about treating the information we consume like the food we eat. The author, Srinivas Rao, compared waking up and checking social media to having a donut and cigarette for breakfast. If we start our day off with unhealthy food for the brain, we are at a disadvantage. Social media rewires our brains to be distracted. Rather, if we feed our bodies with good things –meditation, exercise, or deep work, like writing — those positive, meaningful behaviors become our routine.
Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote?
(Merab) “Do not learn how to react, learn how to respond” –Buddha
This quote is one of my favorite quotes because it makes a powerful distinction between what it means to react and what it means to respond. A reaction is impulsive, automatic and requires little thought. When we take the time to respond, we are acting on the wisdom we’ve acquired throughout our life. A response requires patience, planning and allows us to gain back some sort of control. We don’t always get to choose what happens to us, but we have the ability to decide how we respond to every situation. I believe learning how to respond is crucial to building a healthy and happy life.
(Dr. Dailey) When I was growing up, my parents advised me to take note of the friends I spent the most time with, suggesting those closest acquaintances should be people I admire, respect, and want to emulate. Why? Because we become similar to the people with which we spend the most time. To this day, I still take that advice to heart when selecting the people I affiliate with. I’m thankful that my husband is the best human in the world, so hopefully I’m becoming more like him ;)
There is an interesting parallel here with social media. Do we become more like the people we follow on social media? In some ways, perhaps. Our research certainly shows that the people we follow have an impact on our mental health. So, perhaps my parents’ age-old advice withstands the test of time and new modes of connection.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
(Merab) I would want to start a movement dedicated to sharing the tools, behaviors and activities associated with increasing well-being/happiness. Most individuals around the world seek to attain happiness, yet many of us do not know how to do so. In the end, I believe it is less about the attainment of happiness and more about our capacity to sustain it during difficult times.
(Dr. Dailey) Be kinder to one another. And kinder to ourselves.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
(Merab) Readers can find me on LinkedIn if they wish to connect or network.
(Dr. Dailey) I don’t post much work-related content on my personal social media pages, but I have a website where I share news and my latest publications. That site is https://stephaniedailey.wp.txstate.edu.
Thank you for all of these great insights!