STOP Screens and Social Media from messing with our heads!!

Overwhelmed?? …..your screens, blame not.

How Social Media and Screen Time is negatively impacting our mental health (and that of our kids) and how to stop it!(psst….It’s not about shutting off your phones)

As I discuss in my Intro Video, our minds can go to unhealthy places when we don’t control them while surfing, swiping, and scrolling. It’s like we have 2 brains; one is is automatic and fear based, while the other uses reason and logic, but the rational one needs to be manually activated for it to work.

Liken the automatic one to Chicken Little; it was developed millions and millions of years ago to protect us, full of drama and likes to predict the worst so we stay safe (technically called our amygdala).

Our other brain (Cortex) was developed recently (well, 100’s of thousands of years ago compared to millions) to advance our species. This brain is more chill, strategic and Yoda-like; and serves to calm us down, assures us “we got this” and tells our chicken brain to shut the %$#@ up.

Basically, the two should work in tandem; when walking down a deserted street on a rainy night, our amygdala alerts us to a gurgling noise and tells us there’s a face in the gutter; but our inner Yoda will conduct a risk assessment, roll his eyes, and advises us to laugh it off. (There are still others, like me, who’d run home first, then laugh it off hiding under my covers)

Same sort of teamwork should happen when we’re surfing the net, playing on FB, Instagram & Snapchat or scrolling over news channels; the stories we spin to ourselves from what we elect to absorb are never usually fact based but emotional and largely irrational.

Automatically, we take notice only of the pictures, posts, and headlines that relate to our worries, guilt, insecurities, jealousies and vulnerabilities and we’ll believe our own self defeating thoughts unless we stop and dispute them.

But, here’s the thing, we’re so inundated with information: multiple news feeds, social media platforms, email that often we are scrolling, surfing and swiping on auto pilot and unaware of the stories we spin to ourselves much less dispute them.

By the time our heads hit pillows, after a full day of ‘feeds’, we’ve convinced ourselves we’re failing at life and as a chaser add a dollop of news sensationalism so we shut our eyes wondering if this is the night Kim Yong-Un’s missile will hit our bedroom.

Walking around sleep deprived and anxious is how Samantha (a Professional Financial Consultant, wife and a mother to 2) has been feeling and described her state this way: “I feel like I’m permanently in a haze of overwhelm”.

To help Sam in figuring out where her irritability and restlessness was truly coming from, she captured her moods for 2 weeks (mood log in half hour increments). After reviewing her raw data, she came to some A HA moments:

1) She was happiest doing things she thought she resented: making breakfasts and getting her kids off to school/making dinners while helping her kids get their homework done/when she was busy at work with her clients.

2) She was at her lowest points doing things she thought she loved: time spent on social media/watching or reading the news/after watching Netflix.

Studies and research (validated by Psychological & Mental Health Associations) corroborate Samantha’s experience. Social media platforms have been linked to anxiety, depression, panic disorders and other mental health issues especially in kids. The main reason for this is that we compare ourselves to the social personas of others and 60% adults report that they check in on social media platforms multiple times a day.

When Sam captured her thoughts during her lowest moods, she realized she was jealous when her friends were doing things she wasn’t doing, then felt guilty for being jealous. She berated herself for not getting to the gym when she saw fit people on IG, then felt more guilt when on Pinterest because she had no time for DIY projects with her kids. After Netflix, she felt “behind” in her housework, and after the news, she ruminated about things like Lyme disease getting her son (who loves to play in the woods) and the Tax Legislation affecting her clients. Just before closing her eyes, she remembered how much work she had to face at her job the following day.

Essentially, it’s not our devices, platforms, news or our email that puts us in a funk but rather our interpretation and internal dialogue with ourselves that does.

All of these distorted thoughts (Sam’s worry, guilt and ruminating) can be categorized into 10 types according to David Burns and his classic book of Feeling Good in which he shares how to identify and refute them (btw the book is the #1 self help book most frequently recommended for depression and anxiety by Mental Health professionals in USA).

Sam applied this technique with herself and then her kids; getting her youngest to use emoji stickers on the fridge to log his moods; after hockey/basketball practice, after watching TV, after reading, after getting chores completed. Her kids saw, for themselves (she’s a believer in neuroleadership), what tends to improve their moods and what doesn’t.

Her teen, Melanie, used it for when she admitted saying this to herself often: “EVERYONE is having fun but me” or the classic #FOMO while on social media. This is how she challenged her own banter:

Melanie’s log challenging her own thinking:
 1) People posting are only SOME of my friends not EVERYONE. Most of the people who are home, like me, are NOT POSTING because they’re home watching Netflix with chicken wings, too.
 2) People who are posting are at their BEST because they work at it! They’ve invested time and energy with props, filters, the right lighting, endless hours at the gym, all this to bolster their social persona for the 2 min. selfie — it’s really a lot of work!! I could do this too, but I’d prefer not to.
 3) That 2 minute selfie of fun does NOT continue for 24 hours…remember they didn’t post when they had to stand in lineups in the cold, find parking spaces, yelling over loud music….etc..

Sam has given her kids one of the most powerful life skills: realizing their moods were based on their internal discussions rather than based on external events or others.

Sam’s kids could see, for themselves, (using neuroleadership approach), what activities improved their moods and which ones didn’t. They’ve learned earlier than most of us, that their interpretations when they surf, scroll and swipe are what impact their moods not the images and events they see.

Sure, Sam’s kids could shut off their devices to ensure their minds were healthy, but that would be like adults not driving to avoid collisions. Eventually we need to get back behind the wheel.

Just like driving, exploring the net far, far away is a privilege for which we need both brains on our screen so we can stay out of our inner dark side.