Podcast: The Link Between Social Media & Mental Health

Jenn talks to Dr. Lisa Coyne about the impact of social media on our mental health. Lisa explains how to set ground rules for digital consumption for you and your loved ones and answers questions about loosening the grasp social media has on so many of us.

Lisa W. Coyne, PhD, is an assistant professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry, part-time, at Harvard Medical School, and is a senior clinical consultant at the Child and Adolescent OCD Institute (OCDI Jr.) at McLean Hospital. Dr. Coyne is the author of “The Joy of Parenting: An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Guide to Effective Parenting in the Early Years,” a book for parents of young children.

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Episode Transcript

Jenn: Welcome to Mindful Things.

The Mindful Things podcast is brought to you by the Deconstructing Stigma team at McLean Hospital. You can help us change attitudes about mental health by visiting deconstructingstigma.org. Now on to the show.

So, hey everybody, thanks so much for joining us today. If you’re joining us for the first time, I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Jenn Kearney, and I am a digital communications manager at McLean Hospital. And today we’re talking about digital media, social media, and mental health.

So social media’s impact is pretty far-reaching, and it’s even further than we may think. It goes well beyond FOMO. It can have an impact on our emotions, our relationships, our mental health. And today, Lisa is going to talk about all of that with us.

So if you are unfamiliar with Lisa, Dr. Lisa Coyne is a psychologist, senior clinical consultant at the Child and Adolescent OCD Institute, otherwise known as OCDI Jr. at McLean Hospital. And Lisa, hi, thanks for joining.

Lisa: Hi, how are you? Very happy to be here.

Jenn: I’m fantastic, it’s always so nice to see you.

Lisa: Nice to see you too.

Jenn: And I know that this is something that you were always super passionate about, and it’s something that we’ve talked about in previous sessions, but I didn’t know if you wanted to just talk a little bit about what you know about the impact of social media, and how it’s actually affecting us more than we may think.

Lisa: Yeah, and I think depending on whose in our audience, whether it’s parents, whether it’s adults, young adults, older folks, it doesn’t really matter. Social media it’s so embedded in our lives now. It’s really hard to think about a time when it wasn’t.

It’s not lost on me that this is a generation of kids who are being raised, and they have no idea about what things were like before social media, so it does affect us. It does affect us in a number of different ways.

They vary in terms of functionally, what does it take our time away from in our lives, right? And our connections with each other, daily tasks, and things like that. It gives us things too, right? It’s sort of part of the social commerce that we’re all a part of.

And it’s really hard at this point thinking about could I extricate myself from this, especially for teenagers and younger folks who are really fluent in it. I’m a little nervous about this because I’m thinking like what’s Twitch. I don’t even know what some of these things are, so, if you are a teenager and you’re listening educate us.

Jenn: Which is the online video game streaming one.

Lisa: Oh, okay.

Jenn: So that’s a social platform for video games.

Lisa: Right, right. And so it serves so many different functions, but it also takes advantage of us in lots of different ways because lots of the social media platforms use our data for various things.

And they’re constructed to keep us captive. They’re constructed really to retain our interest, and things like that. Here’s a specific example of how it might affect folks, right?

Like we are all captive to, if you’re in the U.S. what’s going on around elections, and it can be really, really dysregulating and stressful because your feed in whatever social media you’re looking at is curated for you by artificial intelligence that’s been built into each of these platforms to keep you kind of scrolling, right?

And so while you’re scrolling you’re looking for what is that thing that might be for me, or pique my interest? And it doesn’t really matter if it’s positive or negative, but if we are continuing to click on things that are things that bother us, or things that we find stressful, what you can have is a little echo chamber for yourself full of all of the most stressful things.

That can lead to increased stress. It can lead to anxiety and depression across different groups and things like that. So that’s really important. Other things to think about is that, with the pandemic we have to use computers. We have to use screens, and we have to be fluent on these things, especially with kids if they are in school, and this is their window on the world, right?

So I think part of what has to happen with social media is careful thought about how does it fit in our lives, right? And what is it taking away from us? And how are we going to curate, I suppose, our experience in a way that it doesn’t lead to increased stress, et cetera, but it serves us better.

I think that’s a tall order because I think the odds are stacked against us in the sense that we are sort of a product. And we’ve talked about this before in this webinar about, there’s a great documentary by the Center for Humane Tech called “The Social Dilemma” that lays it all out for us.

And it speaks to leaders in the field, the tech fields from Silicon Valley, and other places, that talk a little bit about how these types of platforms were designed, and what the product actually is, and the product is us and our attention, so it’s tough. How was that for an intro? There’s a lot there we could talk about. This could go in any different direction.

Jenn: This is a lot to unpack, but we will try our best to keep it within the hour. Lisa, can you talk a little bit about the purpose of an endless scroll, and why exactly that makes social media so addicting?

Lisa: Right, well, it was designed really to be sort of like a slot machine, right? So humans learn and here’s the thing, the tech industry actually is really, really good at understanding human behavior, and how to affect it precisely, right?

So we learn because it’s a really simple principle. We do, we get, right? All behavior makes sense. So you’re more likely to continue behaviors if you have a consequence that’s desirable after it. And that consequence might be, you get something, or you remove something that’s aversive, right? You keep scrolling ‘til you get to that kitten video you’ve been looking for.

Jenn: You press the button, you get the cheese, right?

Lisa: Exactly.

Jenn: It’s like a lab experiment.

Lisa: Right, so when you’re first beginning, or when you’re first learning a new behavior, it’s really important that every time you do that behavior, you get a reward every single time, but as your behavior stabilizes, right? It continually becomes a habit.

If you can reinforce it intermittently only once in a while, like pulling a slot machine, right? And randomly, that’s going to create a behavior that is highly resistant to what we call extinction, which means stopping.

So think about your Facebook scroll. And I know, yes, I know everybody is on Instagram, and all these other ones, but like let’s just start with Facebook. You keep scrolling until maybe there’s something there for me and that’s on purpose.

So it is meant to be kind of to capture you, and it shapes your behavior to continue to engage you. Think about video games, right? Where every so often you get the reward, whatever it is, like the additional piece of hardware, or whatever, et cetera.

My son was showing me “Red Dead Redemption” the other day, which I do not play video games, but if I played a video game, I think I might play that one ‘cause you can actually like get a horse and train it, and name it and stuff, and I thought that’s kind of cool.

Jenn: Is that the World War II based one?

Lisa: I have no idea. It looked like the Wild West when he showed me. I stayed for a little while, but I didn’t look too far into it.

Jenn: So, I mean, I even notice too, even when you’re on an app, if you want to refresh it you actually pull down. It’s like the same physical motion.

Lisa: Yeah, it’s the same physical motion, yeah.

Jenn: It’s a lot to wrap your head around.

Lisa: On purpose, again, designed on purpose.

Jenn: So it’s hard, I mean, it’s hard to think about because it’s something that it’s been so infiltrated into our lives and I know even having conversations with folks where they say, oh, did you see that on an Instagram about so-and-so? And if you say, no, it’s almost like people are using it for a news outlet.

Lisa: Absolutely.

Jenn: How do you find different ways to access the news now without stressing yourself out, or necessarily going to a social media platform? I mean, I know a lot of people say print is dead, but like do you have any recommendations?

Lisa: I do, actually, and this is a really important one, and like to broaden this from the current news cycle, right?

Like sometimes there are events in the news that are really traumatic, and it’s really important to limit your exposure to those because if you are endlessly scrolling, looking for that upsetting information, you are putting yourself at risk too for stress and for trauma, and things like that. This is especially important for children, young children.

Think about what they are seeing on your phones. Think about what it is that they have access to. I remember back during the Boston Marathon bombing, that was advice that we were giving parents to be very careful, to make sure we’re not showing these scary images.

And there are a lot of images that kids don’t understand. Like just even thinking about some of the like violence in the media is all over the place, and it’s just something. Guns are everywhere we’re talking about this.

Not to mention, and this is a whole other conversation, effects of those active shooter drills in schools, which are incredibly traumatic, and many of us in the field of mental health are really kind of upset about, but anyway, so just thinking about limiting your time looking at these things. And, again, that’s going to be tough because these platforms are built to keep our attention.

So it’s going to really involve being willing to set it down and be uncomfortable. And we’ve talked about this before in other webinars where you might have some rules about in what room will you not have your phones, right? Like at the dinner table, at the breakfast table, when you’re together as a family, no phones there.

Think about good sleep hygiene that’s another one. No screens an hour before bedtime. Do something else to bring yourself calmness. Whether it’s listening to a podcast, listening to music, whether it’s doing some meditation. There’s any number of sound machines. Some people are into ASMR. There’s a whole host of things that you could be doing that do not involve light from the screen, which will disrupt your sleep.

Jenn: Do you mind explaining just really quickly what ASMR is?

Lisa: I can try. So ASMR, do you what it stands for Jenn? I actually don’t know. I don’t remember what the acronym is for, but it’s basically sounds that are sort of repetitive. It can be white noise. It can be like brushing your finger across the teeth of a comb.

It can be anything at all, but it’s a sound that for some people brings them sort of like a physiological reaction. And sometimes people are very soothed by this. You can try it, Google it, see if it works for you. It doesn’t work for me, but I do believe that for some people it does. And it’s something that’s, yeah.

Jenn: Sorry to interrupt. It’s autonomous sensory meridian response.

Lisa: Thank you, yes, that’s it.

Jenn: Apparently the internet says some people just call it brain massage, which sounds way more appealing to me than ASMR.

Lisa: It’s a brain massage, yeah. And I can’t speak to that, or the data behind that, but I am aware it exists. That’s about the extent of my knowledge. And some of my clients really dig it. So I think if you dig it that’s great.

Jenn: I know, so I know you’ve talked about like ways to limit your time before, but how do we do it? And I know a really big part of when it comes to like different types of therapy is the incorporation of self-efficacy, which means that we actually feel confident that we can continue engaging in the behavior.

So if we don’t feel confident, and I have friends and colleagues who have said, “I tried to give it up and I couldn’t.” How do we strike self-efficacy into it? And like guilty I reactivated my Twitter account the other day only to immediately deactivate it after I saw something asinine about a 40th birthday party on an island, but that is neither here nor there.

So how do we incorporate self-efficacy into knowing like when to cut ourselves off? How do we talk ourselves up into thinking that we can and should do it?

Lisa: And I think people are not alone in this because in that documentary we mentioned a lot of the tech executives upon learning some of these things themselves tried to pull themselves off and had difficulty as well.

So I think the bottom line here is we humans when we’re presented with stuff that’s hard to do, we tend to want to avoid doing the hard thing, unless we can somehow hack it such that it’s easy, right?

And we get into conversations to try to convince ourselves all the good reasons and this and that, but really, I think in my opinion, if that’s happening, you’ve already lost the battle because what this is going to take is it’s going to be a choice, right?

And it involves willingness to be uncomfortable, willingness to feel the absence of this, willingness to have thoughts about FOMO as Jenn mentioned, fear of missing out if you’re not aware of what that one is. Fear of not being up on the newest, coolest things, right?

But it’s a choice, and willingness to be uncomfortable is not a feeling necessarily. You may not feel willing to do something, but you can be willing with your feet as we say, meaning you can take steps to do it anyway, right? And think about humans we are good at this.

I promise you, everyone is good at this in different domains that you’re maybe not even noticing, right? Do you like taking out the garbage? Do you feel like you need to be ready to take out the garbage? Do you feel like you got to motivate yourself, or do you just take out the garbage because the truck’s coming, and if you don’t take out the garbage, it’s going to be sitting in the bin stinking, right?

So there are plenty of areas in our lives where we have this skillset, but somehow with this one it can be really hard. So it really would involve kind of a slowing down, noticing, making a plan, and making a promise to yourself that no matter what, no matter how you’re feeling about this, you’re going to make this change.

One of the places we fail as humans when we try to change our own behavior is that we tend to make our goals too big, right? So that’s a little bit of advice I can give you too. So if you’re off the screen, if you’re on the screen for let’s say four hours a day, and I forget what the average is for Americans, but it’s much higher than that.

I haven’t looked at it recently, but I think it was six or seven hours a day on average being on a screen. So if you’re on the screen for let’s say four hours a day, you’re not going to go I’m going to go to zero. It’s just not going to happen, but you might say, at this time I’m going to put it down, and I’m going to go to 3-1/2 hours, okay?

And I’m going to plan out what I’m going to do instead of that in that half an hour, maybe I’ll call a friend. Maybe I’ll read a book or go for a walk. Maybe I’ll do my laundry. Maybe I’ll connect in with my kids. And so thinking about you have to kind of make your goals small and feasible for you, okay?

No one can tell you the right way to do this. You have to choose it, but the steps are slowing down, letting yourself acknowledge that this is not going to be fun. And, yes, it’s going to be uncomfortable, and it’s for a purpose, right? To help you feel better. To help you connect with your family.

And you can kind of think about framing it in terms of something that you hold dear, right? What does this take away from you if you’re on social media all the time? I’m thinking about “WALL-E.” Do you remember that film where everyone’s kind of floating around, and they’re literally not talking to each other, they’re talking to the screen when the person’s right next to them? It kind of looks like that now, doesn’t it? Kind of weird.

Jenn: And they’re all in the same sweatsuits.

Lisa: And they have liquid food. Let’s not even go there, but, right? So framing this in terms of what’s the cost of this been, and taking a little time to think about like what don’t you do now because you’re on screen all the time, and on social media, and then making a choice, willingness with your feet, choosing to be willing by turning it off, and making your initial goals just small ones, and really noticing what the effects of that are in your life.

And sometimes like for me, I was in a routine a little bit earlier during the pandemic where I learned how to make sourdough like everyone else, right? And it’s actually like a two, three day process, but there was something very comforting about not being on a screen at this time in the morning when I’m setting everything up, and working on making this bread.

Just little moments like that. Reconnecting with things in your life that maybe have fallen away because you’re too busy on the screen.

Jenn: Scott is going to hate me for bringing this up, but I was talking to him earlier today about making meatballs. And he asked if I baked them, and I said, I do.

Lisa: Did you get in an argument about how to make them?

Jenn: No, but we were both on the page that raisins do not belong in meatballs.

Lisa: Oh, yeah, like.

Jenn: This has nothing to do with social media.

Lisa: Where did that idea even come in next?

Jenn: Hang on, it’s a very long story, but I promise this has a relation to like getting off of a screen. So I bake my meatballs because there’s so many of them that I said, I don’t have the time to sit in front of a cast iron pan and cook them.

And his response was I do it in a cast iron pan because it keeps me from doing work. So for him that’s his time away from the screen is that it’s something that’s almost like cathartic and meditative. And Scott is going to be so angry with me.

Lisa: I’m with Scott, we have our cast iron pans. I totally relate to that.

Jenn: But yeah, I mean, absolutely. It’s all about finding what’s meditative for you, and what’s away from a screen for you, which when you said you weren’t sure about how much time the average person is spending on, I did look up.

In 2016, so it is outdated and it’s probably worse now, teens are spending an average of seven hours, and 44 minutes a day on phones. And in early 2020s, the average adult in the U.S. was spending 11 hours a day in front of the screen. That was a laptop, a smartphone, a tablet, an eReader, so any of those things, but 11 hours.

Lisa: And what was the date of that, 2020?

Jenn: Yeah, that was early 2020.

Lisa: Oh, my God.

Jenn: And so pre pandemic, but that’s kind of shocking if you think about it that roughly every two days you’re living one of them in front of a screen. That’s a bitter pill to swallow for sure.

Lisa: It’s really shocking, and that’s accurate probably. It makes me worry about culture and society now that we’re so disconnected with the world. We have these tiny little, you can almost think of them as tiny little handcuffs, right?

That we are going to keep with us at all times because we’ve been trained to do that. It’s really frightening, but this is very dark. Anyway, 11 hours is a really long time. Think about all the other things you could be doing then. One thing I do worry about too is, I worry a lot about kids’ ability to entertain themselves without screens, right?

And without being scheduled, what does that even look like? How are they going to explore the world? I was talking to some Millennial folks yesterday, and we were saying, we’re talking about the different ways we can kind of get out of the world now, and be in a different place.

For me, when I was younger it was novels. I read veraciously all the time, and it is just not like that now. Like our attention spans are shorter, and there is data on that that it’s harder. I mean, think about all the things that we don’t have to remember anymore because technology remembers them for us.

Jenn: I know, that even trickles down into like email marketing. Because I do digital communications, I know that the average person is reading an email with less time than they’re actually reading physical mail, which has been an argument for print marketing companies to make a comeback.

People are going to pay more attention to something physical versus something that they can just kind of wipe away from a screen. There’s a lot of cities, towns, schools that are using social media to communicate.

Do you have any advice for using these platforms more responsibly to stay well-informed without getting sucked in, especially since a lot of companies are now opting to do this too, not just school and town committees?

Lisa: I think, again, just considering there’s so many different ways you could slice and dice this question, but like in terms functionally of your day, right? If you have to be on the screen all day, or on social media working, and I realize that we’re kind of shifting from talking specifically about social media to just being on a screen, but let’s go there too, because it’s all related.

Making sure that you work in breaks. One of the biggest predictors of heart disease, and poor health is sedentary behavior. And so if we are sedentary, and on screens for all of this time during the day, whether it’s gaming, on social media, or some other way, it’s really, really bad for our health.

And so making sure that you take time for breaks, and that you take time to be active. Take a walk if you can do it while you’re talking to someone, or listening to a podcast, or whatever. So I think that those are all good things. I think it’s really tough for kids in schools.

One of the things that seems to be happening is, I notice this in our home with our teenager that he’s sitting in these on a screen in class, and one of the other kids is asking the teacher, arguing with the teacher about, can he finish the video game he’s playing during class because it’s really important.

He’s at an important juncture in the game. And I looked at my son and I was like, he’s not really playing a video game during class is he? And he goes, oh no, he is, he just showed us his screen. And I thought, and he’s arguing with the teacher, like, and I thought I don’t know what to do with that.

So in our house, like I think one screen at a time is really important because kids, I think young people today, you can see them in front of the screen playing a game with the YouTube, or Netflix on, or Instagram, or whatever it is, Snapchat, that’s happening. And so, I mean, it’s getting a little out of hand.

Jenn: I do know that I was out of my house a few weeks ago, and was at an outdoor shopping mall where there was a teenager doing backflips off of a bench, and fell and visibly broke his arm and ankle upon impact.

And when the paramedics showed up they asked if they wanted his parents to take him to the hospital, or if he should go by ambulance. And he said, “I would like to go by ambulance because I want to add it to my Snap story.” And I was like, oh my goodness, that is the most expensive way to gain clout on social media.

Lisa: Yeah, so I think, yeah, and I think the messages here are, this has gotten bigger than our ability to really handle well and we need to be mindful. And, again, like I’m not a fan of like a rule like you should only be on the social media for a certain amount of time because I don’t think that that’s enforceable or meaningful.

Like I do think families and people should think about what has being on this taken from me, and how can I add that back in my life, and how can I make zones of time in my house that are social media free? How can I, even if it feels weird, make a point of connecting with people who are important to me outside of social media?

Jenn: So how do you recommend putting limits on kids, teens, other family members in terms of where you have those zones without necessarily dealing with confrontation, or if it ends up being?

Lisa: You never do, it’s going to be a confrontation anyway. I think that that’s, again, one of those that’s unavoidable.

Jenn: Yeah, so any advice for how to deal with that conflict because it’s something that’s available, you’re taking it away.

Lisa: Yes, there is. A few years ago I did a talk on social media use, and even kids like infants have access to screens now, no kidding. And one of the biggest predictors of kids’ screen use is parent screen use, it’s modeling.

And I promise one thing that will not fly is if parents are on their phones all the time, telling their kids not to be, especially teenagers love to point that out. Teens and tweens that’s like their favorite. So it has to start with the parents, so.

You could have a talk with your family about, let’s sit down and let’s talk about getting more connected with each other, and spending a little bit more time together, and appreciating ourselves, each other not on screens.

So can we come up with a family agreement where none of us have screens, answer phones, for example, dinner, right? Really simple, you’re eating, it’s something that’s happening, breakfast. There’s no phones on the table, something like that.

Have a designated space in the kitchen, or somewhere else where you could park everybody’s phones, let the kids see you park your phones, and park their phones if they have them, right? And I think little things like that and being consistent.

And it’s going to be a work in progress, but there was a time not so long ago where we did not have phones attached all the time, you know? I mean, not so long in the scale of things. Long in terms of lifetimes, yes, but we can do this.

This is not something that’s impossible. It feels so antithetical, and yet we can still do it. So start from the top, model for the kids. Make sure you’re consistent because kids learn from what you do, not what you say. Have a designated space to park your phones, and definitely start by doing it around a table, or something else like that’s sort of a family activity, or something where you all come together.

And this is actually good advice in the sense that with adolescents, for example, where this is the age group where risk behaviors are going to start to emerge. One of the things that is thought to be a protective factor, right? Is feeling connected to your family, and feeling like you’re important, and that you have a role, right?

So parents can communicate that to kids really simply by saying you’re expected at dinner. Let’s all just sit down and have a meal together. And there’s plenty of data on family meals, and what that does to bring families together. It’s the one small window during the day when you can all connect.

So it’s good advice for those reasons as well. And the more you do that over time, the more you can kind of find out about what’s going on in your child’s world. What is it that they’re doing on social media? This is a good time to have conversations because it’s not just about setting limits.

It’s also about helping them think through how do I handle when somebody tweets, or Instagram something mean about me, or keep sending me messages and I don’t want to get them? And how do I, if friends are being inappropriate, or if they’re asking me to send them inappropriate things, how do I handle that? Because I promise you that’s all going on, it’s all going on.

And making sure you have this connection is critical to your kids’ safety on the web, right? Because there’s a lot of stuff that goes on. You have no idea what your kids are necessarily watching on YouTube. You don’t know who is talking to them.

And I’ll tell you a story. Years back when my son was playing a video game, he was talking to a kid who I’d never heard of. And he said, “Oh mom, his name is.” I forget what his name was. Who knows if that was really his name?

He’s 16, he’s from California. No, he’s really nice. And I was like, we have no idea if that’s an actual child, or someone posing as a kid and you’re not allowed to. And so we really quickly made the rule that you’re not allowed to play games, right? With someone.

You’re not allowed to exchange any information online. You’re not allowed to give them personal details at all because this could potentially be a dangerous situation. We just don’t know, right? So those are all considerations that parents should have about media safety, social media safety.

Jenn: So when it comes to what we’re seeing in terms of content, who we’re choosing to follow, who we’re choosing to engage with, how do we stay mindful of that so when we actually, if we are engaging in the behavior it’s healthier, and it’s information that’s more beneficial to us?

Lisa: So I think it is important to stay mindful of that. And I think one of the things to do is to notice after you are scrolling for a little bit, just take a pause and check in with how you’re feeling. Are you being an internet warrior? And are you engaging in debates?

This is not a place for that. It doesn’t really ever go anywhere. Like maybe it would be useful to think about what functions do you want social media to serve for you? I have friends all over the world. And one of the things that’s helpful to me, and useful to me is keeping tabs on what’s going on in their neck of the woods.

For example, I have a number of friends in Australia who were really, really terrified, and impacted by the fires that were going on there. That’s really important. So thinking about like, what are the most important functions? And can you limit your time on media just for those functions, just to check in quickly? And is there an alternative way to do that? Is there some other way?

But I mean, I notice this because I try to get them off mind too, but I’m carrying this around everywhere it’s really hard. So putting it down and I promise you, if you put it down and you leave it in another room, you’re going to notice this feeling of like discomfort, of absence, of but wait, where is it?

I mean, and that’s on purpose, again, that’s on purpose. Like think about all the things, all the functions that this serves, right? So I think being really mindful, and mindfully choosing to step into the discomfort of not having it near you are really important, especially if it’s in the service of connecting with other humans that you love and care about in ways that are more meaningful.

Jenn: So I know with social media, while there are so many pitfalls, there’s some positive aspects, and a lot of it is around community, and stigma breaking down. A good example would be someone in recovery for an eating disorder may find accounts about body positivity to be really helpful.

I know our friends over at the IOCDF, they’ve got a really robust social media outreach, and a really strong online community. Beyond groups like that are you aware of any others that might find social media beneficial to mental health, and recovery paths?

Lisa: There’s tons and I love what IOCDF is doing, and that’s actually one of the reasons that I stay on because friends, colleagues, advocates, people with lived experience who are my friends, or my colleagues, and to contribute to that community is really, really important to me, right?

So there’s a prosociality about doing that too. I belong to a professional group online too. It’s a Facebook group of other experts, or whatever they call themselves, in OCD Anxiety and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors. And it is such a wonderful group. I just shout out to them because they are warm.

They stick very closely to the science. It’s just a very collaborative, lovely group where we can connect. So there’s plenty of groups out there like that. And that’s, again, if you’re going to use social media, think about what are the things you really don’t want to part with, and maybe limit your time to doing those, right? There’s plenty of those.

Jenn: Is there any research that’s been done around types of personality traits that might lead some people to be more inclined to spend extra time on social media versus others? I know you and I have talked about introverts and extroverts before, but any other linkage?

Lisa: Honestly I’m happy to speculate, but I have not. I couldn’t give you a clear analysis of the literature. I’m sure there’s literature on that. And it’s been a little while since I’ve dipped into it. Again, I’m going to bring it back to not so much personality types, but the functions that it serves, right?

It’s important to think about the function. You can use social media as Jenn has mentioned to connect, right? To collaborate, to have community, and that can be super helpful for some people. It can be a great leveler in the sense that maybe in your life, or your world as a kid, you feel like you don’t fit in. And maybe this is a place that you can, right?

And I’ve heard that a lot from the teens that I work with. On the other hand, you might be exceedingly shy. You might have social anxiety, and you might fear social evaluation of others, right? And if you’re using the internet to escape from hard things, right? Instead of really facing them and coping with them, that’s a bad idea. That’s an unhelpful function, right?

And so I think thinking functionally about how are you using this tool, right? And how are you using this resource is very, very important. Like if you’re prone to depression, and you find yourself scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, and becoming increasingly socially isolated, not active, not out in the world, in bed more, that’s not a great idea, right? It’s definitely not a great idea.

If you’re looking for, if you’re feeling insecure about yourself if you’re a teenager, there’s actually some data on young women in social media. And you’re trying to find acceptance by curating an image of yourself online, instead of going out into the world, and discovering the person that you want to be, right? And doing things that are consistent with that. That’s not a great idea either.

So thinking in terms of function and noticing like am I? It’s the same thing with like, let’s take the example of like a glass of wine, right? Assuming that there’s no addiction, we’re not talking about abuse, substance abuse.

We’re talking about when you get home and you want to relax, and hang out with your spouse, or your partner, whoever, you might have a glass of wine, and share an experience with them, but if you’re coming home and you’re having a glass of wine as an escape to numb yourself, to dull some pain that you’re experiencing, that’s probably not a great use for that. And that’s going to place you at risk. I think that social media serves the same function in that way.

Jenn: Do you know if there’s any research being done about dating apps and whether or not that’s actually altering our interpersonal relationships? I know that there’s a lot, obviously, a lot of it is based on attraction, and the swipe option, makes it really easy to gamify who you ideally want to spend the rest of your life with.

Lisa: Yes, there’s tons of research being done. And I have not read up on that either, but I think what I am hearing, though, is that that’s sort of a primary way people are meeting each other now. And, in fact, in the pandemic, right?

Depending on it doesn’t look like we’re going to lockdown, although, there were 81,000 cases in the U.S. yesterday. Yes, that’s an actual number from “The New York Times” horrible. If we actually lockdown, and thought about kind of trying not to spread this, it’s going to back to people are relying on those kinds of things to meet each other more and more.

And maybe it’s a good thing. Sometimes that’s a good thing ‘cause lots of people are getting out in the dating world at all different ages now, things like that. And it is hard I think to meet people once you’re outside of college, high school, et cetera, or a workplace, if there’s no common experiences, it’s really difficult I think for a lot of young adults to meet people who might be partners.

Jenn: So we’ve had a question about people following multiple screens at the same time, which I have to admit as Scott is moderating, I’m getting the messages on a different screen. So I’m guilty of doing this right now.

Lisa: So he’s basically contributing to bad behavior, Scott.

Jenn: Absolutely, so if folks are using the phone while they’re watching TV, or using their phone while working on the computer, is this accelerating our lower attention spans? And additionally is this problematic for people who are already living with ADHD?

Lisa: I’m going to say yes to that. On one hand, sometimes people describe ADHD as not a problem with attention, but as an abundance of attention that you need lots and lots of things to keep your interest, right?

Jenn: That’s a really nice way reframing of it.

Lisa: So if that’s the case, and you can watch three screens at the same, yeah. Well, if you think about it, right? Like it’s difficult to tolerate being bored. It’s hard for something to hold your attention. And the hallmarks of the inattentive type at least are, just your attention is all over the place. You need lots of stimulation, which is why methylphenidate and Ritalin are the medical treatments for that, right?

If people do go that route, and they don’t do behavior therapy for this, and skills training to kind of manage your attention. So it’s not great in a sense that you’re contributing, you’re not helping, right?

You’re saying here’s three screens, so you’re not helping individuals learn how to focus, and how to really clearly manage their time, and do one thing at a time, and think about how long is that period that I can sit still to do this comfortably? When do I need to give myself a break, and take a walk, and do other things like that? So sort of feeding it, I would guess, you know?

Jenn: So when it comes to trying to extricate ourselves from this like when we struggle with other addictions, there’s some sort of withdrawal or even detox process. Do you know anything about the digital consumption detox process, and what that might feel like for an individual?

Lisa: I can only imagine. I have worked with people who have done this kind of, they don’t call it the detox, but where they have tried to get off the screen, and it’s like any other addictive behavior, it feels deeply uncomfortable.

You might feel more stressed and anxious, you might feel left out, you might feel isolated. You might feel just the absence of doing all of these things. And it’s going to be tough to maintain that. So that’s why the important piece of this is when you start to get off your screens, right?

If you’re trying to have a more, just a better balance in your life where you’re using it as a tool, and you’re not captured by it is be willing to be uncomfortable and start small, small steps, right? And then broaden it if you like what’s happening in your life.

If you’re feeling more connected, if you’re feeling like you’re doing hobbies more, and things like that, then maybe you expand that, and see what it’s like. You could also try just going off of it for several days, and seeing what that’s like, go cold turkey, if you can, and just experiment with what does the world feel like without this.

If you really want to get a sense of like how kind of deeply embedded this stuff is in our lives, that would be a really interesting experiment to see just to notice how that works.

Jenn: Can you talk a little bit about the effect that filters have on how people perceive each other and ourselves? I know there’s apps like Facetune where you can whiten your teeth, plump your lips. How does that actually impact our emotional well-being, our self-esteem?

There have been things that have come out where folks are actually going to plastic surgeons saying, I want to look like this, and it’s somebody who’s been heavily filtered.

Lisa: Yeah. And I’m mindful that I’m saying this, and I have the Zoom filter on, so yeah. Yeah, caught red-handed, but there you go, but here’s the thing though.

Jenn: Equally guilty, equally guilty.

Lisa: Right, but would I care. Right, so would I be willing to turn it off? Yeah, of course, I don’t really care. It’s on, I could turn it off, it’s not a big deal, but I think for young people, one of the problems with lots of young people, especially those who are struggling with body image issues, right?

Is that people think that they have to look perfect. And that’s a really dangerous thing, and to devalue yourself in terms of thinking that your worth is down to how you look, not a great message to send. And then the pressure of having to look like this online, on screen presence is also really, really challenging, especially for young women.

And so it’s the same argument I think that you would use, or like back when we were thinking about, and there’s lots of research on like, how are women being presented in media, right? In print media and magazines and things like that. What’s the effect on eating behavior?

I had a student that did their dissertation on that, actually, years ago. And just feeling like you have to adhere to this stuff. So it’s just one more constraint like to think, oh gosh, I have to appear like this, I have to have that. And it’s the same thing with like consumption of objects, of commodities like, oh, I have to have that thing. These other people have that thing, yeah.

Jenn: It’s certainly accelerated our keeping up with the Joneses, so to speak.

Lisa: Exactly, yeah, exactly. Only it’s not even keeping up with the Joneses, it’s keeping up with the Joneses curated image of the Joneses that’s perfect, and massaged and filtered and all of that, right? It’s just not realistic.

Jenn: No, not at all, but there’s something to be said about people who are part of some online communities that are about togetherness and connectedness, like folks who are playing games together, people who may not necessarily be participating socially in these kinds of activities with other folks. And there are Facebook groups I know at McLean, we’ve got a deconstructing stigma group for participants.

Lisa: Which is awesome.

Jenn: That’s a locked supportive community, but there’s tons of online communities. There’s one I think it’s called Patients Like Me where folks can actually.

Lisa: The Mighty.

Jenn: Yeah, The Mighty is another great one.

Lisa: The Mighty Made of Millions is another one these are great OCD Gamechangers is another one, there’s tons of these.

Jenn: Oh, yeah, I didn’t think of that one.

Lisa: Oh yeah.

Jenn: Is there any evidence that’s out there that shows that there’s positive aspects to this connectedness, or that there’s any relationship that like social media has actually helped people be more connected in this way?

Lisa: Yeah, I’m sure, I’m sure there is. And it does help people feel connected. I think it’s like anything. You can have too much of a good thing. And that’s the point here, which is again, why to think about how are you using it, and for what purposes, and at what point is it useful to you, and beyond what point is it harmful to you, right?

So really noticing how those things are working in your life like if you feel like a slave to, I have to do these things online, and it’s taking me from my other responsibilities, or making me feel isolated in other ways it’s dangerous, but if you can go and connect and collaborate, it’s wonderful, right?

Think about even this webinar, but like I did a ton of town halls with Ethan Smith in IOCDF connecting with community members. Like we’ve been doing this the whole pandemic like posting sort of webinars for parents and other things just to kind of make sure that we can get resources out there for people when they’re most needed.

So I think, again, yeah, sometimes it’s super helpful. Just be mindful, you can have too much of a good thing.

Jenn: And I do want to be clear. There are several folks who are asking about any of the online communities that we’ve just mentioned. We will include them in any recap communication. So please don’t worry. We will supplement anything that is open to the public. We will supplement with URLs.

You don’t need to take notes, we are doing that for you. So, Lisa, how do I negotiate digital screen time limits that kind of stuff, engagement with my spouse or partner? And slightly asking for a friend.

Lisa: That is such a good one, and I think again, that’s going to be a collaborative preferably multi-part conversation where you experiment together about what’s workable, but I think part of the conversation should be, why are we doing this? Why are we even having the conversation?

Like what’s really important here and thinking about like, what’s the underlying value, right? Because if you’re just doing it because, if there’s not a big enough thing that you care about dealing with the adversity of getting off of it is not going to be worth it.

So you need to come up with something that’s bigger, something that you share. And then trying it and figuring out a plan, sticking to it and checking in with each other to see how’s it working, are you cheating on it? Are you sticking to the plan? Are you like are we agreeing? Is this annoying? What’s hard? Then supporting each other I think through the difficulty of getting off of it, right?

Seeing what’s workable and feasible for you in your own family. And the last thing is what are you going to do instead? How are you going to connect instead? What are you going to do with that time, right? ‘Cause if you’re all going to sit around twiddling your thumbs being miserable not being on social media, that’s not going to be helpful, right? So how can you make a plan for some things?

Structure your time a little bit, right? ‘Cause we’re not used to that. This structures our time for us, if we’re on it. So it can feel like a desert if you’re off of it. So practicing and really approaching this like this is a practice that we’re going to have to do. We’re going to have to relearn how to be off these screens, off the social media.

Jenn: I’m curious to know if you have removed yourself from any social platforms? ‘Cause I know you’ve mentioned that you stay on some of them for connectedness for your friends.

Lisa: Yeah, uh-hmm.

Jenn: Have you actually taken yourself off of any? And if so, how was your experience doing so?

Lisa: It’s hard, I took myself off Facebook for a while. I’m back, I’m trying to limit my time. I took myself off Instagram for a while, and I’m actually like not following that, which is kind of good.

And so what I’m doing is trying to, again, limit my time, doing things other than connecting with my colleagues, and peers, connecting with things like I’ll use it to see what people are reading in the news, but what I’m trying to do is read “The New York Times” instead, and read other, I like “The Atlantic” that’s one of my favorites, everybody has their favorites, but before going to social media to just go straight to the paper and read, and actually sit down and read an article.

So I’m experimenting with that. Yeah, and just using it to kind of connect with people. I will use email instead sometimes to connect with people. And we do quite a lot of like FaceTime, WhatsApp, kinds of things like that.

And I think those are considered social media too, but they’re more like there’s more of a connection, or even internet messenger, or Facebook messenger to connect with like I connected with a colleague in New Zealand last night I hadn’t talked to in a while one of my co-authors, and that’s really lovely just to have a 10 minute conversation with somebody.

And then I think about spending time with my family, and trying to be with them. And instead of kind of going to find a seat to scroll, placing myself in the kitchen, leaving the phone in another room and just hanging out, and noticing like whose making dinner if it’s not me.

And so, again, the same advice I’m giving you guys, I’m trying to follow too, and it is hard. I think it’s really hard, so you’re not alone, but I think it’s something that’s important to keep tabs on, and to continue to try and use when it’s helpful to you, connect when it’s good. And when you find that it’s being a drain on your mental health, work on getting off of it.

Jenn: And giving yourself that space and grace to be bored because we don’t like being bored. And this has been a really good outlet for us to fill the void of, well, what else would I be doing with my time? And before you know it an hour has passed, and you haven’t been productive, but you’ve lined somebody else’s pockets.

Lisa: Right, and like we are not good at being bored. We are really not. So what if we looked at boredom as a gift, because if you want to learn how to innovate stuff to do, let yourself be bored and see what happens. That’s something that can be really, really powerful.

Jenn: Yep, we all get 24 hours in a day, and that is currency that at the end of the day you give it away and you don’t get it back.

Lisa: Imagine we’re losing 11 hours a day on a screen, right? That’s just chilling.

Jenn: Though I do have to say that the last hour I’ve spent with you has been incredibly valuable. So I don’t want to discount that hour I’ve spent in front of a screen that’s for sure.

Lisa: Awe, it’s great to see you too.

Jenn: So I think this is actually a really great time for us to wrap up our webinar. So this concludes our session for today. Lisa, thank you so much for joining us for yet another informative session, and thanks to all of you for joining us out there today.

I hope you found this session incredibly valuable, and until next time, wash your hands, be nice to each other, and have a great day. Thanks again.

Thanks for tuning in to Mindful Things! Please subscribe to us and rate us on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Don’t forget, mental health is everyone’s responsibility. If you or a loved one are in crisis, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day at 877.870.4673. Again, that’s 877.870.4673.

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