There’s no getting around it. Technology continues to transform our lives. From how we work to how we play, we’re more connected and informed than ever before. But the real question is, has technology made us happier?
For those who have learned to control how, where, and when they use technology, chances are the answer is “yes”. Unfortunately, those who allow technology to control their lives are probably not so happy. In fact, behavioral studies show that succumbing to technology overload can lead to anxiety and depression.
And with depression rates rising faster than the price of Apple stock, it’s time to evaluate how our personal use of technology might be negatively affecting our moods. With that goal in mind, here’s a look at 5 technology traps that can lead to, or worsen depression, and how to avoid them.
From sending and receiving emails, going on social media sites like Facebook, to watching videos and playing video games, there are plenty of ways for technology to keep you “on the couch” if you let it. And inactivity can lead to lower levels of brain chemicals such as Serotonin and Dopamine, which are associated with depression. Sure, you might get a brief Dopamine “hit” from the anticipation of receiving and opening emails, but the antidepressant benefits of hitting the “off” button and getting in at least 3 good sessions of aerobic exercise a week are far more effective and lasting.
More days in the dark:
Along with keeping you on the couch, excessive dependence on technology can keep you from getting daily doses of that natural antidepressant called sunlight. Sunlight can elevate your mood by boosting the production of Serotonin. It also has an effect on melatonin, a hormone that helps to regulate the sleep cycle and promote a more restful and rejuvenating sleep, which is also great for mood. In addition, natural light exposure is essential for the production of Vitamin D in the body, and more and more studies are linking low levels of Vitamin D to depression.
Lack of restful sleep:
Aside from the light depriving effects of too much technology, those who just can’t seem to hit the “off switches” on their techno gadgets are keeping their brains on overdrive as well. But the brain needs downtime to rejuvenate and reboot, and if you’re crawling into bed with your laptop, tablet, smartphone, or turning on the TV, the extra stimulation can rob you of restful sleep, which can lead to headaches, daytime tiredness, irritability and ultimately depression. To help insure that you get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night, give technology a rest and get into the habit of a nightly routine to relax and wind down.
• Greater disconnection from real people and places:
People who are depressed tend to shut themselves in, avoiding activities and “real” contact with friends and family members. Unfortunately, those who immerse themselves in technology can find themselves in a world of virtual places and relationships, which they may eventually prefer. Although that may sound extreme, the negative effect on relationships of constantly checking your smartphone while having dinner with others may hit closer to home. Another danger of living in a world of social media that can lead to depression is making comparisons of your life with the perceived lives of your online “friends” and feeling that they’ve got it way better than you do. Remember, that virtual grass is always going to look greener. We’re all busy these days, and busier than we need to be. Setting time aside for real relationships and activities is a must for maintaining good mental health.
• A lessened sense of purpose:
All too often, those who suffer from depression reinforce those negative feelings with repetitive and mindless activities that have no real purpose. Although the image of a person plopped in front of the TV in their pajamas, aimlessly channel surfing may come to mind, in our world of data overload you can just as easily picture a person with a laptop, tablet, or smartphone watching YouTube videos and surfing the web for hours on end with no real purpose in mind. Although we all enjoy some downtime now and then, using technology—less as a diversion and more as a tool to accomplish specific objectives—is a positive habit that will yield more positive thoughts.