We keep hearing the narrative that technology (gaming and social media in particular) is ‘ruining lives’.
Can this be true, when so much of our lives is now intrinsically linked to technology?
Studies on the effects of technology on the brain, mood and mental health vary wildly – meaning it’s hard to know for certain who to listen to.
Some reports cite the ill effects of both gaming and social media to include social isolation, increased anxiety, over-production of dopamine and avoidance behaviours; while others cite the positive effects of increased spatial navigation, reasoning, memory and perception skills for gaming and social connectivity for social media.
Which is correct? Perhaps both? Perhaps it depends on the individual and their unique circumstances, personality, coping ability and social supports?
When we were kids, our parents often told us that TV would “rot our brains”. Although the jury is still out on that one, we now have even more evolutions of screen-time to navigate, well beyond these concerns.
This raises the question, “Am I harming my mental wellbeing (or that of my kids) by inviting technology into my life?”
“Is any amount of gaming or social media OK?”
There is not necessarily a black and white, one size fits all answer to this one.
When evaluating your decision, the important thing to ask yourself is, not whether gaming or social media are, in and of themselves, ‘bad’ (because there are many examples where they have affected positive outcomes); but if they are bad for YOU.
You can assess if they are they impacting on your wellbeing by honestly answering the following questions.
Am I falling behind at work or school due to my ‘habit’?
Is my online behaviour impacting my social life or close relationship/s?
Does my mood change when I am online (or unable to go online)?
Has my self-care routine been impacted (e.g. has my hygiene slipped)?
How does gaming or social media make me feel? Happy, comfortable and safe or anxious, upset, angry and vulnerable?
The good news is that you are willing to ask yourself these questions at all. That is a great step. You are reading this article. You are searching for answers. That in itself shows a measure of self-awareness, which is vital in breaking any unwanted habits (if social media and/or online gaming are a problem for you).
Now that you are aware of the problem, you may wish to take steps to minimise or cut out social media and gaming from your life altogether.
However, while you can set your own rules and boundaries around technology in your own home, it can be difficult to enforce or stick to these rules within a school, work or social context.
There may be times in your work where you are required to engage with social media. This can be triggering, if it’s something you’re newly trying to avoid.
If it is part of your work role, it may help to create a distinction between your work profile and your personal one and keep that complete separation in your mind.
Or you could try openly telling your boss that social media is a problem for you and ask for another duty instead.
Socially, you may feel a sudden disconnect from friends when you ‘go offline’. They may question you around this. It may be easier to say something like ‘It’s not really for me anymore’ than to explain any mental health issues you’ve been experiencing.
Your friends may not fully understand your reasoning and that is OK, but you have every right to politely ask them not to put your photograph online or tag you.
It can be even more difficult to keep your kids and teens offline, especially when access to the internet is often a requirement for their schooling/homework and they are facing peer pressure and FOMO (fear of missing out).
To ensure they follow your rules, there are many software programs you can install (such as “Net Nanny”) and settings you can turn on in their devices to filter what they can and can’t access.
You can also set boundaries around their usage. This may be only on weekends, before dinner time or with your supervision.
If you’re concerned, do some research. Attend parent information sessions or access online resources shared by professional child psychologists.
Remember, it’s all about balance. Giving yourself (or your child) some time online can actually help to ‘blow off steam’, which can be healthy, in small doses. Much as we might unwind after a stressful day with a glass of wine and it doesn’t make us ‘alcoholics’; checking in with Facebook or having a quick game of Fortnite doesn’t make you a gaming or social media ‘addict’.
However, if you are experiencing stress due to your online habits or when you are unable to go online, this may be a sign that they have become a coping mechanism or that you are trying to regain a sense of control or achievement in a ‘virtual’ world, when the real world feels out of control.
It’s important to ensure that you’re not using social media or gaming as a coping strategy or avoidance technique in the long term.
Ask yourself, “What is the real underlying problem here? What am I trying to avoid? In what area of my life do I feel I lack control?”
You may need the help of a professional or support person to work through this.
If you do, in fact, have a gaming or social media addiction, this is certainly a real concern that should be dealt with swiftly and perhaps with professional help, as with any form of addiction.
If you are struggling, please seek support from a GP or a mental health professional or call Lifeline anytime for free on 13 11 14.
I also offer a range of modalities including Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Hypnosis, Time Line Therapy®, Access Bars® and Life Coaching and can work together with you and your support team to maintain continuity of support.
I use concentrated Time Line Therapy® sessions to create shifts in both the conscious and unconscious mind, by releasing the emotions that lead to and create patterns of addiction or unwanted habits. To initiate a personal breakthrough, it typically takes 10-12 hours working together, with one 2-hour session per week, for 5-6 weeks.