Making time for a mental break

K'reisa Cox

Being aware of personal health


Recently, there have been several studies published exploring the effects of technology usage and time in front of screens on human psychology.

Smartphone ownership has increased among adolescents from 37 percent in 2012 to 89 percent at the end of 2016, according to the Pew Research Center and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Studying technology’s effects on our psychology is becoming even more crucial, as technology is so influential in how children grow up.

Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, is the lead author of the study “Decreases in Psychological Well-Being Among American Adolescents After 2012 and Links to Screen Time During the Rise of Smartphone Technology,” which discovered a correlation chart between happiness in teens and on-screen and off-screen pursuits.

The data showed that the correlation between happiness and off-screen pursuits was always positive, while conversely the correlation between on-screen pursuits and happiness was always negative.

With daily screen usage on the rise, this has a significant impact on the mental health of American adolescents.

Twenge writes in her book “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood” that “Teens are physically safer than ever, yet they are more mentally vulnerable.”

Loneliness is a rising epidemic in our society. Despite the fact that we are increasingly interconnected thanks to tools such as FaceTime, Instagram and others, people’s sense of isolation is rising, not falling.

Brigham Young University psychologist and researcher Dr. Holt-Lunstad, who has conducted several studies on the effects of loneliness, said most intense periods of loneliness occur during adolescence and young adults, and then again in the final stages of life.

So how do we combat these feelings of loneliness and unhappiness? The data would suggest the best steps are to get outside, and enjoy real interaction with friends.

Essentially, the best way to live life, according to the data, is to live life with others.

However, busy schedules and pressing demands from work or school can make time for these activities hard to come by, a problem college students know all too well.

Luckily, there are also smaller ways in which we can take steps to get the same benefits of refreshing our minds by stepping away from the screen.

New research published by neuroscientist Dr. Adam Gazzaley and psychologist Dr. Larry Rosen shows that when taking a break from work or studying, when people pulled out their phones for a momentary distraction, it actually caused their brains to become distracted more often.

Gazzaley and Rosen suggest in their book that “technology may be decreasing the time associated with the onset of boredom when single tasking as a result of our ever-escalating exposure to pervasive, high-frequency feedback.”

In other words, checking our phones whenever we feel a little bored can train us to check them more often, as our brain reacts to staving off boredom as much as possible.

Gazzaley and Rosen recommend finding breaks that constitute longer-lasting feelings of connection and refreshment, such as walking outside, or having a good laugh, echoing the results of previous studies suggesting the importance of nature and social connection in overall happiness.

So how do all these studies apply to our everyday lives? Are they saying that technology is intrinsically bad for the psychology of our society?

Dr. Twenge was cited by the Washington Post as “calling the relationship of screen and non-screen activities ‘zero sum’ — if you are doing one, it takes time away from the others.” In other words, abstinence from technology isn’t the answer by any means, but rather the data should be viewed as a call to moderation and intentionality.

Let’s help ourselves to feel mentally refreshed and fulfilled by using our time intentionally.

When you need a break, use the time to give your mind the break it requires, and take care of important different parts of our brain.

So, next time you need a break from studying, working, or whatever else, instead of jumping to your phone try getting up and having a conversation with another human, face to face.

Your psychological health and spirit will benefit more than you realize.