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Elaine Bond: The internet and our mental health

Elaine-Bond

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Elaine Bond: The internet and our mental health

This month Elaine Bond, who runs a counselling service in Gedling, looks at what the internet is doing to our mental health

We all love to receive a notification or two from our smart phone or Facebook as it makes us feel like we are connected to others. Browsing through apps and other people’s photographs makes us feel like we have an attachment to people or places or that we are vicariously part of events. But what is this doing to our mental health?

Andy Puddicombe put this in a way that resonates with me “It is not what technology does to us; it is what we do to technology. Used skilfully, it can enhance our lives beyond our wildest imagination. Used unskilfully, it can leave us feeling lonely, isolated, agitated and overwhelmed”

Why does technology make us feel both good and bad? The average person incredibly unlocks their phone over 80 times a day. Do you open up anything else 80 times a day?

We don’t use our phone as a phone as it’s so many other things to us now that take up our attention.  We have all seen the couple in the pub engrossed in their phone while not even speaking to each other. It’s obviously become a comfort, a distraction and, for some, an addiction. Does it make us feel good? For a short period “yes” but it gets in the way of real relationships, it takes up our time and disconnects us from people and, most importantly, ourselves.

As human beings we need to be connected to others and have attachments. Attachments start when we are born, with our mums or primary care givers and once we realise we are not part of them we attach to that caregiving figure. It’s how we survive and develop in our very early years. If you think of where you hold your smart phone and then think of the distance at which you would hold a new born baby – it’s the same –  we are attaching to our phones in the same way we do to our children.

So when we attach to technology we get an instant response/gratification to an object that tolerates us doing whatever we want on it. For some people this is fine and they can define the difference between a real attachment and a virtual one, because they have made secure attachments in their lives as a child. But, for others the affects can be life changing – anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicide, isolation etc.

People who have made an insecure attachment in early life will then make a similar attachment to technology and for some they use technology as a defence again being with people, by not using the phone for calls but prefer to be part of online communities or self-help groups. They will use technology for self-soothing or a way to retreat from reality and certainly as a way to remain distant from others. For some this results into never leaving their rooms and becoming a recluse.

Our identity gets embroiled in the internet, we need the ‘likes’, we only exist if someone else sees it and we only feel real if it’s on the internet (the selfie-culture!).

For others who did not attach well as young children, the internet is the way to connect and they are unable to be separated from it in case they miss something or someone. They use technology to gain attention , as a cry for help, they stalk others and have no boundaries or sense of self.

For others, the internet is where they can be impulsive by becoming addicted to online gambling or porn, (there are over 4 million online porn sites that make more profit than Hollywood). They can view some pretty disturbing images and expose themselves to harm by joining self-harm or eating disorder communities. They become the trolls and groomers as they pass on their feelings of trauma to others.

Facebook

For all of us there is the feeling that with technology we are never alone, but we need to be able to tolerate separation to develop our sense of self.

No one ever dies on the internet, so the grief process which requires us to withdraw and reconnect with life is prolonged, and the reminders will continue when we log on to cyber space.

Our identity gets embroiled in the internet, we need the ‘likes’, we only exist if someone else sees it and we only feel real if it’s on the internet (the selfie-culture!).

We become more narcissistic (who hasn’t googled themselves or changed profile photos as the next one makes us look better).

We live a split life, the real one and the one we have in Second life or Warcraft and from there we can become confused which is reality and which is the one we want. We begin to question which the best life is.

What we say and do, or allow others to say and do, on the internet is ‘ok. Its virtual, our boundaries dissolve and we don’t respect other’s boundaries, as we are not attached to others, only to the technology, so others don’t feel like fellow humans. I have been threatened and abused online but I know these trolls would not say this to me face to face.

Our children are affected by internet addition too, if they are exposed to technology too early they see true and false information on the net, how do they learn the difference? They access news and events on line that we would not let them watch with us on the TV. This can lead to PTSD, and they aren’t safe from the groomers and trolls unless parents are vigilant. There is cyber peer pressure; and we all know the plea for the latest IPhone etc.  There is no break from cyber bullying, we have information overload, and there is anxiety from trying to be in contact with everyone or the depression when no-one contacts them.

The internet is a force for good too, as we have created a global village, we meet partners on dating sites, we have access to some much knowledge and we can become informed about life changing events almost immediately.

How do we know if we have an issue?

  • We spend too much time with technology, more than we do with others
  • We have no real sense of our boundaries
  • We lie about how long we spend on Facebook or Instagram
  • There is a feeling of compulsion to check our Smartphone if it doesn’t ping for a while or check every notification.
  • Feeling like we can’t cope without technology, becoming panic struck at the thought of losing access even for a day
  • Self-esteem becomes dependant on likes, comments or other cyber space ‘strokes’
  • Our online life is nothing like our reality
  • Our online friends are more important than our real life ones

So what can we do?

Getting rid of our smart-phones and technology isn’t the answer as it is part of our everyday life. It’ about putting technology back to a tool we use not a life we lead..

  • Don’t use your phone as an alarm clock; it gives us access to the outside world and others without giving us time to concentrate on our own well-being.
  • Turn it off, go to airplane mode or silent at least 1.5 hours before you go to sleep, the light from the screen sets off melatonin production in the brain that controls and wake and sleep function, so we need to normalise it before we try to sleep.
  • Disable the apps you don’t use as this results less pings notifications and distractions.
  • Disable email on your phone, do you need to check everyone that comes in?
  • Find things to do that aren’t internet based – read a book, go running or walking
  • Set a timer for your internet use and stop when it goes off

This website is good for helping parents understand what apps our children are using – http://parentinfo.org/articles/apps-and-social-media/all

This one helps parents understand the dangers on the internet – https://www.thinkuknow.co.uk/parents/

Internet addiction is a growing issue for each generation and is beocming a recognised mental health diagnosis. Like all addictions it is a hard one to break once it has taken hold. It’s an area I specialise in so please contact me if you need support.

Tel: 07769 152 951

Email: ng4counselling@gmail.com

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/ElaineTerryCounsellingServcies/

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