While we recognize the limitations of any singular blog post’s ability to answer big questions like the ones we’re asking, our intention is not to tell you everything there is to know about this issue, but rather to open up a space for conversation, reflection, curiosity, and a consideration of all the other questions this one question sets in motion.
Reflection on Mental Health and Impact of Media on our Personal Mental Health
There is a spoof on drug commercials that I love called Nature Rx. It takes the common concept of a prescription solution to all encompassing issues that we as humans face daily, and recommends a solid dose of Nature (Disclaimer aside). My own life has been remedied countless times by a few days out in the wilderness away from “it” all. Without a barrage of notifications, incoming todo’s and well meaning, but overwhelming check-ins from friends, I stop thinking in a million different directions, prioritizing and reprioritizing as work, news and events as they come into my purview.
A couple of years ago, I moved to a remote town in the mountains for my mental health. Having ease of access to the quiet and the removed felt like the only way I could find some semblance of sanity amidst my rapidly expanding anxious mind. It took some time to get used to the quiet. Sirens and basslines are a rarity and even our radio is commercial free. Nothing yells at me to buy or to do or be something. Yet still with screens becoming an extension of ourselves, how we connect, how we work and play, I can’t help but feel a persistent nagging to learn more, be better informed, experience media in a myriad of ways just to stay relevant.
Proximity to nature didn’t decrease societal expectations- often filtered through media representation to successfully juggle work, health, home and beyond. Of course a positive outlook is a prerequisite even in the face of tragedy close to the heart and across the world. I began working with a therapist to outsource my struggles and find validation that internal upheaval is relatively normal. The more I researched about the “natural” ways our brains work and how connections and signals can get out of whack, the more comfortable I found myself with using science to help keep me grounded and I began to take chemical prescriptions to keep from being engulfed by big feelings in response to the news and work I (candidly) seek out.
It is a bit ironic how I use the technology and the media to find ways to decrease my anxiety/depression/confusion when I know full well that time and space away from the media those factions of self are minimized. Knowing about issues, events and the latest and greatest has it’s benefits, you can find ways to help, participate in the global community and feel culturally current. For me it also instigates helplessness, F.O.M.O, and budgetary strain. Balance is not the right word for what I aim towards, realistically- neither is sanity. But acceptance and awareness have been the best way to help myself in the sea of mental health, media literacy and personal understanding.
I can’t remember the last time I went a full day without using any media. I can easily say it’s been years. Years of being on social media every single day, consuming information, and comparing myself to others online. I’ve grown to accept that a portion of my life does take place online. It’s how I receive information, talk to others, and get entertainment.
Growing up with social media impacted my mental health severely. I started comparing myself to others online at the tender age of 11 and still do to this day. That being said, I now know much more than I did back then and wish I could give that little girl a hug and explain to her how photoshop works. There have been various times in which I would try to give up media but whether it was FOMO or pure boredom, I always seemed to get drawn right back in.
I do think media has a large positive impact on my life that I don’t always give it enough credit for. Lately I’ve been trying to focus more on the positives in my life and feel as though I should do the same in this situation. Media has helped me put my own situations into perspective that I may not have noticed otherwise. Whether it be life after graduation, or dealing with mental health. With the use of social media I have found people who are similar to me in ways that I haven’t had before. I also use it to stay close with people who I’d otherwise lose touch with. It makes me feel good when I know that my friend sent me a TikTok because she saw it and thought of me. We work opposite schedules and don’t live near each other anymore, so knowing that she saw that and thought of me helps keep our friendship going. It may be a generational difference, or maybe young adults are worse at communicating with one another, but it’s how many people my age use media with their friends without directly communicating.
Media has a large impact on my mental health and whether that impact is positive or negative depends on the day. Sometimes it’s an escape where I can talk to friends or watch harmless videos. Other times it’s post after post of negativity that tears me down, sometimes without me even realizing it. I’m trying to be more mindful of moments like that and remove myself from those situations before they do succeed in tearing me down. Hopefully through realizing those triggers it will lead to a better impact of media on my mental health and to me becoming a better media consumer.
I have a love-hate relationship with media and technology. On one hand I love it, it helps me do all the things I need to do both in my professional and personal lives. On the other hand I wish I could step outside this era of hyper digitalization and back to a simpler time where I didn’t feel it was essential to be connected through technology, the days when I walked for hours down a stream completely disconnected from everything other than the physical world around me without this looming need to reconnect and catch up to what I missed during my digital absence. For me it is not possible to completely disconnect nor would I want to but I often think back to the 90s and miss the days of dialup where you had to coordinate to meet up with friends and actually show up, where you couldn’t be on the phone and the internet at the same time so conversations were all about the present, where physical connection was the priority over building virtual networks. Knowing that I cannot disconnect has driven me to better understand the ever present impact the media I consume and technology I use has on my perspective and well being.
Now saying that does not mean each and every time I consume that the impact is monumental or even noticeable but change is happening and I think it is this hyper awareness of impact that has allowed me to form consumption habits that for the most part have positive impacts on my mental health and overall wellbeing. I know for instance that if I start my day ingesting hard news I can become distracted from the priorities at hand as I contemplate the big things happening in our world and how I, Bridget Haina, can work to solve them. I know that about my brain, that if it is presented with a problem it will work tirelessly to try and solve it, stealing all the moments I need to focus and complete simple tasks for the day as I dive further down the news of the day rabbit hole.
I also know that sitting and watching the latest animated movie to be released with my kids will provide me with moments to connect and feel with them as we engage together with the stories being presented to us. There will be a moment where I laugh and I cry and they look over and say mom, why are you crying and I get to explain my own reaction to the media. I know that scrolling through most social media feeds typically makes me feel less than or wasteful with my time as I exit, rarely finding a meaningful takeaway from the space. I know that reading romance novels has improved my romantic relationship with my spouse and watching cooking shows will typically result in either making a delicious meal or scrounging for whatever fast snack is available to satisfy my now incessant hunger. I know checking my email can make me feel both caught up and dreadfully behind, a paradox I can never seem to escape and that can stress me out like no other. I know about these impacts because I want to understand myself and the reactions and habits that I form through media consumption. I want to be able to harness that limitless information available to me to benefit my life instead of using media as an escape, distraction and detractor from my goals and being mindful about the media I consume will help me do that.
actions to take
Plan screen breaks
Reflect on how the media you consume and technology you use impacts your mental health
Talk to a mental health professional
Share your experience with us!
Connect with an AC member for a one on one chat.
questions to consider
Out of the media you consume, which has the most negative impact on your mental health?
Which has the most positive?
What helps you decompress from media and technology?
How do you incorporate mindfulness into your media use?