• One in five Americans is clinically depressed.
  • Tens of millions more suffer from mild to moderate anxiety.

This wave of mental health challenges is possibly caused by the spike in the consumption of digital content. Adults now spend over 11 hours per day listening to, watching, reading or interacting with media. That is more than what we spend on restorative activities like sleeping or sitting down for a meal.

But, psychiatrist Carrie Baron, and Harvard Kennedy Fellow Michael Phillips Moskovitz, believe that we can reshape how we engage with such a compelling and explosive digital culture. This, by embracing three aspects of a healthy digital life:

  1. Building digital literacy. In essence, this refers to understanding different kinds of digital content, and learning which ones are good for our emotional well-being. It’s great to have awareness of what content is out there, but also what it does to us. This would be a gamechanger.

For example, apps like Headspace are meant to make us mindful. They have a positive impact on us, even if used multiple times a day. On the other hand, apps that give us endless access to TV shows challenge our well-being. Many of us are in the habit of watching shows about drugs and murders. In moderation, this is entertaining. But when binge-watched, it is harmful – it amps up our stress and anxiety. That spills over into other aspects of life.

  1. Practicing digital hygiene. Quoting Baron and Moskovitz, hygiene is about knowing, “when to use and when to resist digital content to protect sleep, enhance interpersonal relationships, combat loneliness, and improve other biological indicators, like breathing.”

We all know the advice about no screens before bedtime. Or rather, no screens in the bedroom itself. How many of us actually follow it? Not too many. Companies like Apple are trying to help, by introducing screen-tracking tools to monitor personal use. Google has introduced filters and a ‘downtime’ feature in its Home app to schedule breaks from connected devices. Are you willing to heed?

  1. Breaking the habit. Let’s face it – the digital culture gives us convenient access to engaging content. It is right at our fingertips. So even if we know it’s not good for us, we can’t help ourselves. How do we change our behavior?

Giving ourselves small goals to replace that digital content is a first step. If you find yourself watching shows from 7 PM to 9.30 PM every day, can you switch out one of those hours for a different activity? Maybe going for a run with a friend or watching a live performance. The idea – cut down the screen time. Try this for 10 days. How do you feel?

The digital culture is a double-edged sword. There is a boon and a bane. And it is up to us personally to tune into the benefits. How will you do that?

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