Online Media and Your Health

June 12, 2019 John Bruels, MA, LICSW

Online media is ubiquitous in our society and has a huge impact on our health and well-being.  Social and news media, podcasts and streaming media services and online gaming are wonderful tools to stay in touch, keep informed and entertained.  However, for some it becomes a significant distraction in their lives, sucking in more and more of their time and energy.  An important thing to recognize about online media is that the experience of spending far more time and attention on it than you intend is by design.  There is an army of engineers out there employed to accomplish one thing, capture and hold your attention for as long as possible, mostly for the purposes of selling things and collecting data on you and your buying preferences.

This isn’t to say that online media is bad or necessarily addictive.  It’s just that the lived experience of many people is completely understandable.  Many people spend far more time occupied with online media than they intend or even realize.  As a result relationships suffer, productivity diminishes, sleep and energy decrease and anxiety and depression increase.

So, what are folks to do who want the benefits of online media but diminish the chances of the negative impacts on their lives?  A good place to start is to become much more intentional about your use of online media.  Take some time and think critically about your relationship with your phone, pad and laptop.  Here is a list of things to consider:

  • Ideally, how many hours a day is reasonable to spend online?  If you were to share your actual number with family, teachers and/or employer what would their reaction be?
  • Make a plan and use some tools to help accomplish your goals for the time you spend online.  There are apps and settings you can use that can help increase your awareness such as an activity dashboard and usage reminder.
  • Be intentional about the news sources you use.  Don’t just click through to any article or video.  Do some research about the independence of the news sources you follow.  Being informed is important part of living in a civilized society but if you are constantly feeling angered or frightened by the news, consider the messenger.
  • Deliberately set aside some time to completely unplug.  Have some activity planned for that time (hike, fish, bike, boat, etc).  Enjoying and/or accomplishing something with the time you would have normally spend online is great.  However, the real power of an exercise like this is proving to yourself that you can be apart from the devices in your life for an extended period of time and nothing bad will happen.

If you are concerned about the amount of time you or a loved one is spending online or it’s having a negative impact on life, bring it up with your primary care provider.

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