Our mental health has never been about just us. Nature has always been a part of our well-being, and connecting with the great outdoors is paramount to our overall wellness. With the rise of technology (and especially these little supercomputers stowed away in our pockets), there has never been a greater hindrance on our mental health. And the holidays are a turbulent season in which spending less time staring at digital screens and more time outside connecting with the world is paramount to regulating ourselves and taking care of our mental health.
Overuse of apps like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter affects people of all ages and cultures. Social media connects us, but it also frays the connections between us because no one is in someone else’s life 24/7. The fatigue is real. One recent study found that online social networks cause nearly 50 negative effects on users, including anxiety, depression, sleep loss, anti-social tendencies, and lack of productivity.
Social media is addicting, and while the side effects and outcomes are absolutely horrifying, they are not surprising. And they don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, especially in the current everything-is-digital world we live in.
The pandemic forced society to move into a state of constant online presence in order to maintain work schedules and social connection. The pendulum being swung so swiftly to social isolation and uncertainty did not help (remember: we are communal creatures). Moving everything online was necessary and, for a time, legally required for some. Now comes our reckoning: we must find a way to transition from screen time back to green time.
The average American now spends more time (at nearly eight hours a day) looking at a screen than sleeping. Womp, womp. And this is even more true during the holiday season. Of note, social media use sees an estimated spike of 73% during the holidays. Yikes!
The holiday season absolutely brings with it complicated feelings and emotions, and social media further emphasizes this. Regulating our mental health is even more difficult during the holidays when time away from school, work, and normal routines are replaced by the sometimes stressful family moments and increases in travel.
Disruptions in homeostasis are breeding grounds for stress and anxiety. There is already room for mental health disorders to heighten during these times without the added influence of YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. Instead, we ought to be spending more time unplugging from our phones and plugging into the real, natural, authentic world around us. It may sound cliché, but it is proven by science.
Humans are genetically engineered to be attracted to things that are alive outside. We were made to grow in nature alongside the flowers and trees; next to the mountains and ocean; near the birds, fish, and even the bugs.
We belong in nature and our minds and bodies know it. We’re hard-wired to thrive in the living, natural world, and it really only takes a little effort to find ways to interact with nature, even in a largely urbanized society.
Evidence supports an association between common types of nature experiences and increased psychological well-being, including happiness, positive social interactions, a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life, increased productivity, decreases in mental distress, memory and attention boosts, and creativity.
Time spent in nature reduces risk factors and burdens of some types of mental health concerns, especially relating to sleep problems, stress, anxiety, and depression.
These are all the exact outcomes needed to combat the ongoing rise of social media and over-reliance on all things digital. Bringing our focus back to the actual living and growing things around us leads us out of digital decay, while allowing us to keep utilizing the amazing by-products of a connected and technologically-advanced society. Though an easy distraction during those often stressful holiday gatherings, screen time is hurting us more in the long run.
We aren’t suggesting completely removing cell phones and social media; we should continue to mindfully and thoughtfully expand their use. We support balance and awareness; screen time with the absence of green time is detrimental. Remember to take a mindful approach to this holiday season.
Make a plan for a group walk outside (Down the block or through the woods; wherever you are, get outside!) after your Thanksgiving meal instead of opting for the lethargic couch-potato-nodding-off-while-watching-TV option. Sign up for the holiday 5k with friends or family and enjoy walking or running in the open air. Put down your iPhone and grab some drinks and snacks and lounge in the backyard (or front yard, or side yard, or nearby park… you get the idea).
Our biorhythms could use a reset. If you are in North Texas and interested in learning more about mental-health-advocating local businesses and events, check out www.FeelBetterFortWorth.com to discover ways to get out of the house and into the real world.