By Carly Keyes, Daily Health and Fitness Columnist
Published September 19, 2013
As I contemplate the themes I want to explore this year with my health and fitness column, I’ve decided to take a new approach to the concept of “health” and focus more explicitly on the mental aspect — what’s going on inside plays a pivotal role in dictating what’s happening on the outside. At least, I know it does for me.
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This week, I want to talk about technology. More specifically, I want to talk about social networking. Inventions ostensibly provide an equal number of benefits and detriments: The movie camera revolutionized the entertainment industry and provides millions of jobs and opportunities for artistic expression, but it also encourages a sedentary lifestyle. The car, the plane, the train … these allowed the expansion of our country and help us get from place to place to see our loved ones, do business and vacation. But the widespread use and heavy reliance on these methods of transportation is now killing our environment.
Social networking offers a similar benefit in that it’s created an industry and helps us stay connected to individuals across the globe with the click of a mouse; these are just a few of the positives. But in a recent study on the relationship between Facebook and depression, it appears that this pastime can foster a severe negative impact on our mental health.
In a May 2013 study titled, “Is Facebook creating ‘iDisorders?,’ ” California State University researchers tested whether the use of specific technologies or media (including certain types of Facebook use) would predict clinical symptoms of six personality disorders (schizoid, narcissistic, antisocial, compulsive, paranoid and histrionic) and three mood disorders (major depression, dysthymia and bipolar-mania).
Teens, young adults and adults completed an anonymous, online questionnaire that addressed these concerns. Based on their testimonies, researchers found that simply the number of friends had by a Facebook user has a significant impact on mental health. Having more Facebook friends predicted more clinical symptoms of bipolar-mania, narcissism and histrionic personality disorder, but fewer symptoms of dysthymia and schizoid personality disorder. In simpler terms, Facebook users’ self-esteem may vacillate from high to low based on the number of “friends” they have.
But if we’re spending so much time building our online social network and caring about our collection of digital connections, are we then sacrificing our efforts to form, strengthen and maintain legitimate relationships? I value and derive far more esteem from an enjoyable conversation in person at a coffee shop than from a Facebook chat session while sitting at home on my couch. Let’s not fool ourselves; the latter scenario still demonstrates isolative behavior. And no matter how many Facebook friends I have, if I’m not participating in my life outside the cyber world, I’d become depressed.
Playing devil’s advocate, I’ll pose that it’s not the vehicle that births the consequences, it’s how a person uses it: Guns don’t kill people, people kill people; junk food is never forced down our throats, etc. The key for me is to “Facebook responsibly.” I need to recognize when it’s appropriate to pay attention to my phone and when it’s important to pay attention to my company.
At the end of this past summer, I went up north with my family to fill my tank with as much R&R as possible before the semester kicked off, and we stayed at a beautiful cabin on the water. My main concern: Is there Wi-Fi? I couldn’t not take my laptop. I didn’t have homework to do, obviously. I didn’t have a specific reason for bringing it other than the fact that, without my laptop, a device I use every day, I feel ... odd. That experience forced me to evaluate my behavior, but I didn’t feel inclined to change it quite yet.
As soon as I admitted that technology possesses some level of power over me, things kept happening.