GCPH gives advice for digital well-being for adults


Editor’s note: This is the fifth of a six-part series.

XENIA — Adulting is hard.

Just ask any college student who is trying to navigate their way through classes, fees, part time jobs, and career plans. Or ask the young adult who just graduated from high school and dove right into their chosen career, along with balancing home life, bills, transportation woes, and so much more. Not to mention the young parent who may be raising small children while balancing career goals and childcare. It’s not easy. Finally, add in a global pandemic to their already busy lives, and it’s a recipe for certain mental health issues to rear their ugly heads.

This article, the fifth in the Disconnect to Connect series, raises awareness about the increase of depression and anxiety symptoms in young adults before, during, and after the pandemic. For example, symptoms grew from one in 10 in 2019 to four in 10 by early 2021 (Forbes, 2022). This rise in depression and anxiety is true during childhood and for those growing from teens into adults. The pandemic’s impact exacerbated isolation and loneliness which contribute to risk of symptoms. The term “adulting” captures those characteristic actions and behavior that are considered typical adult responsibilities, rather than those tied to children and younger people, according to the Cambridge Dictionary.

Establishing an adult identity involves more than developing new responsibilities, complex thinking, and mature relationships. It’s a rite of passage and one that is both unique to individuals and a continuous process. It’s a time of becoming separated from family life and living on one’s own, working, going to school, and social interaction. There are biological, physical, emotional, spiritual, and cultural dimensions of early adulthood that interact with a range of environments and experiences. However, one dimension that may be overlooked is digital well-being in young adults.

Several articles link the surge in digital technology as changing the rhythm of life by spending more time alone and less social time in-person with others. It’s also impacting quality and amount of daily sleep, exercise, and outdoor activities. Plus, there is more risk of poor posture and damaging eyesight through strain, poor lighting. Thirty-one percent of adults in the US report they go online almost constantly, according a 2021 survey conducted by Pew Research Center. Personal, internet-connected devices like smart phones, tablets, and wearable technology are common. In fact, 18-29 year olds make up the largest percentage of adults going online almost constantly at 48 percent. Those with some college or college graduates-plus had higher online use than individuals with a high school degree or less. And people of color in particular report going online almost constantly to a greater degree, for example, black (non-Hispanic) 37 percent, and Hispanic 36 percent, had higher online use, compared to their white counterparts 28 percent.

While work or school may be less flexible areas of life to limit screen time, there are ways to moderate one’s personal online time. Overall, it could be helpful to set a limit of three hours per day of personal screen time outside of work or school obligations. For example, one episode of a streaming service could be enjoyed unwinding from a stressful day, rather than consuming an unlimited amount of news or entertainment. There may be physical ways to reduce strain in the eyes. Research recommends using the 20-20-20 rule to protect and heal your eyes from potentially damaging screen time: Look 20 feet in the distance for 20 seconds every 20 minutes of time spent on the screen. These are a just a few ways to manage digital well-being.

Learning about how to increase health and reduce unhealthy thoughts, actions, and feelings across all dimensions of wellness is more urgent than ever before. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people ages 10-34 and 50 percent of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14 and 75 percent by age 24 (NAMI, 2022).

The following strategies are familiar practical ways to promote well-being and pinpoint areas to adjust:

— Sleep well. Young adults need at least seven hours of quality sleep every night. Avoid keeping digital devices like phones, television, or tablets in the bedroom. Stop using devices at least an hour before bedtime.

— Exercise regularly. Physical activity is an essential stress reliever for people of all ages and can alleviate some of the physical symptoms of stress.

— Talk or write about feelings and experiences. Telling a trusted friend about a stressful situation can help put things in perspective and find solutions. Similarly, expressing feelings in writing has been shown to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.

— Limit mood-altering substances. Avoid tobacco, regular alcohol use, and do not use prescription medications that are not prescribed for you. Seek alternatives to prescriptions that may pose risk for addiction if you have a history of addiction or family history

— Take care of your spirit. Pray, meditate, or learn mindfulness or stress-busting breathing exercises. Having tools ready to use in stressful situations — like in the middle of a test — can help address stress before it becomes overwhelming.

— Eat well. Consider increasing water, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and reducing sugar and processed foods. Turn off screens during meals.

— Get outside in nature to feel energized, enjoyment, and find peace. Clean and safe inside and outside environments contribute to feelings of stability and security.

Building upon these strategies could become a new way of adulting as teens move into early adulthood. They’ll have greater autonomy, awareness of well-being, and an ability find a balance from disconnecting to connecting.

Watch for the August article that will focus on educators, parents, and community at large.

Greene County Public Health officials, along with the Mental Health Recovery Board of Clark, Greene and Madison Counties, the Greene County Public Library, Greene County Children Services, Greene County Family & Children First Council, and the Greene County Educational Service Center are working collaboratively to raise community awareness of the problem along with providing resources and practical information to help children, youth, educators, parents, families, and community organizations make impactful changes toward improving mental health and well-being of Greene County’s future: Our young people.

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