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GUPTA PSYCHIATRY

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GUPTA PSYCHIATRY

8304 Creedmoor Road
Raleigh, NC 27613
and
1011 West Williams St., #102
Apex, NC 27502
Telephone: (919) 870-8409
www.guptapsychiatry.com

The High Cost of Connection
in Our Media-Driven Lives

These are the days of constant connection; of knowing the moment a friend you haven’t seen in 15 years steps onto a beach, and what your college roommate’s boyfriend is eating for dinner—as he eats it.  These are the days of constant interaction, 24/7 availability, and multiple streams of continuous communication.

Dr. Gupta: “Often our goal is to help my patients redefine their boundaries.”

What effect does our media-driven, hyper-connected society have on our ability to attain and maintain overall health?

 Dr. Mona Gupta, of Gupta Psychiatry in Raleigh and Apex, is well prepared with an answer. “The short version,” she tells us, “is that our health is suffering.  And I don’t just mean mental health, though the impact on mental health has certainly been huge.  The media that infiltrate our lives in nearly every context have created a state of chronic anxiety, insomnia, lowered self-esteem, and decreased ability to maintain work-life balance. Additionally, the ability to have a normal conversation—not one that is tweeted, texted, messaged, emailed, or captured in a snapchat or on Instagram, but an actual, in-person, meaningful conversation—has all but faded in our youth. Perhaps even more importantly, the loss of the ability to connect with those physically around us is a drain on our mental health, and our overall well-being.”

Dr. Gupta has experienced the effects of this state of digital overload both through her interactions with her patients, and more personally with her own children.  “It’s very interesting to notice the striking difference in people of different age groups,” she notes. “Patients in their early to mid-thirties come in and they still look me in the eye, shake my hand, sit down and are able to have a conversation in an appropriate adult way.”

Different Rules

In contrast, she says, “patients in their twenties offer a whole different picture. They’re often awkward, unsure how to communicate in a fluid manner, and text or scroll the whole time we are talking. They seem to follow different rules of conversational engagement. But more than that, it’s as though a single conversation bores them; it seems they need more stimulation than a one-on-one conversation offers, just to stay awake.

“The difference I believe stems from what has become the norm of living on and in and behind social media, video games, and a constant focus on what’s going on everywhere in the world except in our own surroundings. We can connect with 30 of our friends in a day and know everything they each did without ever speaking a single word aloud. We have access to international news every hour of the day.  And when we tire of it all, and need a break, video games are the go-to escape to duck out of ‘reality’ for a while.”

This is an extremely toxic environment in terms of our mental health, Dr. Gupta believes. “The most toxic part of it all is that we don’t let our brains rest. It used to be we wanted one hour of electronics—right? You got one hour of TV or a video game after dinner—a dinner the whole family had eaten together. Now we’re practically begging people to take a one-hour break from electronics during the day.”

Adulthood Is Aging

The age of 18 confers legal adulthood. At 21 the purchase and consumption of alcohol becomes legal, and at 24 you can rent a car. But Dr. Gupta argues that from what she observes, the age of true adulthood is getting older and older.

“I have parents bring their grown children in to see me,” she says: “adults in their twenties, being brought in by Mom who still does everything for them, because during all those years as teenagers when they should have been developing interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, and learning to navigate the world around them, they were glued to the x-box six-plus hours a day. They were texting instead of learning to have a conversation, and they were following every move their friends made through Facebook and Instagram rather than engaging in actual relationships. What’s fascinating is that in many instances they are educated, so educated. They have master’s degrees and run on-line businesses. But in so many ways that matter, they’re still babies.

“The truth is,” Dr. Gupta acknowledges, “there is a great deal that is wonderful about how connected we are able to be to one another. We can keep up with friends in other countries as easily as with our next-door neighbors. We can know what is happening across the world almost as it happens. We are connected to the world, which is amazing, but we’re less likely to be connecting individually. So our self-esteem suffers. And we work to make our lives look perfect on-line, causing us to feel increasingly lonelier and depressed because what we project is not matching up with the reality we are experiencing.”

A State of Anxiety

Dr. Gupta observes that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., with over 40 million people affected every year. “That’s 18.1 percent of the entire population.  Overall, 43 percent of the population takes an anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication on a regular basis.

“This in not at all surprising when you think about the toxicity of the environment we’re in. Everyone has 24/7 access to everything, including each other.  No one makes phone calls or—heaven forbid—leaves a message.  We text because it’s more immediate, and we expect an immediate response. The boundaries that once kept the phone silent before 8 am and after 9 pm—because those hours were protected by common decency—have vanished, and it’s no longer rude to text or email at 11pm. 

“This is perhaps most evident in our work lives.  Emails are constant so the work day never really ends.  Between the time you leave the office and get back in the morning, you may have gotten 20 emails so you’re starting off the day already behind.  There simply is no 9-to-5 anymore.  And the pressure to be constantly responsive, to provide unhindered access to yourself at all times, is creating an epidemic of anxiety.

“We can’t maintain health when we’re struggling just to keep up with the basics.  So here I am, medicating people so they can deal with multi-tasking just to keep up with basic demands, when all we really need to do is regain some boundaries, rediscover balance, and unplug from the outside world so we can re-center ourselves in our own, real lives.” 

 What’s the Solution?

“Often our goal is to help my patients redefine their boundaries,” Dr. Gupta says.  “Goals and boundaries are different for everyone—but what if everyone in the household turned off their phones for two hours in the evenings, and spent that time discussing the events of the day? Or making dinner together?  What if the phones went off during dinner time, or you decided to stop checking emails at 7pm? How about sleeping with your phone in another room?

“The difference in the level of anxiety I see my patients experience when I can get them away from their devices and reconnected with themselves, their families, and their physical environment, is astounding.  Once they re-learn boundaries, it’s almost like I can see them breathing again.  Anxiety, depression and insomnia all decrease, work performance increases, and a sense of balance and well-being is restored.”