A Google search for ‘college students and stress,’ gets about 161 million results, equal to roughly half the population of the United States. Professors warn incoming freshmen not to get overwhelmed in their first semester, and resources and advice on how to relieve stress and protect mental health are abundant. To find relief, many students turn to a few hours on social media, playing video games or watching Netflix.
However, such distractions are actually part of the problem. Doctor of Psychology, Doreen Dodgen-Magee, spoke last week in chapel about how technology is changing the way our bodies function and how we relate to others and the world around us.
Americans spend 12.5 hours looking at a digital screen every day, said Dodgen-Magee. That number has increased from 11.5 hours last year. At the current rate, she said, we will have spent 19 years of our lives looking at a screen by the time we turn 60.
“Technology is deeply impacting the way we are shaped,” Dodgen-Magee said. “It’s shaping our physiology and our sense of self.”
Dodgen-Magee explained that our use of technology has rewired our brains so we have shorter attention spans and have extreme difficulty tolerating boredom or silence. Because of this, she encouraged students to find time for contemplative prayer, breathing exercises and other activities that direct their focus away from a digital screen and their busy lives.
“I tell people not to look at their phone while in bed,” Dodgen-Magee said. She also suggested students wear a watch instead of using a smartphone to see the time, or drive with their phone in the trunk of their car instead of within arm’s reach.
“You have to establish really rigid and healthy norms,” Dodgen-Magee said. “Ask ‘what is going to be healthy for me?’ It’s going to be counter-cultural and there may be some consequences.”
“It could be a radical act of self-care to only watch one episode of a show a week,” Dodgen-Magee said.
Andrew Heldenbrand, sophomore international business major, said he is trying to use his phone less as a toy and more as a tool. “I don’t want to be a slave to my phone,” Heldenbrand said. “If I’m talking with a friend and I feel my phone vibrate, I try to just leave it alone until I’m done. It would be rude for a person to come up and start talking to me when I’m already in a conversation, and I don’t think I have any more of a responsibility to a text conversation than a verbal one.”
In such a fast-paced world—with classes, part-time jobs, financial concerns, extracurricular activities and more—students often find it difficult to take a break. The American Psychological Association found that “Millennials are more likely than other generations to say their stress has increased in the past year,” with 36 percent of reporting increased stress versus 24 percent of boomers and 19 percent of matures.
In addition, 34 percent of millennials say that their stress caused them to have a sense of loneliness or isolation—more than any other generation—and a quarter of millennials say they have no emotional support, according to the American Psychological Association.
Dodgen-Magee discussed in chapel the phenomenon of fear of missing out and how it contributes to our stress.
“I don’t think it’s helpful to romanticize pre-technology days,” Dodgen-Magee said. “My hope is three things: to encourage moderate use for the sake of being able to create an internal locus of control, to tolerate boredom and learn to be inconvenienced and uncomfortable. That creates character and resilience like nothing else can.”