If you pull out your phone to check Twitter while waiting for the light to change, or read e-mails while brushing your teeth, you might be what the American Psychological Association calls a “constant checker.”
And chances are, it’s hurting your mental health.
Last week, the APA released a study finding that Americans were experiencing the first statistically significant stress increase in the survey’s 10-year history. In January, 57 percent of respondents of all political stripes said the U.S. political climate was a very or somewhat significant source of stress, up from 52 percent who said the same thing in August.
On Thursday, the APA released the second part of its findings, “Stress In America: Coping With Change,” examining the role technology and social media play in American stress levels.
Social media use has skyrocketed from 7 percent of American adults in 2005 to 65 percent in 2015. For those in the 18-29 age range, the increase is larger, from 12 percent to a remarkable 90 percent. But while an increase in social media usage is hardly surprising, the number of people who just can’t tear themselves away is stark: Nowadays, 43 percent of Americans say they are checking their e-mails, texts, or social media accounts constantly. And their stress levels are paying for it: On a 10-point scale, constant checkers reported an average stress level of 5.3. For the rest of Americans, the average level is a 4.4.
The highest stress levels, it should be noted, are reserved for those who constantly check their work e-mail on days off. Their average stress level is 6.0. So those of you who think it’s somehow pleasant to work from home on a Saturday afternoon, you are fooling yourself.
More than 3,500 people ages 18 and older were surveyed last August for the report, and another 1,000 were surveyed in January about the election.
About 42 percent of constant checkers specifically point to political and cultural discussions as causing stress. And the impacts play out in real life — 35 percent of constant checkers say they are less likely to spend time with family and friends because of social media.
If the first step toward recovery, however, is admitting there is a problem, Americans are on their way. Some 65 percent of respondents said “unplugging” or taking a “digital detox” is important. But alas, knowing you have a problem is not the same as fixing it: Only 28 percent of those Americans say they take their own advice.
For those looking to manage their social media usage, Anthony L. Rostain, professor of psychiatry at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and co-author of “The Adult ADHD Tool Kit: Using CBT to Facilitate Coping Inside and Out,” offers some suggestions:
• Set guidelines for your social media time.
• Make sure you complete the tasks you need to get done.
• Get the sleep you need.
• At the end of the day, evaluate: “Did I do OK? Where did I slip up? Can I do better tomorrow?” These are all important questions to ask yourself, Rostain said.
• And he adds one final, critical point: “Don’t [lie] in bed at all hours with the screen in your face.”