Do you need a digital detox?

Social media is the phenomenon of our time.

It has allowed each one of us to connect with new and old friends and companies like never before and it has become an integral part of our lives.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife took us both to Rome to celebrate my birthday.  This is me in the photo, caught in the act by my wife, checking social media in the middle of one of the world’s great historical sites – the Colosseum in Rome. Is this not addictive behaviour?

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There are pitfalls and dangers with social media as with any aspect of life and these are well documented. However, for the majority of people, social networks allow greater integration and sharing of our lives with friends and family than has ever been previously possible. From seeing family holiday photos to speaking to friends from years ago or miles away, connecting with people has never been easier. Suddenly the world is a much smaller place.

As a doctor, I have seen social media be a pathway to improving a patient’s health. One young patient had been quite social during their early years in school but had become more reclusive due to bullying. They rarely left the house and had no social interaction other than with their own family.

My patient’s one and only interest was sport. They continued to watch their favourite sport and over time, due to their enthusiasm, started a weekly iTunes podcast which proved quite successful. As part of the promotion for the podcast, they found they had to engage with social media including Instagram and Facebook. Slowly they found they were starting to talk to people online and, over the following months, started to form online friendships. This progressed into face to face friendships and attending sporting events together. From living their life alone in their bedroom to attending large sporting events with friends; the positive power of social networks is easy to see.

I think we engage with social media because as human beings we are inherently social animals. We like to keep up to date with what people are doing because by nature we are interested in what is happening in our surroundings.

Earlier this year, a study of 14-24 year olds found that Instagram was beneficial in terms of self-expression and self-indentity but that it could negatively impact their body image, sleep and lead to a fear of missing out.

Another study suggested that a Facebook addiction could be seen on brain scans of those reportedly affected – showing changes in the same parts of the brain that is affected by cocaine use.

Here are our top tips for spotting a social media addiction:

  1. As soon as you open your eyes in the morning you are already reaching for your phone to check out what has happened over night.
  2. You check in at the bus stop, the tube, your desk, at starbucks (with a selfie of you looking wistful with your coffee – or a boomerang of your coffee), you then update your status as you’re waiting for the work day to end and repeat the check in process on your way home before providing a running commentary in Instagram stories of you preparing your dinner.
  3. When someone tells you a joke you respond with lol instead of an actual laugh.
  4. You use the phrase “hashtag” in normal conversations. #fail.

So you’re worried you might be addicted, or you might need to take a step back from social media – how do you go about doing it? In truth in can be incredibly difficult to digitally detox your life.

  • Start by trying to set some limits – like not checking your phone in bed or after a certain time at night, not taking your phone to the bathroom etc.
  • Try turning off the push notifications – these little messengers of social activity constantly draw us back to our accounts.
  • Try having a device amnesty in your house eg for a few hours in the evening or even for a whole day, and spend time instead with your family

Sure, there are some people who live and die by the number of likes a post or picture gets, but the rest of us just enjoy looking at photos of our friends as they have too much to drink and falling over don’t we?
 

 

 

 

A lost art?

All week it’s National Conversation Week. Sounds simple enough, do we really need to be reminded to put down our myriad of devices to have an actual conversation?

Sadly, we do.

In these days when we can communicate via 180 characters or by stringing emoji’s together, the art of the conversation is risking being lost.

As human beings we crave social connection. Like many mammals, we are social creatures.

 

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Are we hiding behind our devices and forgetting the importance of conversation?

Communication, and conversation, is so pivotal in medicine. Whether it be breaking bad news to a patient or relative, explaining the risks of treatments, or just allowing a patient to talk and unburden themselves. Conversations are two way streets. But it’s in the area of mental health where a conversation can be the most important.

A common feature of depression is withdrawal and social isolation. A patient who is battling depression actively seeks to be alone and will often close down to the outside world. It might seem trivial, but just asking how someone is can make a real difference to the one who is suffering.

It’s a common misconception that talking about suicide with someone who is depressed will ‘put ideas in their head’. Having a conversation, or letting a friend, colleague or loved one know you are willing to have that conversation, can go some way to shining a light in their darkest of hours.

As GP’s, we work within a geographical boundary and have responsibility for the health for patients within that area. Each GP will find their patients in that area can be slightly different – younger, older, rural, urban, higher or lower socioeconomic class, and sometimes a real mixture.

Our practice area contains a high number of elderly patients and loneliness is something we see often. It is not uncommon on a home visit to sit with someone and realise you might be the only person they see that week. As a professional, it’s heartbreaking. As a human, even more so. Unfortunately as a GP in my day to day life, we don’t always have enough time to sit and reminisce with our patients, providing them that social connection they crave. Just as the health service is stretched, so is our social care system. The number of isolated elderly people living in the U.K. will only increase as medicine advances and life expectancy increases. There are charities and organisations which try to help combat the loneliness by providing outreach programmes and day centres.

For me, I wish that we all took ten minutes out of our day to have a conversation with someone who might really need it. We exist in communities but live in our own bubbles. Say hello. Ask how they are. Listen. You don’t know if you are the only person they may speak to that day.

–Alex