“Emotionally, so much screen time can be numbing and even isolating. We have the illusion that we are connecting with others but it is only a surface level connection.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Camila Williams, Ph.D. a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of PTSD and anxiety. Dr. Williams has held leadership, training, and teaching positions at the Long Beach VA Healthcare System and the University of Utah. She has also authored several grants for a community non-profit and worked towards reducing mental health stigma in underserved communities.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your backstory?
I immigrated to the U.S. as a child and I grew up in the cultural smorgasbord of Los Angeles. I’ve been fascinated by what makes people tick since I was little and began studying psychology in high school. After working in so many different settings, I finally found my niche helping people find meaning in their life again after trauma.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I’ll admit this question had me stuck as I see myself as having a pretty boring life, for which I’m actually really grateful for. I will share this I have 3 kids: a 3 year old and 1 year old twins and they definitely keep things interesting. They keep me on my toes but more importantly, they have helped me prioritize my life in a way that aligns more closely with my values. This perspective has helped me in my career as I aim to help my clients do the same.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
I recently started my own private practice specializing in online therapy. There is still so much stigma around getting mental health treatment. No one wants to be seen as “crazy” and this stops many people from getting treatment. I hope that online therapy will help increase access to mental health treatment as people feel safer reaching out for help from their own homes. Online therapy also provides people with access to specialists who may not live in their communities, makes getting treatment more accessible as it’s less time commuting, less time missing work, and often more extended hours on nights and weekends. This is another great example of the benefits of technology and how we can learn to have a healthy relationship with technology.
Between work and personal life, the average adult spends nearly 11 hours looking at a screen per day. How does our increasing screen time affect our mental, physical, and emotional health?
I’m one of those people. When I work in front of a screen all day I have to take extra care to be more mindful of the time I spend with others and to put the screen down. Physically, increased screen time strains our eyes, keeps us sedentary, and can exacerbate chronic pain conditions (back pain, carpel tunnel, etc…). Mentally, we gravitate towards things online that support our world view. We start to only read publications that support our beliefs, we unfollow those who don’t agree with us, and we become bolder in our statements and criticisms due to the illusion of distance and anonymity the internet can provide. This leads to less cooperation and more polarization. We are all seeing this play out right now in our politics. Emotionally, so much screen time can be numbing and even isolating. We have the illusion that we are connecting with others but it is only a surface level connection. We are losing our ability to tolerate “boredom” or slow down, which is actually a vital skill for creativity, intuition, and inspiration. We can’t even stand in line anymore and just let our minds wander or say hi to the person behind us because we’re on our screens. Screen time isn’t all bad but like most things in life it comes down to moderation.
Can you share your top five ways people can improve mental wellness and create a healthy relationship with technology?
- Turn off notifications to emails and apps. We’re like Pavlov’s dogs salivating at the sound of a bell. This allows us to take back control, prioritize our time, and chose when to focus on those things. Bottom line, we cannot multitask! All those alerts distract us and decrease our productivity (for more on this I highly recommend the book McKeown’s Essentialism).
- Switch screens to warm colors at night and ideally turn off all electronics 1 hour before bed. Just like kids need a nighttime routine to settle down, so do grownups, but we forget this. Go to any therapist for help with sleep and the very first thing they’ll ask you about or teach you is sleep hygiene, aka your bedtime routine. Journaling, music, reading actual print, are all great ways to settle our minds, slow our body, and get better sleep.
- Take a social media fast periodically (e.g., no app Sundays, with week breaks quarterly). Delete the apps until the fast is up. Sort of like intermittent fasting, juicing cleanses, etc… we need to give our mind a break from the constant connection. It helps us think more clearly about our purpose.
- Don’t leave your phone by your bed. This is to help you resist the urge to check it when you wake up in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning, as discussed below, starting your day with a mindful routine is one of the best ways to start taking back control of your life.
- Set daily usage limits on apps. I read 2 books in one week when I did my social media fast. It’s astounding how much of a time suck all those apps add up to be. Monitor your time and set limits for yourself. You’ll be surprised at what else you learn or discover when you give yourself some time to do it!
51% of Americans say they primarily use their smartphone for calls. With the number of robocalls increasing, what are ways people can limit interruptions from spam calls?
I think the obvious one here is to only answer calls whose caller ID you recognize (and to list it with the donotcall registry: www.donotcall.gov). I had to learn to do that with my business because I had to list my phone number out there on the internet and I got so many robocalls. It’s hard because my automatic thought is “What if that was a client?” “What if I missed something important?” But I’ve learned that if it is truly important they’ll leave me a message (or text or email me). Also, as part of my job as a therapist, I leave my phone on silent when I am in session (and often forget it on silent). This actually helps me stay more focused and productive since I respond to all my calls during set periods of time rather than being interrupted throughout the day. Half the time, by the time I call back, most people have already figured things out on their own, saving me a lot of time and distraction. I’d encourage you to think about setting your phone on silent during certain periods of the day to allow your mind to focus on the task at hand without that irresistible pull to ‘just see who called.’
Between social media distractions, messaging apps, and the fact that Americans receive 45.9 push notifications each day, Americans check their phones 80 times per day. How can people, especially younger generations, create a healthier relationship with social media?
I have actually turned off all my push notifications. It was easier for me with news and social media apps but I held onto my email notifications for a long time. Like the phone calls above, it was the fear that I miss something important. But what I’ve learned is that I feel more organized and more in control of my day when I chose when to respond to my emails, when I chose when to check my social media updates, and when I chose when to take some time for browsing the news online. It is easy for us to be conditioned to those dings on the phone, just like Pavlov’s dogs who salivated at the sound of a bell. Understanding that there really is a conditioned response that we have to undo helps us to be more mindful and purposeful about deciding what notifications to turn off. I’m not saying you have to be all or nothing here.
But I do encourage people to at least test it out. Try one weekend with no notifications from your favorite social media app, and then pay attention. What did you notice? If you noticed absolutely nothing different then you really didn’t need those notifications in the first place. But most people do notice a change. They often notice they are more in control of demands placed on their attention. This doesn’t mean you have to keep the notifications turned off forever, but now you can think more mindfully about when you want them on or off.
80% of smartphone users check their phones before they brush their teeth in the morning. What effect does starting the day this way have on people? Is there a better morning routine you suggest?
Starting the day this way puts us all in the rat race mode. It immediately shifts our focus to what needs to be done, what needs to be fixed, when will we be able to do x, y, and z… The gears start turning in our head and our mood shifts, we are in work mode. Life like this can feel like we are just going through the motions, just getting by, or just surviving. Like I mentioned briefly above, we need downtime to process. When we slow down is when we have our best insights, creative moments, and more clarity on the direction we want our lives to go.
The quiet of the morning is actually one of the best times of the day to practice this. I highly recommend meditation, prayer, reading inspirational literature or scripture, writing in a gratitude journal, doing yoga or just slow stretches in the morning before you check your phone. Pick one activity and set a goal to do it for at least 15 minutes every morning before you start your rat race. With time and practice you can extend it to 20 or 30 minutes every morning.
Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote?
The quote I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is “This too shall pass” a Persian adage. It is a reminder that our moments of despair, as well as our moments of elation, are temporary. We do not need to define ourselves by our failures or successes for ‘this too shall pass,’ but rather by our character and perseverance on our journey here on earth.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
The movement has already been started (justserve.org), but Service! I genuinely believe that it is in serving others that we learn compassion, cooperation, and experience joy and feel fulfilled. I would love to see small scale, neighborhood service. You do not need to travel across the world to dig a well to provide service. We’ve all heard the phrase “it takes a village,” it really does, but we don’t even know who is in our village anymore! The best way to bridge differences and build cooperation and understanding, is to work together toward a common goal. Service brings people together, creates community ties, and provides people with social support, purpose, and hope.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Thank you for this interview. It was very insightful!
Originally published at medium.com