Give yourself permission to step away from technology. Stepping away from screens is not a personal failure. Instead, it’s an act of self-love and self-protection.
As a part of my series about 5 Ways To Create a Healthy Relationship With Screens and Technology, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paula Durlofsky, PhD.
Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. As a practicing therapist for over 18 years and the recent winner of Best Therapist in 2017’s Best of the Main Line awards, Durlofsky helps individuals, couples, and families to reach their full potential for leading lives with passion and purpose. Durlofsky is a member of the American Psychological Association’s Device Management and Digital Intelligence committee, whose goal is to support healthy relationships with technology through intelligent engagement and modeling positive digital citizenship. She is also affiliated with Bryn Mawr Hospital, Lankenau Medical Center, and The Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia. Over the course of her career, she has taught as an adjunct professor and as an instructor to medical residents specializing in Internal Medicine and Psychiatry. Her expert opinions based on over two decades of clinical experience and training have been featured in Marie Claire, Teen Vogue, Prevention Magazine, APA’s Monitor on Psychology, Exceptional Parenting Magazine, Main Line Health, Psych Central, and Main Line Today, as well as on Cheddar, FOX News KTVU, Mid-Day Fix (WGN), the Pennsylvania Conference for Women and on ABC 10-KXTV.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your backstory?
Thank you for having me! I’m thrilled and honored to be included in Authority Magazine. A part of my backstory is that I was an artist before pursuing a career as a psychologist. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of The Arts. I studied Graphic Design, and I minored in psychology. I worked as a graphic designer for a year before pursuing my graduate education in psychology. I’ve always been interested in the relationship between psychology and the arts, literature, and philosophy. And the “art” of practicing psychotherapy. I believe there are a deep connection and interplay between all art and psychology. After all, they are both methods of how we, as human beings, express our raw emotions regarding the existential experience, both the good and the bad, in living.
There’s even been research to show the relationship between art and improving one’s mental health. A whole area of psychology, art therapy is based on the premise that artistic endeavors can provide an understanding of our culture and our selves as well as reduce stress, anxiety and depression.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Many exciting things have happened since the start of my career. But, one interesting story is the time I got a phone call, a few years ago, from the television show “Suits” asking for my permission to use my first name and maiden last name (Agard) for a new character, the creator Aaron Korsh was introducing into the show’s story plot. I went to high school with Aaron, so this was exciting, and I was honored too! The new character, Dr. Paula Agard, a therapist, was created to add some tension and drama into the story’s plot by being the love interest to the main male character. It was lots of fun watching the show, especially when Dr. Paula Agard was in the episode!
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
I recently wrote a book, Logged In and Stressed Out. How Social Media Is Affecting Your Mental Health and What You Can Do About It. Since many of us now spend the majority of our days glued to screens, I wanted to put a spotlight on the various mental health issues that can arise from our digital habits or how they might contribute to already existing mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, body image disorders and substance abuse issues. Many mental professionals are deeply concerned, I included, that America is facing a mental health crisis in part because of social media. Suicide rates are at all-time high, and too often, users experience negative feelings from social media interactions that linger and spill over into their off-line lives.
I also wanted to provide readers with suggestions and recommendations for how to thoughtfully and skillfully use social media to minimize its adverse effects.
My book became available on December 21, 2020. Since then, I’ve been busy doing various interviews. I’m passionate about getting the message out there and across how important it is for all to be informed “social media” consumers. An informed social user fully appreciates social media’s good parts, bad parts, and limitations. Just as we all owe ourselves with all the things and all the people we invest in throughout our life’s journey.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. 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?
The definition of “mental health” is complex. Our mental health is based on many factors. For example, a person’s constitution, genetics, past experiences, attachment styles, past traumas, and environment significantly contributes to our emotional health. And the amount of time we spend in front of screens will also play a significant role in our mental health. Just like any activity or behavior we chose to participate and engage in.
Spending hours in front of a screen negatively affects our mental health because it narrows down our experiences by stealing our precious time away from pursuits that nurture and nourish our bodies and minds. Such as physical activity, connecting with nature, pursuing creative outlets, and nurturing the relationships with the people we care most about.
Can you share your top five ways people can improve mental wellness and create a healthy relationship with technology?
1. Give yourself permission to step away from technology. Stepping away from screens is not a personal failure. Instead, it’s an act of self-love and self-protection.
2. Commit to Non-digital self-care practices. Find enjoyable activities that don’t involve technology-like painting, drawing, reading, volunteering, and exercise. These types of activities create the feeling of what’s known as “flow”- what we feel when we’re fully immersed in an enjoyable activity.
3. Connect with nature. In the digital age, being outside and spending time in natural settings is becoming more and more of a luxury. Studies show that time spent in nature reduces stress, anxiety, and depression.
4. Prioritize real-life relationships over screen time. While living through a pandemic, seeing friends and family, apart from those in our households, isn’t always an option. However, scheduling virtual “social time” is key to maintaining our friendships and our other meaningful relationships. As much as possible, use virtual platforms such Face time, zoom, and Skype to connect with friends and family you can’t have in person encounters with. Make sure you’re also setting aside enough time to connect rather than just “checking in: or doing a quick catch-up. The fact is, relationships require our time and our energy to blossom and deepen.
5. Set boundaries around digital use. Cultivating a balance in one’s life is vital for good mental health. As with all things in life, we all need to work on maintaining our emotional well-being both offline and online by setting boundaries for ourselves. One way to do this is by scheduling your social media check-ins as you would any other activity or task in your day-today-life like returning emails, preparing dinner, and exercising. Another option would also be to put your phone in another room or somewhere where you can’t quickly get to it. For most, not having our phones physically with us creates a great deal of anxiety. Learning how to “live” without our phones by increasing our frustration tolerance, for example, by learning how to take deep breathes to calm one’s self down when feeling anxious, is crucial for gaining balance.
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 believe there are things we can do to help younger generations navigate the slippery of social media. One meaningful way younger generations can create a healthier relationship with social media is by developing social media literacy skills. At the forefront of social media literacy is the concept of critical thinking skills. Critical thinking means having the ability to skillfully evaluate all kinds of digital media, including social media, by determining what information is pertinent and what information or content is not relevant. It also entails the ability to accurately interpret the overall message and purpose communicated by someone’s text, picture, or post.
Another aspect of social media literacy is being aware of our emotions before logging on while logged on and after we’ve logged off. Getting into the habit of asking ourselves, “How am I feeling” before logging on is vital. Again, if you’re not in a particularly good emotional space, it’s probably best to step away from social media for a little while. Instead, spend time figuring out meaningful and productive ways to help yourself feel better!
Parents and other influential adults can also be instrumental in helping younger generations create a healthier relationship with social media by spending quality time with their child/children. Quality time doesn’t always have to be a big to-do. Regularly talking with your child, maintaining eye contact, and showing a genuine interest in your child’s life is the most meaningful thing a parent or other significant adult can do for their child’s mental health. Furthermore, studies show that young kids, teens, and young adults who have positive relationships with their parents and other significant adults are linked to secure attachments. Having a secure attachment style promotes self-confidence, healthy self-esteem and fosters healthy emotional regulation. In my experience, embodying these characteristics certainly helps minimize social media’s adverse effects and screen time.
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?
The first thing we do in the morning at the start of each day can have a BIG effect on our mood and influence our entire day. It’s essential to be mindful of what you expose yourself to, your choices, and your behaviors as you begin each new day.
The messages we expose ourselves to have an impact on how we feel about ourselves. Our brains take in an incredible amount of information every second of our existence and we’re obviously not conscious or aware of all the knowledge our brains are processing and trying to make sense of continually.
Although mindless social media consumption might seem like a harmless morning routine, it is best to start the day with things that create a sense of psychic grounding and anchoring, like exercising, journaling, savoring a cup of coffee or tea. Additionally, mindfully consuming social media by following inspirational and or motivational accounts can be anchoring too. From my personal experience, reading posts from accounts of this kind, like Tiny Buddha, is a terrific way to start my day!
Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote?
“Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced” –James Badwin
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If I could inspire a movement that would bring about the most emotional and physical wellness, it would be focused on the transformative power of compassion both to ourselves and others. A growing body of studies indicates understanding is related to both emotional and physical healing. Self-compassion has been linked to higher self-esteem and well-being, and self-compassion decreases malignant envy, depression, anxiety, hurtful social comparisons, and narcissism. Self-compassion is also an essential ingredient for our self-development because it helps us recover from our mistakes, bounce back more quickly from life’s inevitable setbacks, and achieve our goals.
As far as the healing power of compassion for others, most would agree that tragic events taking place via social media and the world, in general, does not stem from users being too compassionate, too mindful of their emotions, too empathetic, or too concerned with the success of the human race. I believe we can all play our part in the solution for bringing about the most amount of emotional and physical wellness for all by first helping ourselves and then teaching others. Just imagine, a digital world and an actual world where we all participate in elevating our dialogue to the degree that compassion is prioritized, where disagreements played out online and IRL (in real life) enlighten us all instead of breaking us down, and where the very best of humanity is showcased in place of the very worst. A world like this is my greatest hope!
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Readers can follow my twitter account @DrPDurlofsky
My Instagram account @paula.durlofsky and on facebook @DrPDurlofsky