Technology and Its Impact on Behavioral Health - Valley Behavioral Health
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April 23, 2020 By Julie Rael, LCSW, CCO Valley Behavioral Health

Hands of person using Valley TeleHealth

Back in graduate school, when I was studying to be a therapist, if someone would have described the various ways that we would be using technology in the future to address and treat behavioral health conditions, they would have probably received multiple mystified expressions from my cohort.  During that time, our discussions around technology mainly focused on the cautions of emerging social media, online dating, videogaming, and the internet being a snare for our clients to develop gambling and other addictions. We never imagined or explored how technology would interface with and help improve the field of behavioral health.

As a society we have come a long way in how we use technology to stay informed, learn, communicate, and create, from when the internet first became publicly available almost thirty years ago. Conversely, as we have advanced our use of technology, we have also learned more about how we need to manage our psychological health. As our use of the internet evolved with implementing laptops, smartphones, and tablets, researchers have investigated the social implications of technology and specifically how it can be harmful if we don’t exercise some precautions. Various research articles warn about the impact that it can have on our sleep. According to once source, Harvard Health Publishing at Harvard Medical School, explains that the blue light that is emitted from our computer screens can negatively impact the quality and quantity of sleep, by interrupting our body’s natural production of melatonin, a hormone that aids in sleep. If we combine this blue light with reading content that is mentally stimulating a few hours before bedtime, then you have a recipe for overstimulating your brain and thoughts, making it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Lack of sleep can negatively impact our cognitive and emotional functioning after just one night of restless or missed sleep. Also, being constantly connected can lead to feelings of increased stress and burnout. Online gaming and other sources of online entertainment have been found to be addicting due to the instant gratification and mental stimulation that provide. Social media use has raised concerns about how individuals interact with others on these platforms, and some interactions can increase feelings of isolation and insecurity due to the nature of the content posted and how individuals respond to this content. It has been found that some feel that they don’t measure up to the user profiles that they follow on social media and they may continuously compare, evaluate and critique themselves to those they admire and aspire to be like.

Despite the possible hazards that these forms of technology use can have on our wellbeing, there are simple behavioral strategies and good judgment that we can implement to manage our sleep quality and mood:

1.    Avoid late-night use of smartphones, tablets, and laptops and implement a regular sleep routine with consistent sleep and wake times.

2.     Silence your phone’s ringer and turn off notifications on emails and applications before bedtime.

3.     Keep your bed free of work activities to support your brain’s association with your bed as a place to rest and recuperate.

4.     Set reasonable limits on responding to phone calls and messages or communicate your available response time with others ahead of time, so you can be present and focus on what is going on the moment when interacting with others.

5.     Take time to disconnect, decompress, and recharge.

6.     Seek out enjoyment and entertainment in activities that don’t include electronic devices.

7.     Fit in some breaks, light stretching, and physical activity after viewing an electronic screen and typing on a keyboard for an extended period.

8.     Set limits on the type of content that you are viewing and discontinue use if the content is harmful to your outlook and mood, this may include overconsumption of distressing news.

 

While we consider the possible hazards with technology misuse and how we can better manage these, I also want to consider and discuss how technology can help improve our psychological wellbeing. During these past six weeks with the social distancing protocols and stay-at-home orders, I have been thinking a lot about how we can continue to stay connected and seek additional social support during this time. Staying connected and interacting with others is essential to our mental health and according to Psychology Today, interacting with others socially “boosts feelings of wellbeing and decreases feelings of depression, research has shown that one sure way of improving your mood is to work on building social connections”. Our current technology with its telecommunications applications, facetime, and face-to-face social networking applications can help us to stay connected to others by seeing and interacting with friends, family, and co-workers that we may be physically distanced from. Also, we can participate in forums with others we share topics of interest with. These forums can help us create a sense of support and community in our lives. Podcasts are another form of obtaining support and learning from thought leaders and experts in various fields, including behavioral health. Listening to a podcast is an accessible option to obtain additional encouragement and support. Another accessible resource is the various downloadable applications for our smartphones to help augment and support our psychological wellbeing by increasing our awareness of how our thoughts and behaviors impact our mood, learn and practice coping skills, meditation, and deep breathing, as well as help us track our activities of daily living and see what we may need to add to further improve our emotional wellbeing. Prior to using an application, utilizing behavioral health advice from a website, podcast, or application, be sure to check the developer’s credentials to ensure you are accessing recommendations provided by licensed behavioral health and healthcare professionals. As you increase your use in technology, please keep in mind the strategies to balance your use and to reduce possible harmful impacts.

Telemedicine and Teletherapy technology have made treatment more accessible for those living in more remote areas, and those with medical or mobility impairments that have made it difficult to physically travel to the clinic. Prior to Telehealth technology, individuals would have to travel long distances, use multiple forms of transportation or forgo treatment. Telehealth services have made behavioral health treatment possible for those who have experienced the barriers above as well as making services more accessible and safer during the current pandemic. During my time and focus on helping to improve our clinical delivery of services at Valley Behavioral Health, I have become increasingly invested in utilizing current and emerging technology to further enhance and compliment the evidenced-based treatments that we offer to our patients. As we look forward into the future, my team and I will continue to seek technology enhancements and share how we are using these with our patients and community partners.

If you are ready to utilize Telehealth services to address your behavioral health concerns, please contact us today to schedule a consultation appointment.

Resources
https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-mild-cognitive-impairment/201606/the-health-benefits-socializing

 

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