University Counseling Service (UCS) Mental Health Newsletter -
October 2016
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Social Media is here to stay, and the connections we have through it can make us more productive, help us keep up with our friends and family, and make life easier.  But what else is happening and how can we find a balance?

Some Concerns About Our Plugged-In Life

*Emotional Well-being

The fatal flaw with social media is that it forces you into a constant state of comparison…. We human beings have an unhealthy tendency to compare ourselves to one another. We compare our bodies, our outfits, our cars, our jobs and everything else unique about us to the unique aspects of other people. ….Rather than making immediate comparisons about specific aspects of a person in real time, we now live in a society where we compare our entire lives to the entire lives of others at every second of the day, every day. As a result, we in this generation have become pitted in an eternal battle over who can put on the better front.

A study of female students at Baylor University found that they spent 10 hours a day on their phones.  A lot of this traffic is driven by the fear of missing out. Somebody may be posting something on Snapchat that you’d like to know about, so you’d better constantly be checking. The traffic is also driven by what the industry executives call “captology.” The apps generate small habitual behaviors, like swiping right or liking a post, that generate ephemeral dopamine bursts. Any second that you’re feeling bored, lonely or anxious, you feel this deep hunger to open an app and get that burst.

David Brooks, NYTimes: Intimacy For the Avoidant

*Social Development

Another area of concern in today’s digital world is the impact of electronic communication on social interactions. The hard science is slim, but experts say there is reason to believe that when the bulk of a young person’s interactions with others is done electronically at the expense of face-to-face communication, social development may be affected.
So-called “social cognition,”…the ability to form impressions of others, make inferences about their intentions, gauge their emotional reactions and adjust your actions accordingly, is another complex skill that relies on the pre-frontal cortex, the brain’s forward-most and last-to-develop region. Like other high-level cognitive functions, mastery of these skills requires practice. “If you don’t have sufficient in-person practice, that has got to be handicapping you in some way,”
Dana Foundation Brain Development in a Hyper Tech World

*Personal and Professional Reputation

It’s a new world for young people on the cusp of college or on the path to their first jobs. A full 95 percent of U.S. teens are online. Nearly 80 percent of them have a phone and nearly the same percentage use social media. As teens document their lives and create their online social ecosystems, they are not simply sharing with a discreet group – they are broadcasting to a wide audience, sharing private details and, in the process, building their personal brands. They are posting the good, bad, and the ugly. They’re being judged for it and left to deal with the consequences.

             * Your Relationships

Sometimes, written communication through texts, email or social networks is more convenient. But without body language, tone of voice and facial cues, it can be hard to understand what your friend is really saying or how they’re really doing. When you need to talk to a friend or connect with someone, take time to think about the best way to do it. Is it something simple that can be communicated with a text, or should you really pick up the phone or see them in person?

Technology can pose unique challenges for romantic relationships. Many people find themselves spending too much time on Facebook or Twitter checking up on their significant others. Some couples end up arguing because of misunderstandings that happen online or through texts. If technology is complicating your relationship, be proactive and talk about it – face-to-face, not online. ~ AThinLine.Org

How healthy are your social networks?

Take the quiz

*Bullying & Digital Abuse

Sometimes the things we read or the messages we receive can be really painful and you may feel like someone is bullying or harassing you online. Additionally, there is a fine line between following someone online and obsessing over them. Here are some tips for managing these situations:

Help Draw the Line Between Digital Use and Digital Abuse concerning:
  • Sexting: Sending or forwarding nude, sexually suggestive, or explicit pics on your cell or online. For some people, it's no big deal. But real problems can emerge when the parties involved are under 18, when people get pressured into sexting, and when sexts go viral.
  • Constant Messaging, Just what it sounds like. Constantly texting, IM'ing, or emailing a friend, bf/gf, frenemy, or anyone to keep tabs on or harass them.
  • Spying, Sneaking peeks at others' text message or call history, breaking into a friend or bf/gfs's inbox, or even digitally stalking them.
  • Digital Disrespect: Spreading negative or embarrassing dirt (true, untrue, or unknown, via text, pic or video) about someone behind their back or to their face.
  • Cruelty: Using digital platforms to intentionally make other people's lives miserable. For example: blackmail (making demands in exchange for not revealing something embarrassing or damaging about the victim); hate-mongering (spreading discriminatory, racist messages); direct threats, etc.

*Physical Health

Are You Staying Up Too Late Because of Your Device?
The light from our devices is “short-wavelength-enriched,” meaning it has a higher concentration of blue light than natural light—and blue light affects levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin more than any other wavelength.

Changes in sleep patterns can in turn shift the body’s natural clock, known as its circadian rhythm. Recent studies have shown that shifts in this clock can have devastating health effects because it controls not only our wakefulness but also individual clocks that dictate function in the body’s organs. Read More:

*Your Brain Online (or Neuroplasticity and Technology)

Internet addiction disorder (IAD) is currently becoming a serious mental health issue around the globe.
“[The brain is] substantially shaped by what we do to it and by the experience of daily life. … nerve cells that make up …the brain actually change in response to certain experiences and stimuli.   This is an issue as important and unprecedented as climate change.”

“Already, it's pretty clear that the screen-based, two dimensional world … is producing changes in behavior: Shorter Attention spans, REDUCED personal communication skills, marked reduction in the ability to think abstractly.”

Multiple studies have shown atrophy (shrinkage or loss of tissue volume) in gray matter areas (where “processing” occurs) in internet/gaming addiction affecting frontal lobe functions such as planning,  prioritizing, organizing, and impulse control”.
- Susan Greenfield, Professor of Pharmacology, Oxford University

“In a UCLA study, experienced web users displayed fundamentally different neural structures in the pre-frontal cortex.  Novice users displayed similar changes after only five hours of internet use over the course of one week.  The naïve subjects had already rewired their brains.

Taken together, [studies show] internet addiction is associated with structural and functional changes in brain regions involving emotional processing, executive attention, decision making, and cognitive control.” 

How Much is Too Much?
Some thoughts from a college student…

Put Down Your #$%&-ing Phone!!
“Smartphones — or spacephones, as I like to call them — have brought us the future, but they’ve also created a black hole into which our attention spans are disappearing. … How am I supposed to study when my spacephone peels my brain in 40 directions?

Read more of DrewDzwonkowski’s Opinion piece:
Portfolio Website:

Find A Balance
Tips for Maintaining A Healthy Relationship with Social Media
Ben Lewis
University of Iowa Student Life Marketing & Design


You’ve got coffee, sweatpants, earbuds, and you’re about to settle in for an evening of studying. Your phone buzzes. Soon, you’re scrolling past a video of a distant friend riding in a shopping cart, followed by animated cat GIFs. An hour passes and you’ve made it through a few pages, but now you’re deep into a set of dog-surfing videos.
Overuse of social media can eat up time, and when you’re a student, time is extremely valuable. Keeping social media use in check can free up time for healthy habits like socializing, exercising, and eating right.

Check in with yourself

How dependent are you on social media? To find out, try a non connected self-exploration. Turn off your phone and leave it in a desk drawer for the evening. Close your computer. Try studying, reading a book, or watching a movie as a disconnected person. Write down how you feel (yes, on paper), while being disconnected. Kate Arends, author of the blog Wit & Delight, tried swearing off social media for one week, and started seeing results after a few days. “When I woke up, I had more energy and clarity than I had in years,” said Arends.

Delete the Facebook app

Don’t worry, you can still access Facebook just fine using your browser. Deleting the app makes it less convenient to check regularly and gives you a moment to consider whether you really need to go there. By deleting the app, you will also stop notifications to your phone and save the battery. Facebook is notorious for draining phone batteries.

Cut down on platforms

Which social media platforms are most important to you? Are you still signed up for Path, Peach, or Foursquare? Choose two or three platforms that are meaningful and that your actual friends are using -- delete the rest. And by delete, I mean log in, find the account settings, and close the account; chances are, you don’t need it.

Maintain balance

To keep your social media time in check, use an app like Moment or Checky that can track and quantify your smartphone usage. These apps provide analytics on how you spend time on your phone and how often you check it. iPhone users can see which apps are using the most cumulative screen time by going to Settings > Battery and pressing the “clock” icon. The numbers may surprise you.
Involvement in organizations and activities, studying, exercising, socializing (in real life), and eating right are all important parts of being a successful student. By actively managing social media use, you may find time you didn’t know you have, and come out a happier, more mindful person.


  1. Kate Arends, “I Left Social Media for a Week. This is What Happened.” (10/30/14)

The UP Side of
Social Media

Information, Education, Social Connections, Business, Entertainment, and so many more reasons for which social media was created, reasons crafted in good faith and with good intentions.  Here are some encouraging items and helpful links we found:

UI Student Government is promoting healthier
Social Media for our campus community

UIowa student leaders became concerned about offensive messages being directed toward their fellow Hawkeyes on mobile apps like Yik Yak, and they decided to act, creating the “Down Vote Hate”campaign, which began on Sept. 12. Learn more about it and get involved:

Upworthy ~ A Positive Force in Social Media

Check out this short (2 minute) video about
Check out the “Love is Louder” movement that works online to help us feel more connected

6 Signs on Facebook & Instagram That Your Friend May Be Struggling and How to Get Help

Find ways to move past digital drama and take control of your emotional health.

3Ways to Manage Your Online ReptuationLike a Pro
The 7 Essential Steps to Monitoring Your Online Reputation
9 Free Tools To Reduce Computer-Related Eye Strain

Before You Scroll, Try This Mindful Social Media Practice

Rap-Up: Mindful Media

Jeremy Kinser, Ph.D., UCS Staff Psychologist
When’s the last time you had the technology urge? You know what I’m talking about. You’re on a bus, in bed, maybe at dinner, or even in the car (you know better!) and you get that urge to reach for your phone. It’s not ringing, you didn’t get a text, but there’s the urge to look at it nonetheless. Technology is wonderful, and it can sometimes intrude on our ability to work, study, build relationships with others, or even simply be with ourselves in the present moment. I want to invite you to challenge yourself to find a moment to sit quietly and be mindful of what it’s like to be still. If you find this difficult, it may be worthwhile to work toward greater thoughtful intention with technology. If you’d like additional support in cultivating a mindful relationship to technology, there are lots of resources! In addition to the great ideas presented in this month’s newsletter, you can also:
  • Speak with a counselor at the UCS about strategies for being in the present moment and being more intentional about the role of technology in your life.
  • Consider looking into a formal mindfulness practice like those taught in the Mindfulness Based programming offered at the UIHC (
Click here to see the previous month's issue on Transition
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