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How the Internet affects your mental health

These days, it seems like we live our lives on the Internet, but can excessive Internet and social media use impact your mental health?  While it's a helpful tool for education, work, social interaction and entertainment, overuse can take a toll on your health, says Saju Mathew, M.D., a Piedmont primary care physician. 

Internet use and anxiety

Whether it's from reading too much negative news or researching your symptoms online – something Dr. Mathew says he sees frequently among his patients – too much computer time can increase your anxiety.

"Generally, it's not a good idea to research your health symptoms online because the final outcome is a lot of unnecessary anxiety and worry. My overall advice is not to research your symptoms, but to see a doctor first," he says.

Social media and your social life

"Some social media use can be a good thing because it helps us keep up with family and friends, but we need to be careful about how it affects our psyche," he says.

Studies have shown excessive social media use can lead to feelings of depression and dependency in some people.

"When we get on social media, we are looking for affirmation, and consciously or not, we are comparing our life to the lives of others," he says. "As a result, we may not enjoy what's in the moment."

Rather than get wrapped up in comparison, try this: Each day, write down five things for which you are grateful. Focusing on the good in your life helps you combat feelings of low self-esteem and envy.

Technology and your sleep

Excessive smartphone, computer and tablet use can disrupt your sleep. Bright lights from these devices block melatonin secretion, the hormone that regulates sleep.

"I recommend to my patients that they set a bedtime, cut off their phones and stop using social media for the night," he says.  

Problematic Internet use

If you feel the need to constantly check your social media accounts for updates or respond to emails right away (even in the middle of the night), you may be experiencing what some experts call "problematic Internet use." If you feel like Internet use has taken over your life, talk to your physician. He or she can help.

Drawing boundaries for social media use

"At the end of the day, there has to be a line we draw when it comes to accessing social media," says Dr. Mathew.

Perhaps you set a limit on your screen time each day or turn off your devices at a certain time every night. Whatever you do, carve in plenty of time for "real life." You'll be happier and healthier for it.

Dr. Mathew practices at Piedmont Physicians Vinings, located at 3020 Paces Mill Road Southeast, Atlanta, GA 30339. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Mathew or one of our other primary care providers. Save time, book online.

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