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Social media and loneliness in college

The emotional health of incoming college students has plummeted in recent years reaching its lowest level in a quarter of a century. Meanwhile, their stress levels have increased drastically due in part to greater financial strains and the foreknowledge of limited career options upon graduation. Technology, which on the one hand provides young people with wide open windows upon the world, has also narrowed students' real time social networks.
 
The world in which young adults find themselves is increasingly difficult to navigate, and these conditions are unlikely to reverse themselves unless we make concerted efforts to reach those students unable to cope with the emotional demands of college and adult life. 
 
While research suggests that in moderate doses social media can have a positive impact on youth, broadening students' network of peers, in large quantities, which is more and more the norm, social media can harm authentic social interactions. Time on Facebook can increase users' satisfaction, for instance, as well as increasing envy. According to research done by Julie Ross, director of Tufts’ Counseling and Mental Health Service, “Having a constant focus on what is happening somewhere else effectively removes people from staying connected in the face-to-face interactions they could be having, or are having at the moment, as those interactions get constantly interrupted by electronic signals from the phone or computer.”
 
In addition, the constant, mindless use of technology interferes with students' success in classes. It's not uncommon today for students to spend time during a lecture texting or browsing the internet. University of Virginia psychology professor Timothy Wilson has conducted a study that demonstrates the effects of unhealthy social media and technology use. The gist of his study is that young people deprived of their phones or computers for relatively short times start to become restless and anxious. Anyone, young or old, who has become attached to their smart phones can relate to this experience.
 
I've spoken with many young people who feel detached from their surroundings, who describe experiences devoid of interactive, emotional engagement, and who seem oblivious to their own social obligations. The trend towards transitory encounters has made building lasting relationships more challenging for young people, and more than ever, they express feelings of loneliness, confusion, and fear. 
 
If college life as you are experiencing it leaves you feeling miserable, isolated and afraid, begin to change the activities you engage in. Take frequent breaks from technology and social media and immerse yourself in college sports, cultural activities, and community events. Join clubs and study groups so that you can help others and yourself with your studies. Volunteer. Nourish your spiritual side. Learn to meditate and visualize goals. 
 
Dare to dream. 
 
The first steps toward expanding and enriching your life are the ones that take the greatest courage, but they can also provide the greatest rewards. It is amazing how often fulfilling relationships and life accomplishments follow those first positive choices. If you would like someone to help you take the first steps to construct or reconstruct the dreams you have for your life, contact me. A challenge is easier when it is shared. My life coaching services can help you reach your greatest potential. 
 
Dr. Eileen Wynne 
 
Come back next week, when we’ll examine the high school to college transition further, with particular focus on common socio-emotional issues and psycho-social development.
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