Connection inspection: Social media and your mental well-being

Social media is a part of everyday life. That’s just a fact. You likely have one or more accounts you surf on a daily, if not hourly, basis. But have you ever stopped to think that constantly checking in on your digital life may be having adverse effects?

No, we’re not here to wag our finger at you and tell you that Twitter is the downfall of Western civilization or that Facebook will turn you into an antisocial clam. Like with anything, the key is moderation.

Some college students attribute lower grades and lost friendships to extensive social media monitoring. Exposés have focused on the societal pressures that social media can exert on college students.

Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin-Madison

Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin-Madison

But the evidence isn’t just anecdotal. Recent studies have linked frequent social media use to everything from lost sleep to depression and anxiety. A 2003 report from Duke University revealed the pressure students feel to be “smart, accomplished, fit, beautiful and popular, all without visible effort.” This pressure can, and often does, manifest itself in social media feeds as well. It’s always important to remember that social media provides a heavily filtered and moderated window into someone’s life.

Social media overuse or addiction can often be a self-diagnosis. Do you snap pictures of your dinner and upload them to Instagram before taking a bite? Do you constantly refresh your feed to see if you’ve earned another like? Some of these habits may be signs that you are a little too plugged in.

So how can you begin to reclaim your life from the grip of social media? Immediately smashing your phone to pieces is not the answer. Nor are we advocating a cold-turkey divorce from your digital life. Here are a few steps you can take to slowly reduce your social media use:

  1. Block out some “me” time

You may already do this with your daily schedule to take a break from classes. But what about taking a break from your phone, and in turn, the temptation of social media? Often, down time is filled with phone time. Pick out a favorite book and read it for a half hour before bed. You might be surprised how much more enriching this technique can be.

Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin-Madison

Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin-Madison

  1. Use tech to battle tech

There are tons of programs out there that can block certain sites or apps on your computer or smartphone. We know this may sound a little counter-intuitive, but they have been found to be surprisingly effective.

  1. Quarantine

Smartphones are designed to be an all-in-one tool: alarm clock, GPS, music player. We come to believe we need them in our lives at all times just to function. Instead of putting your smartphone next to your bed and checking Twitter or Facebook right when you wake up, put it out of reach and only grab it before you head out the door. That way, you’ll be less tempted to get absorbed in the never-ending stream of photos and status updates.

If you find yourself too immersed in your online life, take a step back and try your best to disconnect for a little while. You may be surprised at the benefits.

UW-Madison joins national partnership to promote healthy lifestyles

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has joined 37 other universities across the country in the Partnership for a Healthier America’s Healthier Campus Initiative (HCI) to improve access to healthier food and physical activity on campus. Over the next three years, UW-Madison will implement HCI guidelines that promote and support physical activity, nutrition, and healthy lifestyles in our campus community.

Campus entities with a significant impact on student health and wellbeing—including Recreational Sports, University Housing, the Wisconsin Union, and Facilities Planning & Management—are joining together to make healthier choices more accessible for students, faculty, and staff.

The HCI collaboration builds on UW-Madison’s existing efforts to cultivate healthy habits and lifestyles that will last a lifetime.

“This partnership highlights UW-Madison’s commitment to the health and well-being of our campus community. We had the beginnings of many of these guidelines in place on campus and the HCI provides new opportunities to highlight and expand our efforts,” says Emily Borenitsch, student wellness coordinator at University Health Services, who will represent UW-Madison at the national HCI meeting in Washington, D.C. this week.

Implementation of the HCI guidelines will encourage healthy lifestyles among the nearly 40,000 students and more than 21,500 faculty and staff members in the campus community.

“We’re always looking for ways to up our wellness game both as individual units and as a campus community. We’ll raise the bar with this partnership,” says Molly Heisterkamp, UW-Madison’s employee wellness coordinator.

In addition to this new partnership, UW-Madison will host it’s first-ever wellness symposium on Oct. 28. “Wellness Now: Being Our Best Selves in the Current Moment” will feature a keynote address from behavior psychologist Dr. Shilagh Mirgain as well as breakout sessions.

For more information on the Healthier Campus Initiative at UW-Madison and the upcoming wellness symposium, call 608-890-2853.

Ready to talk about sexual assault? There’s a handbook for that

Parents and students, brace yourselves…it’s time to have the talk. We can see you squirming in your seat and looking for the nearest exit. No, not that talk. This one is about sexual assault. We understand this discussion might be uncomfortable—even awkward—especially as students head off to college and parents shift roles from protector to mentor. But fear not, a new UW-Madison handbook offers tips, resources, and guidance for having a meaningful conversation about sexual assault.

This summer, University Health Services debuted Talking With Your Student About Sexual Assault and Dating violence: A Parent Handbook. This collaboration with The Center for the First-Year Experience is a guide to equip first-year students with knowledge and resources about sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking before they come to campus. The handbook was first made available to parents and guardians who attended Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration.

Sexual assault handbook

“We were very excited to partner with UHS Violence Prevention and Victim Advocacy Services to develop this discussion guide for parents and family members of incoming students,” says Chris Verhaeghe, Assistant Director of Orientation at UW-Madison. “The primary goal of the SOAR Parent/Guest program is to equip our incoming student families with the resources to allow them to support their students as they transition to the college environment. This guide does exactly that. It provides a way for family members to have open and honest conversation about sex and sexual assault prevention, which are often missed topics when preparing for college.”

“Parents already know how important it is to convey lessons of respect, healthy relationships, and mutual consent to their students,” says Sam Johnson, a violence prevention specialist with University Health Services. “Many just need extra tools to get the conversation started. This handbook can be a platform to begin or continue the discussion.”

Sexual assault affects students of all genders and sexual orientations on campuses nationwide, and UW-Madison is no different. Twenty percent of women and six percent of men have experienced sexual assault during college1. As a campus, UW-Madison takes sexual assault seriously and is committed to creating a safe space for students to learn and work. This begins Tonight.

Tonight is an online interactive prevention program that empowers students to make healthy decisions, intervene in difficult situations, and learn about the campus resources available to victims. Results from Tonight reveal that after completing the required program, 96 percent of first-year students are able to identify the skills necessary to support a friend who disclosed a sexual assault to them.

Tonight logo

Use Tonight as a starting point for your conversation. Parents can also view a version of Tonight online. According to Johnson, incoming UW-Madison students already receive information about sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking through their experience with Tonight.  “Now, parents will be equipped with similar information to help reinforce the messages of Tonight and other prevention and education efforts on campus.”

If at some point during their college career, a student discloses a sexual assault to you—this could be your student or a friend—or experiences dating violence:

  • Listen non-judgmentally
  • Support and respect their decisions
  • Know about available resources on campus that are here to help

College sexual assault survivors are more likely to disclose their experience to parents who discussed sex with them in non-judgmental ways2. “Having a validating, trustworthy support system, like family, is often the most important determinant of how a student heals from trauma,” says Johnson.

Adds Verhaeghe, “This is a great resource for families if their student is a victim of sexual violence. The SOAR staff was excited to provide the venue to distribute this guide and hopes it will have an impact on campus.”

“We want to equip parents to create those protective supportive systems,” says Johnson. “We’re here to support their students but we’re also a resource for parents.”

To get the conversation started, keep it simple.

  • Look for opportunities to weave topics of sex, gender, dating, and communication into everyday interactions with your student
  • Ask simple, open-ended questions and listen without judgment
  • Encourage them to think about red flags for sexual assault and dating violence
  • What is their plan for noticing or interrupting questionable behavior when they see it?
  • Reinforce that they are going to a world-class institution that expects them to look out for their peers

1Krebs, C. P., Lindquist, C. H., Warner, T. D., Fisher, B. S., & Martin, S. L. (2007). The campus sexual assault (CSA) study. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, US Department of Justice. and Fisher, B. S., Cullen, F. T., & Turner, M. G. (2000). The Sexual Victimization of College Women. Research Report.

2Wurtele SK, Kenny MC. Partnering with parents to prevent childhood sexual abuse. Child Abuse Rev. 2010;19:130-152.

Written by Kelsey Anderson, UHS Health Communications Specialist


Get up, stand up for correct posture

They’re some of the most common sights across campus come fall: fellow students slouched down in their lecture hall chairs or doing their best Hunchback of Notre Dame impressions as they trod around burdened by their backpacks.

When the hectic school year routine sets in, proper posture can fall by the wayside. Lugging around that extra book is likely a priority over adjusting your backpack straps correctly. But with just a few tweaks, you’ll experience improved energy and less fatigue, as well as avoid future health problems.

To the core

So what does “good posture” look like? As it turns out, there’s no easy answer – it depends on the task you’re doing. As a general rule of thumb, you should aim for neutral positioning that engages your core muscles. When you learn to engage your core muscles, you prevent the awkward, static sitting positioning that contributes to pain and discomfort in any kind of chair.

Michelle Discher, ergonomist at University Health Services, says growing evidence suggests that extended periods of sedentary behavior are associated with negative health outcomes like obesity and diabetes. So the answer is more motion, right? Not necessarily.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are disorders, injuries or pain in your body’s joints, ligaments, muscles, and nerves that support different parts of your body. MSDs can result from a sudden exertion or from making repetitive motions. Carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis are two common MSDs.

Taking notes on good posture

A good chunk of your academic experience will occur in lecture halls both big and small. Whether you’re in Ag Hall or Henry Mall, we’ve got tips for the ideal way to sit:


  • We’re going back to the core. Engage your abs versus pulling on your back muscles and ligaments. Change positions as often as you can.
  • Know all the angles. The tendency is to lean forward and hunch our shoulders when sitting in lecture seats. Your hips should be at no greater than 90 degrees – parallel to the floor. Your feet and ankles should form another right angle and be flat on the floor as well.
  • Despite their name, laptops present a different set of problems. “Unfortunately, a laptop wasn’t designed with ergonomic factors in mind,” says Discher. She encourages an upright sitting position with your back supported, shoulders relaxed, and wrists in a neutral position.

Out and about

Chances are a backpack is your constant companion in college. As the year goes on, more and more materials can add unnecessary weight to your bag. Consider what is and isn’t essential to bring to each class. For example, maybe it’s possible to leave some books at home and pick them up between classes instead of loading up all your materials before you leave home in the morning.


“The common sense approach is to carry only what is a priority and consider the style of backpack you are using,” says Discher.

Your smartphone is likely another mainstay of your day-to-day life. Having the world’s information at your fingertips is enticing, but too much screen-gazing and typing can lead to injury. Discher says repetitive strain injuries like “Blackberry thumb” are largely avoidable by utilizing your phone’s voice-to-text capability.


The school year is a marathon, not a sprint. By keeping these tips in mind, you can cross the finish line next spring with another year under your belt and good posture intact.

Written by Ben Vincent, UHS Web & Publications Editor