Mindhood: Digital Health for Students

A group of college students sitting and standing on a lawn. Most are wearing hats that say, “Mindhood” on them.

We came across a campaign which aims to help college students with “the mindful use of technology in a digital age” and knew we needed learn about it! We spoke with Susan Reynolds, Mindhood’s founder, to find out more.

Tell us about Mindhood.

The Mindhood Movement is a campaign to build more mindful college campuses, communities or neighborhoods by using technology intentionally through mindfulness practice, positive digital habits, and face-to-face relationships. We’ve tested several different iterations of Mindhood, and it is clear that it needs to be student-led with students themselves advocating for change. Our hypothesis is when we all put our phones down periodically, are in the present moment, focus on one task at a time, and enjoy family and friends “in real life,” life is more fulfilling.

What is the goal of this organization?

There is an escalating mental health crisis among teenagers and college students in the United States. The data from a 2017 American Journal of Epidemiology study shows that 40% of college students reported feeling so depressed it was difficult to function and 61% of college students said they “felt overwhelming anxiety” during the year. {Editor’s note: This is insanity.}

Many agree that the introduction of smartphones and social media has amplified these mental health concerns. As colleges work to address the mounting number of cases, we wanted to see if we could prevent these health concerns through the intentional use of technology and mindfulness. Research supports the correlation between digital dependence, the overuse of social media, and being connected 24/7 with reduced mental wellness among college students. If communities of students participate in daily mindfulness and digital wellness practices, intention setting and stating gratitude, will their moods improve over time? We say yes!

Susan Reynolds, Mindhood’s founder.

Susan Reynolds, Mindhood’s founder.


What led you to create Mindhood?

In 2014 I went to Wisdom 2.0, a conference where the technology world meets the mindfulness world, for the first time. It was there I heard Larry Rosen speak about his research on youth in schools, their attachment to their phones and “tech breaks.” That’s when I began researching teenagers and college students use of technology, both for good and not so good. I wrote a blog, spoke to parents and schools, and tutored students in positive digital habits. I started investigating the link between college mental health concerns and their digital lives.

When I learned about TextLess Live More, I realized fellow Dartmouth Alum, Richard Levitan, had lost his daughter when a texting driver hit her. The importance of this mission intensified, and in 2014 Rich and I began working on projects together to bring this message forward.

We started Mindhood with college students because high school students have parents who may (or may not) be the gatekeepers of their technology. In contrast, most college students don’t have a gatekeeper or mentor to help with self-regulation. Many students come into college without digital habits to enhance attention and concentration and do not know the impact social media and continuous time on one’s phone has on their emotional wellbeing.

Tell us about Mindhood at Dartmouth and your findings.

Dartmouth College fraternities and sororities became the pilot location of Mindhood during summer term of 2018. Since we believed that behavior change around one’s use of technology is easier when done in community, so Mindhood became Mindful Brotherhoods and Mindful Sisterhoods.

We asked the students to ponder these questions. Do you think community "in real life" is beginning to erode because of the ubiquitous nature of technology? How do people have more mindful connections and more intentional interactions with the people right in front of them, rather than a person on the other side of the screen?

A group of college students standing in front of a fraternity house wearing hats that say “Mindhood” on them.

Our goal at Dartmouth was to test out a theory that if one practiced putting their phone down to talk to others, people would feel happier and more connected. Some examples were when the brothers of TDX wore their Mindhood hats and encouraged people to put their phones away during a fraternity party. A sorority, Sigma Delta, had a similar party this summer, and it solidified the idea of the importance of shifting phone habits in community with others.

What we learned at Dartmouth was that students who participated were cumulatively 78% happier. We couldn't measure individual data, but collectively as a group, the reports from our texting platform showed the efficacy of the following: Set a daily intention, state gratitude, practice mindfulness, and use phones, social media and other technologies in moderation with intention, and you will feel happier. We could not separate these factors, but together, when students engage in these practices, they feel better.

You can learn more about our work at Dartmouth in the article Mindhood Comes to Dartmouth published by the Dartmouth Review.

A photo of a college aged man sitting at a table using a laptop. He is wearing a hat that says, “Mindhood” on it.

How do you see Mindhood contributing value to the mindful technology community?

In most instances, the introduction of mindfulness and positive digital habits comes from adults, whether parents, teachers or other mentors. With Mindhood, the goal is for students to introduce other students to mindfulness, mindful activities and positive digital habits that promote the intentional use of technology and face to face interactions.

There’s a chain reaction that happens when one starts practicing mindfulness and a mindful use of technology. Mindful use of technology extends into more mindful conversations and relationships, more mindful study sessions, mindful parties, class focus, and socializing.

How do you personally create a tech / life balance?

As a committed yogi, I espoused the value of mindfulness practice and the power of the face to face community, yet I was constantly drawn to my phone. My awareness that I didn’t need to be checking my phone all the time was not strong enough to stop the behavior. From researching, I learned I was not the only one having difficulty controlling my impulses to respond to a ding, ping, or notification. I started writing posts on my teens and technology blog about the problems with technology, how it was changing our habits and our brains, statistics on the ways it was contributing to digital distraction, dopamine dependence and numbing when bored.

I’m happy to say that I don’t consider myself to be addicted to my phone anymore, at least 88% of the time! There are periods in my life where I find myself spending too much time on a certain app or compulsively checking my daughters’ Snapchat and Instagram posts. And there are still times I respond as an Emergency Parent when my college age daughter experiences anxiety.

A cartoon image of a group of people looking at smartphones in their hands. The woman in the middle is looking up. The words “LookUp!” is below the image.

Mindfulness is one of the key strategies to countering the addictive nature of our digital world, but I cannot profess to having mastered it. Instead I intend it and practice awareness of my tech use as well as a commitment to be more mindful about it.

Tell us about the panel you moderated Earlier This Month.

Recently, I moderated a panel, “From Digital Addiction to Digital Wellness: A Dartmouth Startup Opportunity” at the Dartmouth Entrepreneurs Forum. Psychology and Brain Sciences Professor Bill Hudenko spoke about his role as CEO of VOI with suicide prevention software, as well as a model for digital wellness. He claimed we need awareness, boundaries and responsibility and asked us to consider a certification program for healthy tech similar to the organic movement. What would it look like to have a stamp of approval for humane technology: “Certifiably Tech 4 Good.”

Richard Levitan and I were on stage together after beginning our conversations about distracted driving and digital distraction in 2014. His work with TextLess Live More inspired the audience to participate in a Q & A session where audience members brainstormed solutions to our attention economy crisis as Rich asked for technology that solves the negative effects of addictive technology.

Natalie Mendolia, class of ‘19 spoke about her involvement with Mindhood and her decision to delete social media for a term when she was injured and unable to participate on the power lifting team. This was preventative to help her focus on the present and not what she was missing. She rekindled her love of dancing and found herself happier and more content not scrolling through social media.

Susan Reynolds and other members of the Dartmouth panel. Photo by Mark Washburn.

Susan Reynolds and other members of the Dartmouth panel. Photo by Mark Washburn.


What can we expect next from Mindhood and how can people follow along?

Mindhood is expanding to several college campuses including Chapman, Columbia, and Fairfield while maintaining a strong presence at Dartmouth.

Mindhood is also launching Look Up! A campaign to take a break from your phone and look around, connect with the person in front of you, and enjoy moments in real life (IRL). Our campaign will include the LookupPodcast, where teenagers and college students talk about life in the digital age.

I am the Educational Liaison on the founding team of the Digital Wellness Collective, the world’s only global network of digital wellness professionals and organizations. Having like-minded colleagues committed to the preservation of real life relationships, living in the present moment, and maintaining the best of being human spreads the Mindhood Movement.

I will also be speaking with other Digital Wellness Collective professionals at the Digital Wellness Festival in London and The Mindful Society Conference in Toronto, both in May.

Wow! Mindhood is up to a lot of good on college campus’ and in the #mindfultech space. Learn more about Mindhood by checking out their website and watching the short video below.


All images from Mindhood.

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