The technology age has given us access to abundant information, has simplified many aspects of our lives, and has even improved our ability to connect with others throughout the world. It does, however, come with a few downsides. For instance, a 2019 study found that spending too much time on the internet, to the point of addiction, can profoundly impact our mental health. Even non-addicted internet usage can negatively affect us.
“Our technology-heavy world absolutely leads to increased stress in people of all ages. Over the last 10 years, I have seen a huge jump in my private practice of individuals who have stress and anxiety disorders as a direct result of technology use,” says Dr. Lisa Strohman, a psychologist and the founder of Digital Citizens Academy. “Stress in general affects our overall health and wellness by disrupting our body’s natural rhythm and patterns like digestion, sleep and immune health.”
The Hidden Stressors of Technology
Many of these downsides have been widely discussed, but it’s also important to call out some of more “hidden” stressors of technology, too. By knowing and understanding what unassuming things can often trigger stress, we can better curb that anxiety.
Being Away From Our Smartphones
Having a veritable computer in our pockets is incredible, but we’ve become so reliant on our devices that it’s hard to put them away. The urge to read a new text message after that familiar ding is hard to shake even in the middle of something important (like driving, crossing a street, or spending time with a loved one), and reaching for our phone is a default whenever we’re even minutely bored or lonely.
“We have built a dependency on always being connected to our phones because now we can access the internet, our banking, our music and so, so much more. They have become our whole lives and so there is a fear to ever be without them. This fear then leads to stress as we always have a need to feel attached,” says Dr. Strohman.
There’s even a term for the fear of being disconnected from your phone: nomophobia.
Dr. Strohman says that we can prevent anxious feelings over smartphone use by creating boundaries that are non-negotiable for ourselves. Healthy phone boundaries might include not using it during a meal, when you’re in a social situation, before bedtime, or in the bathroom. It might also mean creating set time limits for how long you spend on your phone or a particular app.
It may take time to become comfortable with reduced phone usage but finding the right balance will ultimately make you feel more in control.
Texting & Messaging Anxiety
It’s human nature to read into the smallest details, and texting is especially good at bringing this trait out in us. For instance, a short response to your long message might be interpreted as a cold and indifferent shrug, seeing a message was delivered without getting an immediate response might feel like you’re being purposefully ignored (Did you do something wrong? Do they still like you? Are they hurt or injured?), and even the bubbling ellipses icon that appears when someone’s writing a message can induce a flurry of stress.
The truth is that you’re able to garner so much more through an in-person exchange than you’ll ever be able to garner via a text situation, and over-obsessing about these small details does us more harm than good.
Take note of when you’re feeling anxiety during a text exchange and ask yourself if there’s a valid reason why you might feel the way you do. Then ask yourself what you might be able to do to reduce that anxiety.
In many cases, the answer is to distance yourself from your phone and occupy your time with things that bring you joy—such as a hobby, going for a walk, spending time with loved ones, focusing on work, or hitting the gym. Also, just seeing that person in real life, or calling them, can squash a lot of anxiety.
Feeling Pressure to Play a Video Game
Online gaming can be fun and exciting, but many games are designed in a way that can cause us to become addicted very easily. Maybe we feel an alliance to others on our team and don’t step away when it’d be healthier for us to do so, or maybe we spend much of our free time gaming while other important activities—such as exercise or healthy eating or real-life engagements—are left behind.
“For some people, playing video games and dedicating the time it takes to be successful is like having a second life. There can be countless hours dedicated to fighting, competing, and practice to be your best self within the game. This will cause stress for players who feel as though every minute they spend away from the game is a minute tragically lost,” says Dr. Strohman.
This probably won’t come as a surprise, but the key to avoiding anxious feelings with gaming is to limit the amount of time you actually spend gaming. Again, it’s about creating healthy boundaries and acknowledging and stopping unhealthy behaviors. Balancing a healthy activity with gaming will break up your screen time and also give you an added distraction and interest outside of the video game.
Constant Self-Critiquing Against Others’ Experiences
While social media connects us to others, it’s important to understand how detrimental constant exposure might be to our mental health. For example, scrolling through Instagram or Facebook viewing others’ happy faces, beautiful travel photos, and amazing dinners can sometimes make us feel bad about where we’re at in our lives.
“Social media is a huge stressor these days for multiple reasons, but, mainly it is the constant expectation of being ‘Insta-worthy’ and the unceasing comparisons that are inflicted upon us,” says Dr. Strohman.
She continues, “The stress of feeling like you need to post everything you’re doing, seeing, eating, watching is very real and is becoming more dominating every day. There’s not only the stress of always having to post to stay relevant, but also the stress of comparing your body, life, and experiences with your peers and also strangers. This sets us up for unrealistic expectations of life.”
All that said, it’s important to remember that we’re only seeing the best 5% of other people’s lives—the most flattering pictures, the best moments, the accolades, the vacations, the anniversary celebrations. Even thumbing through your very own photo reel can cause a little jealousy!
Interestingly, we’re starting to see a pendulum swing here. Everyday people, influencers, and celebrities are craving and posting less filtered, “real content.” This can be helpful to see, but it doesn’t mean you have to feel the pressure to “be real,” yourself, and it doesn’t even mean that what you’re seeing is actually entirely real.
It’s not easy, but one of the best things you can do, says Dr. Strohman, is to thoughtfully disengage more often from social media.
She says, “Be more present, be in the moment, stop feeling every move you make has to be documented or talked about. Also just remembering that pictures do not say everything about a person’s life and that these carefully curated posts are only the happiest, best, most exciting photos that are trying to sell the idea of perfection.”
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