If you find yourself doom-scrolling for a solid three hours before bed and then can’t fall sleep, it could be just one of many signs technology is negatively impacting your mental health.
The ubiquity of smartphones, the allure of social media, and the myriad of digital tools at our disposal have irrevocably woven themselves into the fabric of our existence. In this digital age, we find ourselves more connected than ever before, fostering global communities, sharing experiences across vast distances, and accessing information with unparalleled ease.
However, it has also introduced a new set of challenges, particularly when it comes to mental health.
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Anxiety, in particular, has found a companion in our digital devices, shaping the way we live, communicate, and experience the world. It finds its breeding ground in the endless stream of data, in the constant connectivity that leaves us tethered to our devices. It thrives in the artificial glow of screens that often replace natural sunlight, disrupting our circadian rhythms and sleep patterns.
The truth is the transformative power of technology has been a double-edged sword – and we must equip ourselves with the awareness and tools needed to harness the benefits of technology while mitigating its unintended consequences on our mental health.
How our digital lives impact our mental health
The advent of the digital age has given rise to a paradox: while technology promises greater connectivity, it can also fuel feelings of isolation, despair and anxiety. Here are some ways in which our digital lives impact our mental health:
Smartphones and social media platforms make it easier for us to stay connected, but this constant connectivity can contribute to feelings of being overwhelmed and unable to disconnect from work or social pressures. Who of us sleep with our smartphones nearby? Do we check them at unusual times? Do we turn them off at all?
Fear of missing out (FOMO)
Social media platforms present carefully curated images of people’s lives, making it easy to feel like we are missing out on experiences and opportunities. This can lead to anxiety and a sense of inadequacy. How often have we watched our friends or colleagues post beautiful photos of their holidays, only to be told the holiday was difficult – the opposite of what was posted online.
The endless stream of news, notifications, and messages can lead to information overload, which can trigger stress and anxiety as our brains struggle to process and respond to the influx of data. Do we give ourselves permission to tune out, turn off and take a breath? How would we experience life differently if we did?
The anonymity of the internet can lead to cyberbullying, which can be a significant source of anxiety, especially among young people. Are we checking in with our tweens or teens about their online lives? How are they experiencing what they see and how are they behaving?
Screen time and sleep
Excessive screen time, especially before bed, can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to increased anxiety and a decreased ability to manage stress. We know it is wise to turn off our devices at least 30-60 minutes before bed, do we do that? Isn’t that what we want our kids to do?
We may struggle to relate and connect with our family and friends on a deeper level if we constantly have a phone in our hands. Check out how many people are on their devices at a restaurant, sitting across from loved ones and friends. How can we connect if we are staring at a screen?
We’ve all heard that comparison is the thief of happiness, but comparing our bodies, careers and lives in general can be detrimental to our wellbeing. Can we ask friends, family and ourselves about how others feel about what they are viewing online? If comparisons are ensuring we stay ‘small’, ‘truly unseen’, or anxious, perhaps we need a break and some authentic connection, face to face with people we value. Reach out, chances are others feel the same way.
The anxiety-technology connection
Anxiety refers to a complex and often overwhelming combination of negative emotions which can include dread, worry, panic, nervousness and fear. Anxiety and technology often go hand in hand. For many individuals, the relationship between the two can manifest in different ways:
Social anxiety: While technology can facilitate communication, it can also intensify social anxiety. The pressure to maintain a curated online persona can lead to increased fear of judgment and criticism.
Phobias and online triggers: Online content, particularly images or discussions related to specific phobias or triggers, can cause heightened anxiety in susceptible individuals.
Digital detox struggles: Attempts to reduce screen time or disconnect from technology can be met with resistance and anxiety, as many people fear missing out or becoming isolated from their digital social circles.
Online harassment: Cyberbullying, harassment, and negative interactions on social media platforms can exacerbate anxiety and create a hostile online environment.
Combating digital anxiety
Here are some ways to navigate the digital age with mental health in mind:
Digital detox: Periodically disconnect from screens and social media to reset your mental health and reduce anxiety. Engage in activities that promote relaxation and mindfulness.
Mindful consumption: Be aware of the content you consume online. Unfollow or mute accounts that trigger anxiety, and curate your online experience to be more positive.
Limit screen time before bed: Create a tech-free buffer before bedtime to improve sleep quality and reduce anxiety related to poor sleep patterns.
Seek professional help: If anxiety becomes overwhelming, consider seeking help from a mental health professional who can provide guidance and support.
Diane Young is a trauma specialist and psychotherapist at South Pacific Private, one of Australia’s leading trauma, addiction and mental health treatment centres.
If you think you or someone you know needs help, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.