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A Main Line expert explains how technology and social media can make us anxious—and what we can do to reduce digital anxiety.
It’s no secret that life makes us anxious. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 19% of U.S. adults have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and 32% can expect to experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Studies also show that too much time on screens and social media is linked to higher levels of negative rumination, FOMO, negative social comparisons, insomnia, depression and anxiety. A lack of in-person connection and interaction, time in nature and engagement in our communities is creating what some mental health professionals are referring to as “digital anxiety.”
At the root of most anxiety disorders is a difficulty coping with uncertainty, ambivalence and ambiguity, manifested in symptoms of excessive worry and anxiety. Those with generalized anxiety disorder might experience excessive worry about their own safety or that of a loved one, or they may have chronic fears that something bad is about to happen. Digital anxiety, on the other hand, is rooted in our use of technology and social media habits. One example is the stress caused by negative interactions from a text, an email or a social media post. There may be feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, loneliness and social isolation.
People may also experience digital anxiety when separated from their phones. They might feel disconnected and worry about not knowing of possible threats like war or a natural catastrophe, missing out on a social event or losing touch with loved ones and friends.
We can keep digital anxiety at bay by paying attention to our emotions when logged on, being mindful and intentional when engaging with our devices, and making sure we commit to daily self-care practices that enhance our mental health. Here are a few recommendations to get you started.
How to Reduce Digital Anxiety
- Be honest with yourself about your digital habits. Record how often you’re engaged with screens and technology. Note the time of day you’re most likely to log on and how you feel before and after.
- Accept that anxiety is a part of living. Life is unpredictable and often beyond our control. Make a daily commitment to practice radical acceptance—the ability to accept reality without judgment. That doesn’t mean we approve of negative events and situations. Rather, we accept these circumstances as things we might not be able to change at this moment—or ever.
- Keep an anxiety journal. Journaling on a regular basis can relieve stress and anxiety. It helps with problem-solving, focusing our attention on specific goals and processing unresolved feelings of grief and anger.
- Limit social media and screen time. Take charge of your digital habits by putting firm time limits on social media check-ins.
- Commit to daily nondigital self-care practices. Examples include exercise, time with friends and pets, listening to music, reading and hobbies.