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Anxiety And Your Phone: A Match Made In Poor Health

Our phones, like so much else, are not good or bad. They are, instead, tools capable of both help and harm. And just like most tools, it’s all in how we use them. But before we take a look at anxiety and your phone, let’s talk about GAD.

GAD, or generalized anxiety disorder, is a condition whose symptoms include difficulty concentrating, chronic worry, and restlessness. Although the term anxiety is nearly ubiquitous and sometimes inaccurately assigned, GAD is a serious condition that can interfere with everyday life. It manifests in both physical and mental symptoms that are described as intense, uncontrollable, and extreme.

There are many things that can exacerbate GAD and anxiety in general. But recent trends in young people’s anxiety levels have encouraged some researchers to take a close look at how cell phones, constant communication, and social media might be driving our anxiety to new, and unsustainable, heights.

Upward Comparisons

Social media is designed to make us uneasy. The entire system is built on craving, anticipating, and comparing. While some may emerge from regular social media engagement unscathed, individuals with anxiety often find that the constant checking associated with phones in general, and social media specifically, cause them to linger in a constant state of hyper-vigilant unease.

In fact, individuals with GAD have been found to make upward comparisons during social media engagement. This means that they tend to compare themselves unfavorably to others in forums like Instagram and Facebook. As you can imagine, these self-critical assessments do nothing to soothe their anxiety.

When worry is pervasive and all-encompassing, the mind will search for ways to check and see whether all is well, or all is ill. Our phones often fill this precarious space. By checking messages, notifications, and the popularity (or unpopularity) of social media posts, the anxious mind looks outward to assess the score: is there reason to worry? Unfortunately, when it comes to phones and social media, the answer is nearly always yes.

Anxiety And Your Phone: Less News Is Good News

We look at our phones for information. We want updates on the weather or the latest political scandal. Or, in the case of social media, we might find more intimate details about friends and acquaintances: wedding photos, videos of baby’s first steps.

As wholesome and even natural as this all sounds, the information we receive from our phones often ends up being salacious and controversial. On social media, people post political rants and wild misinformation just as often as they post harmless photos of all-fruit smoothies and avocado toast.

A quick glance at the news, Facebook, or even well-intentioned text messages can send our brain spiraling into dark tunnels of worry, shame, or indignation. And all of these emotions, if left unchecked, cause our anxiety to spike. As it turns out, there is a clear connection between your anxiety and your phone.

The Urge To Check

It’s well known that our phones send us into a feedback loop. We post and wait for feedback. We comment and wait for replies. We question and wait for answers. Some of it is harmless while some of it is downright destabilizing. What seems obvious is that constantly checking our devices in an addictive manner leads to spiked anxiety levels and escalations in chronic worry.

Because our text conversations, Instagram scrolling, and news browsing can feel like a mind-numbing sedative, we might be tempted to deem it all a harmless escape. But research has shown that there’s more going on.

Social comparisons, bad news, and unreasonable demands all cry out to us from the slim, shining devices set in our palms. We would do well to create a balance between healthy connectivity and necessary boundaries.

Anxiety And Your Phone: A Healthy Balance

Especially for those experiencing GAD or other anxiety disorders, experts recommend healthy boundaries around the phone and social media use. Shockingly, many of us habitually check our phones hundreds of times a day. This can create low-grade pervasive anxiety that hums eternally in the background.

By limiting social media and phone use, placing the phone in the other room during certain hours, and even taking full-day “fasts” from our devices, we can ween ourselves from the compulsion to scroll and keep our phone-checking in check. This looks different for everyone, with some people going so far as to delete social media and only check the news once a day.

Our phones are there to serve us, not the other way around. When this relationship becomes imbalanced, anxiety rises. But like most imbalances, it can be corrected with thoughtful boundaries and new, mindful habits.