‘Phones are like a scab we know we shouldn’t pick up’: The truth about social media and anxiety | social media

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mobtkr22 May 2022Last Update : 1 month ago
‘Phones are like a scab we know we shouldn’t pick up’: The truth about social media and anxiety |  social media

MMost people think phones are bad for anxiety. Parents, in particular, think phones are terrible for the mental health of children, teens and young adults. So what is the truth? While writing my book You Don’t Understand Me, which is about the mental health of teenage girls and young women, I felt I had to get to the bottom of the relationship between phones and anxiety. And to be honest, it doesn’t look great. Since the release of smartphones around 2000, the mental health of young people has steadily declined. But as we know, correlation does not necessarily equal causation.

What I have observed clinically is that rather than being the cause of the problem per se, phones seem to act as a catalyst for our emotions. It can be a positive thing, when it allows us to connect with our friends and family; sharing good news; pictures or jokes. It also allows marginalized communities to come together.

However, humans are hardwired to foresee danger and our minds can quickly go from an initial trigger to create catastrophic, totally imaginary circumstances, to which our body responds as if they were real. In your head, it goes like this: “Some of my friends get together without me > they don’t want me there > they don’t really like me > nobody really likes me > I’m basically impossible to love and I will die alone.”

The phone contributes to this in different ways. First, it lets us know that our friends are meeting without us. There was something about “ignorance is bliss” and now there is no more ignorance. We know, and we can sit on our couch in old jogging bottoms on a Saturday night and compare our inner worries, our worst parts, our ugliest selves, with endless, perfectly organized versions of other people’s lives. And guess what? It makes us anxious and unhappy.

Our phone is like a scab that we know we shouldn’t pick. We know it pains us to see our wealthy friend on the weekend with her gorgeous partner; we know we should put down our phone and go do something constructive and positive – yoga, a walk, a hot bath with candles. Look, there’s someone on Instagram with a perfect bathroom and a great body showing us what we should be doing, and we’re just sitting scrolling – no wonder no one wants to hang out with you. This way, your phone can trigger a second cycle of self-judgment about your laziness or uselessness.

The phone intensifies a culture of comparison that can make you feel not good enough in all aspects of life: not thin enough; not enough success; not tidy or organized enough; not living in a nice enough house; not well read or intelligent enough.

And while research into the effects of this on mental health is in its infancy, there is particularly damning research regarding viewing pictures of perfect bodies, which increases body dissatisfaction, with a link to mood disorders. ‘food. Even when we know the images are doctored, and even when shown in relation to fitness, they still impact body dissatisfaction.

So, some of the questions I ask my patients about their phone use are:

Do you use your phone to connect with people or compare to people? The former is positive for mental health, but the latter will likely increase anxiety.

Is there a tipping point where phone use goes from positive to negative? Have you noticed this tipping point? And can you put your phone away then? My experience suggests that it’s just at this point that the phone is most magnetic.

Does your phone keeps you from doing positive things for your mental health? Phone use is perhaps most damaging when it prevents you from sleeping, eating regularly, being outside and moving your body, all of which are important for well-being.

Research suggests that there may be a sweet spot with mobile phone use, after which the screen ceases to be useful or fun and begins to negatively impact well-being. A drinking analogy is useful: a few glasses of red wine can be relaxing; one bottle per night is not so useful. And as with alcohol, some people find it hard to quit just when they should.

So if you’re feeling anxious, think about your phone use – think about the time you spend on it and the type of content. Re-addressing this could be an important key to unlocking a less anxious life.

Phone and internet use is best when it aligns with our other values ​​rather than distancing us from them. There is often a very thin line between these two, but I would look for phone use that is driven by:

Connect to people. A shared family WhatsApp group or FaceTiming old friends can be great. But it’s not the same as looking up former classmates to see if they’re doing well – it’s a comparison.

Compassion for you. An online yoga class, meditation app, or bedtime audiobook are examples of nurturing ways to use the internet. Watching back-to-back episodes of a box set overnight isn’t compassionate; it interferes with sleep self-care.

Creativeity. The telephone has enabled a democratization of creativity, particularly in photography, but also in the sharing of humor, crafts, art and writing. Teenagers in particular have shown incredible creativity on platforms such as TikTok, but we need to be cautious about reductive rather than expansive content, especially when it comes to beauty or sexuality.

Curiosity of the difference. Phones can turn a mild disagreement into a massive argument, with positions becoming entrenched. Can you use your phone to explore new ideas, rather than getting stuck in a rut?

You do not understand me : The young woman’s guide to life, by Tara Porter published by Lagom (14.99)order your copy at guardianbookshop.com.

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