By R. J. NICHOLAS
Our society has seemingly become one where the diagnosis of anxiety now rivals that of depression, according to a New York Times article titled, “An Anxious Nation.”
“Anxiety is starting to seem like a sociological condition, too: a shared cultural experience that feeds on alarmist CNN graphics and metastasizes through social media,” stated by the article’s author, Alex Williams.
Williams introduces how anxiety disorders are now more common than depression on college campus’ and has even been the leading mental health disorder among university students. 38 percent of teenage girls and 26 percent of teenage boys have an anxiety disorder, as listed in the National Institute of Mental Health reports.
A device called a “fidget spinner” has recently seen explosive sales among children, adolescents, and young adults who appear to use it to alleviate anxious feelings. It was originally developed to help children with anxiety, ADHD or autism.
Whether we know it or not, we react with anxiety and apprehension while we watch someone with whom we are texting appear to be texting back as the “typing awareness indicator” bubbles parade on our cell phones, as explained by Kaitlyn Greenidge in her article in the Times Sunday Review. This is a major cause for the spike in anxiety among teens and young adults.
One study was conducted between two people who attempted to have a 10 minute discussion while a third person’s phone was placed nearby. Each person felt less close and less trusting of the other when researchers placed either one of the two participants’ phones close by. In another study an experimenter either called their phone (sitting on a table behind them) or did not call their phone while participants completed puzzles. Those who endured a missed phone call showed increased anxiety as well as decreased performance on the puzzles compared to a group with no interruption. Other study’s indicated that even the “mere presence” of one’s phone led to decreased performance on all but the easiest tasks.
FOMO or a “fear of missing out” in some led to more daily smartphone use, more preference for multitasking and more nighttime awakenings to check a phone which, in turn, predicted sleep problems. In an upper-division college general education course, FOMO directly predicted lower grades but also predicted more daily smartphone use, shorter attention span while studying and a lack of classroom digital “metacognition” (defined as knowing how to control your focus during lecture and not be distracted by technology) which, in turn, predicted poor grades during another study, using a similar model to predict performance.
For a decade or more smartphones have been a major part of our world. Smartphones (and other devices, too) are having a deleterious effect on our mental and emotional functioning. One major reason people cannot stay away from them is due to anxiety. This anxiety is driving us to check in constantly with our technology and disassociate from the face to face human contact we can be experiencing every day.
In the meantime, try out different strategies to train yourself to have dominion over technology and no longer allow it to have control over you. We can live more fulfilled lives if we try one thing every day to not be bound to our smartphones or some form of technology. We may even become smarter, more focused and more productive users and less likely like Pavlov’s dogs who have been trained to salivate whenever your phone beeps or vibrates.
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