Stress and Anxiety in The Digital Age
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In this Digital Age the Internet has put connecting with friends, colleagues, partners associates, partners, and lots of other good stuff at our fingertips..
However, while digital connections have a clear advantages, “digital dependence” does not.
Dependence on digital communication presents several physical and emotional health challenges. Mitochondrial damage, exposure to electromagnetic radiation and failing social skills are a few that may have deeper roots than we now know.
Recent research has now identified immediate physical symptoms that occur when digital devices are just out of reach.
Cellphone ownership has reached 95% in America (even the indigent and homeless have them) , up from 68% measured in Y 2015.
Of those owners, 77% use a Smartphone.
The people who own the Smartphones are distributed equally across gender, age and ethnicity, with the lowest number of people owning Smartphones being over 65 anni.
Dependence or addiction to a digital device hooked to the internet affected 6% of the world population in Y 2014.
This number may not appear to be significant at 1st, but consider that 6% of the world population was over 420-M people in Y 2014.
Comparatively speaking, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 3.5 to 7% of the world population between 15 and 64 had used an illicit drug in the past year.
The per cent of those addicted to the Internet may actually be higher as only 39% of the world in Y 2014 had access to the internet, thus driving the real per cent of those addicted to 15%.
Symptoms of addiction are similar to other types of addiction, but are more socially acceptable.
The authors of the study found an internet addiction (IA) is:“… [G]enerally regarded as a disorder of concern because the neural abnormalities (e.g., atrophies in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) and cognitive dysfunctions (e.g., impaired working memory) associated with IA mimic those related to substance and behavioral addiction. Moreover, IA is often comorbid with mental disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression.”
Reach Out Recovery identifies conditions that may trigger Internet addiction or compulsions, including anxiety, depression, other addictions, social isolation and stress.8 Internet activity may stimulate your brain’s reward system, much like drugs and alcohol, providing a constant source of information and entertainment.
While each person’s Internet use is different, the results may be the same.
Long-term effects may include the following:
- Irritation when someone interrupts your interaction online
- Difficulty completing tasks
- Increasing isolation
- Experiencing euphoria while online
- Inability to stop despite the consequences
- Increasing stress
The physical and mental effects of addiction, coupled with the physical effects of withdrawal, may increase the risks for long-term health conditions.
In a recent study involving 144 people between the ages of 18 and 33, researchers discovered both heart rate and blood pressure are affected in those who report spending extended periods of time online.
Past research has associated “cold turkey” withdrawal of the Internet from heavy users will produce anxiety type symptoms, similar to those experienced by people addicted to drugs or alcohol.
The current study also linked physiological changes, including an average of a 3 to 4% increase in blood pressure and heart rate of the participants. Some participants experienced up to an 8% increase.
This was the 1st controlled demonstration of physiological changes triggered by Internet use. The increases noted during the study were not enough to be immediately life-threatening; however, these types of changes are associated with anxiety and a reduction in the function of the immune system.
The changes in anxiety levels may also be a physiological trigger for users to re-engage with their digital devices in order to reduce the physical response and anxiety level.
Dr. Lisa Osborne, co-author of the study from Swansea University, commented: “A problem with experiencing physiological changes like increased heart rate is that they can be misinterpreted as something more physically threatening, especially by those with high levels of anxiety, which can lead to more anxiety, and more need to reduce it.”
Meaning, that in people who may experience anxiety more frequently, the physical symptoms of internet withdrawal may increase their anxiety and lead to behaviors to reduce it: namely, going back to using the Internet.
40% of the participants in this study admitted they had some level of an Internet-related problem and acknowledged they spent too much time online.
Participants reportedly spent an average of 5 hours each day on the Internet and 20% spent over 6 hours a day.
Notably, the most common reasons for engaging online were social media and shopping.
Previous studies from this same group of researchers demonstrated that study participants would experience short-term increases in anxiety levels when their digital devices were removed.
When those devices were removed for longer periods of time, they reported increases in loneliness and depression, with some researchers finding changes to the actual structures in the brain.
Research psychologist Larry Rosen, PhD, and his colleagues at California State University looked at the effect technology has had on anxiety levels. They found the typical person checks their phone every 15 mins, whether or not they heard a notification from the device.
In his words people may be thinking: “Gee, I haven’t [checked] in [on] Facebook in a while. I haven’t checked on this Twitter feed for a while. I wonder if somebody commented on my Instagram post.”
These thoughts generate increased secretion of cortisol, which begins to increase your anxiety levels. Eventually, one notices the rising anxiety and seeks a way to reduce the experience. Checking in to one’s social network on the Smartphone may be one of the ways to reduce anxiety.
The authors of the study from Swansea University speculate that Internet use is driven by more than short-term excitement or the “Joy” of using technology. Instead, it may produce negative physiological and psychological changes, such as anxiety that may drive one back to the device that is causing the problem in the 1st place.
Multiple studies from around the world have demonstrated overuse of the Internet and digital devices leads to physical and psychological symptoms of addiction and family dysfunction.
Poor health, unhappiness and depression were found in men and women who report overuse of the Internet, but depressed girls demonstrate a higher rate of Internet addiction than boys.
Overall, those with an addiction to the Internet have lower impulsivity control.
It should come as no surprise then, that companies that make money when more people spend more time and money on the Internet are consciously trying to manipulate people’s behavior.
Former Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) product manager Tristan Harris revealed how digital giants are engineering Smartphone apps and social media feedback to get you checking and double-checking online.
But, while Internet use is more socially acceptable, digital companies are not the only businesses using neurological and psychological strategies to increase their profit margins.
Behavior patterns are often etched into neural pathways, and when those behaviors are also linked to hormone secretion and physiological responses, they become even more powerful.
Dr. Harris describes the reward process of using a Smartphone as “playing the slot machine.”
And, Google has discovered a way to embed that reward system as you use the apps on your phone. This process is so important to digital corporations that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) turned down a new Smartphone app for their store that would help people to reduce their use of the Internet and their Smartphones.
The goal of any corporation is to increase your use of their product and the potential you will spend more money with them.
In the case of Smartphone devices, these companies are contributing to programming consumers actions, and how they think and feel. This is how companies satisfy their advertisers, who are paying for the privilege of getting “eye balls” on their ads.
Some programmers call this process “brain hacking,” as they incorporate more information from neuropsychology into the development of digital interfaces that increase your interaction with the program.
For instance, getting likes on Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Instagram, the “streaks” on Snapchat (NYSE:SNAP): or cute emojis on text messaging, are all designed to increase your engagement and desire to return.
The continual scroll on Facebook keeps one engaged on the page longer, with a greater chance of click an advertisement on the page.
Keeping a “streak” alive on Snapchat keeps one coming back to the app, especially when you have multiple streaks going with multiple people.
Dr. Harris describes it as a race to the bottom of the brainstem where fear and anxiety live, 2 of the most powerful motivators known to advertisers.
Both advertisers and computer software developers are using these techniques to write code that will engage consumers attention.
Unfortunately, engagement is not the only physiological or psychological change these techniques trigger in the human brain and body.
This short video highlights several changes you may experience after hours of digital use. However, there are also permanent changes that occur to the structure of the brain after watching a flickering screen for hours.
One of the functional changes you may have noticed is a reduced ability to think deeply about 1 subject.
The focus of gathering information online often results in flipping from 1 website to another as the topic of your research changes, as portrayed in the video above.
Another way of saying this is a constant state of distraction, disruption and interruption from notifications and website engagement.
Nicholas Carr, author of the book, “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains,” finds in the years after publication, with rising use of digital devices, millennials are experiencing even greater problems with forgetfulness than seniors.
This is the “dark side” of neurological plasticity that allows the brain to adapt to changes in environment. This type of plasticity is 1 way the brain recovers after a stroke has permanently damaged a Key area.
The fact is, as our brains are plastic, most everything we do and practice will change our brain.
Using the Internet may damage one’s ability to remember facts, but it also appears to improve your ability to research information.
A few positive changes may not outweigh the negative aspects of long-term Internet overuse.
For instance, brain scans indicate those who use the internet consistently have a reduced amount of Gray matter.
A loss of White matter, reduced cortical thickness, and impaired cognitive functioning are other brain structure and functional changes that have been demonstrated from long-term Internet use.
It is impossible to ignore that these devices are changing our brain structure, and the experience is also increasing exposure to microwave radiation and large amounts of blue light at night, thereby impacting your body’s ability to produce melatonin.
In Y 2011, the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer declared cellphones a Group 2b “possible human carcinogen” related to the microwave radiation emitted from the phone. Even cellphone manufacturers place warnings on their products to keep them at least 1 inch from your body.
Another challenge to using digital devices is the blue light emitted from the screens, which reduce melatonin and signal the body to wake up.
The Big Q: Did you ever think that turning off your digital devices would help you stay healthy?
The Big A: Use strategies in public or private to assist your efforts to reduce your screen time, whether on your Smartphone, computer or on tablet.
Remember, the physiological, structural and psychological changes occur no matter what type of device we use.
Meditation can help to reduce anxiety levels and Internet addiction.
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