Is your smartphone making you anxious?

2017-09-24T11:49:45+00:00 Anxiety tips, Research|

technology causes anxiety


I haven’t had a phone for four days.

The charging port was playing up and draining the battery, so I decided to send the phone off for repair. (I left out the bit about throwing it against a wall in frustration. Don’t tell Samsung.)

Anywho, the past four days have been blissful. And I mean that in the true sense of the word, not in a smug #bliss kinda way.

I haven’t been mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed, or feeling inadequate looking at ‘perfect’ people’s Instagram stories. The only way to reach out to friends is through email or Skype…with replies dripping through hours or even days later.

And instead of instantly Googling my burning questions (“Why isn’t my stovetop popcorn popping?”, “How to get cow dung off white Converse trainers”) I’ve pondered the answers, tinkered with ideas, and figured it all out myself. The popcorn popped. The trainers are clean. And my thumbs have stopped hurting.

All because I’m sans smartphone.

Best of all, I am FAR less anxious.

Seriously. I don’t feel like there are a million messages demanding replies, or numerous notifications urgently asking for action. Life seems simple, unhurried, unburdened.

I’m sort of drifting through my days, getting things done when I fancy it (and not because my calendar is bleeping, ’12PM: WASH CLOTHES’). I’m reaching out to my network when I want to, not because I feel obligated. And I feel hyper-connected to the world. The real world, not the virtual one. I’m more grounded, more aware, more conscious of my place in space and time.

Maybe I’ll tell Samsung to keep the phone…

Of course, there’s a flip-side to being disconnected. I missed seeing my friend when she was viewing a house just a few blocks away. I didn’t get the memo about an early morning hit of tennis. And I couldn’t buy a bus ticket on an app, so I had to walk home (which ended up being quite lovely). I also have the feeling I was meant to do something important this weekend, but without my virtual calendar, I’ve no idea!

So in some ways, digital devices can alleviate our anxiety. They make life easier (lost? Just use maps. Need a taxi? Open Uber.) They help us make plans in advance, so there are fewer surprises in the moment.

But…do they also make us more anxious?

Science says: tech makes us more anxious

Many studies suggest our digital devices ignite anxiety. One found that on days when teens used their devices more, they were more likely to lie, fight and have other behavioural problems.

What’s more, Stefan Hofmann, professor of psychology at Boston University says we can even feel distressed when we ‘fail’ to cut back on our use of digital devices:

“This is the era of anxiety.”

He says many of us worry that if we digitally disconnect, we won’t be able to keep tabs on world events and threats. So not only do smartphones make us anxious, they also make us feel crap when we try to take a break from them! Talk about a catch-22.

Try a digital detox 

So yes, switching off may make you antsy. But once that feeling subsides, a digital detox can bring a lot of relief.

Christina Crook, author of The Joy of Missing Out says:

“A digital detox actually reduces the amount of anxiety because when the parameters are so clear, it takes all of those individual choices off the table.”

She’s talking about a blanket ban: staying off technology for a certain amount of time. Once the rules are set, it’s a lot easier to follow through.

Here are a few things you can try:

  • Start your day with a digital-free routine. Instead of rolling over and checking your phone, you might make a cup of tea and do some journaling. Or read a book. Meditate. Exercise. Or cook a nice breakfast. Do what you love first thing, and let the online world wait.
  • Switch your devices off at the same time each day. I try to be digital-free after 9pm. That means no TV, no phone, no computer screen. Just me and a book, or a bath, or talking with my partner.
  • Doing a full-day detox. Tim Ferriss is a fan of this one. You spend an entire day each week without technology. Be sure to let your loved ones know what’s up, and how they can contact you in an emergency. Then go out into the world and see how you get on without a device buzzing in your pocket!

My phone arrives home tomorrow. Part of me is happy – yay, I’ll be able to connect with people again – but part of me doesn’t want to go back to my old ways. I’ve loved losing my sense of time and urgency. It’s been fun having a more spontaneous schedule. And I’ve enjoyed learning how to problem solve using my own noggin.

So when I switch that bad boy back on, it’ll be with a new mindset. I’ll be following the tips above, and trying not to reach for my phone when I’m bored or unsettled.

What about you? Will you try a digital detox with me?


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