We’re using technology more frequently than ever before, and it’s causing a host of anxiety-related issues. However, new technologies are also emerging to relieve and minimize anxiety. How exactly is the technology responsible for the technology anxiety epidemic, and what’s in store for our future?
The Complex Nature of Anxiety
First, we have to acknowledge the complexity of human anxiety. Anxiety is a natural and appropriate response to stressful situations; feeling a sense of heightened anxiety makes you alert and aware, which prepares you to handle unexpected situations and potential threats. But when you experience anxiety without a lack of familiarity, and without there being an imminent threat, it becomes dysfunctional.
Many of us at least occasionally experience what we would consider being inappropriate or unusual levels of anxiety. It could be a deep sense of worry about a relatively innocuous social misstep, or dread about an invisible responsibility we’re sure we’re forgetting. There are many potential root causes for this, including both physical and mental variables.
For example, consider the vagus nerve; it is arguably the most important nerve in your body, stretching throughout the esophagus, the chest, the heart, the stomach, and all the way up to the brainstem. It’s a source of communication between the brain and the stomach and is responsible for your “gut feeling,” as well as your digestion, heart rate, and respiration. If not adequately stimulated, a dysfunctional vagus nerve could lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.
Technology and anxiety are correlated in the modern era. Technology leads to depression because of different reasons. The stress created by overuse of technology and the constant state of the connection is known as technostress.
How Technology Impacts Anxiety
There are many ways that modern technology is increasing our susceptibility to anxiety:
Social media and FOMO
First, there’s the prevalence of social media, and with it, the fear of missing out (FOMO). Social media apps condition us to check our newsfeeds on a regular basis; if we don’t, we may miss out on an important piece of news or an update from one of our closest friends. If done repeatedly, we may feel anxiety if we haven’t checked our feed in a while. On top of that, when we are seeing photos and videos of people having more fun than you can fill you with dread—even if those visuals aren’t an accurate reflection of their experience.
Social media and technology anxiety are hot topics of discussion today. Is technology making us less social? There are more negative effects of social media on society.
Constant (and negative) news
Second, the news is regularly updated and continuously circulating—and most of the stories you read are negative. Thanks to click-centric journalism and human pessimism, most news outlets have adapted to printing the most outrageous and most negative stories they can find, which has a terrible effect on the human psyche.
Blurring professional and personal lines
Because technology is available even when you’re at home, the lines between personal life and professional life have blurred. People get emails late into the night, and are sometimes expected to respond to communications outside of work hours; over time, this can lead to massive levels of anxiety.
Most technologies, including social media and video games, are specifically designed to stimulate the reward center of the brain, encouraging repeated activity. Over time, this can potentially lead to a full-scale technology addiction, which produces anxiety whenever you’ve gone too long without engaging in a specific activity.
How Technology Cures Anxiety
Fortunately, we’re also learning to use technology as a solution for these anxiety-inducing problems, like with these potential applications:
Vagus nerve stimulation
Remember the vagus nerve we described in the first section above? In addition to stimulating it with a healthy diet and proper exercise, you can gently stimulate the it with the help of specially designed earbuds.
Breathing and meditation apps
Deep breathing and meditation are two of the greatest tools in any anxiety sufferer’s arsenal. Both exercises force you to focus on the present moment and give you the time and space you need to manage your feelings of anxiety at the moment.
Timers and blockers
Other apps are designed to help you control your consumption of information and your ongoing use of technology. For example, some apps forcibly block you from accessing problematic content (like social media sites), and others can help you limit your time spent on these sites.
Social media (used the right way)
Social media can be a source of anxiety, but it can also be a source of meaningful interactions—when used in the right ways. You must take a social media break. Try to focus on individual relationships and conversations, rather than public-facing newsfeeds and empty updates.
Anxiety remains a complex human problem, and technology is only going to make it more complex in the future. If you currently suffer from problematic levels of an anxiety epidemic, consider taking a step back from the root causes of that anxiety, and practicing more self-care. And of course, if the problem is extreme (i.e., interfering with your daily life), seek the help of a professional therapist immediately.