‘Phones are like a crust we know we shouldn’t choose’: the truth about social media and anxiety | Social media

MMost people think that phones are a bad thing for anxiety. Parents, in particular, believe that phones are terrible for the mental health of children, adolescents, and young adults. So, what is the truth? While I was writing my book You Don’t Understand Me, which deals with the mental health of teenagers and young girls, I felt I needed to get to the bottom of the relationship between phones and anxiety. And honestly, it doesn’t look great. Since the advent of smartphones in about 2000, there has been a steady decline in the mental health of young people. But as we know, correlation does not necessarily equal cause.

What I have observed clinically is that rather than being the cause of the problem in itself, phones seem to act as a catalyst to our emotions. This can be a positive thing when it allows us to connect with friends and family; to share happy news; photos or jokes. It also allows marginalized communities to find each other.

However, humans are wired to anticipate danger and our minds can quickly spiral from an initial trigger to create catastrophic, completely imaginary circumstances to which our bodies respond as if they were real. In your head this goes something like, “Some of my friends meet without me> they don’t want me there> they don’t really like me> nobody really likes me> I’m fundamentally hateful and will die alone.”

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

Our phone is like a crust that we know we shouldn’t choose. We know it feels bad to see our rich friend on a weekend trip with her lovely partner; we know we should take off our phone and go and do something constructive and positive – some gamea to walk, hot bath with candles. Look, there’s someone on Instagram with a perfect bathroom and a nice body that shows us what we should be doing, and we’re just sitting around rolling – no wonder no one wants to get together with you. This way your phone can trigger a second round of self-judgment about how lazy or worthless you are.

The phone intensifies a comparative culture that can make you feel not good enough in every aspect of life: not thin enough; not successful enough; not sufficiently ordered or organized; not living in a nice enough home; not well read or wise enough.

And while researching the effects of this on mental health is in its infancy, it especially exists damn investigation in relation to looking at photos of perfect bodies, which is shown to increase bodily dissatisfaction, with a link to eating disorders. Even when we know that the images are cured, and even when they are shown in relation to fitness, they still affect bodily dissatisfaction.

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

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

Is there a tipping point where phone usage changes from positive to negative? Do you notice this tipping point? And can you get rid of your phone then? My experience suggests that it is at this point that the phone is most magnetic.

Is your phone prevent you from doing things that are positive for mental health? Phone use is perhaps most harmful 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 it can be a sweet spot with cell phone use, after which the screen ceases to be helpful or fun and begins to have a negative impact on well-being. An analogy to drinking is helpful: a couple of glasses of red wine can relax; a bottle at night doesn’t help that much. And as with drinking, some people find it hard to stop right at the point where they should be.

So if you’re experiencing anxiety, think about your phone usage – think about how much time you spend on it and what content. Retracing this could be one important key to unlocking a less anxious life.

Phone and internet use is best when it conforms to our other values ​​rather than taking us away from them. There is often a thin line between these two, but I would look for a phone that is guided by:

Connect with people. Common family WhatsApp group or FaceTiming old friends can be great. But this is not the same as looking for alumni to see how successful they are – that’s a comparison.

Compassion for yourself. An online yoga class, a meditation program or an audio book at bedtime are examples of nutritious ways to use the internet. Watching back-to-back episodes of a box set into the night is not compassionate; it prevents the self-care from sleeping.

Creativeity. The telephone has allowed the democratization of creativity, especially in photography, but also in the sharing of humor, craft, art and writing. Teenagers in particular have shown incredible creativity on platforms like TikTok, but we need to be wary of content that is reduced rather than expansive, especially when it comes to beauty or sexuality.

Curiosity about difference. Phones can transform a mild disagreement into a massive row, with positions taking root. Can you use your phone to explore new ideas, rather than getting stuck in a rut?

You do not understand to me: The Girl’s Life Guide, by Tara Porter published by Lagomo (14.99)order your copy at guardianbookshop.com.

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