The advent of social media since the mid-2000s is always credited with enriching our lives, but the fact that many of us now constantly check our smartphones, tablets or computers for updates is actually causing us stress, thus having a negative impact on our health.
The American Psychological Association recently published its annual Stress in America survey, with the second part of it focusing exclusively on the stresses imposed upon us by technology and social media. Many of this study’s findings are interesting and relevant to most of us out there, because it outlined in no uncertain terms that the use of social media is affecting our stress levels, happiness and overall well-being.
One of the most eye-opening conclusions drawn from the study was that the act of constantly checking a smartphone inevitably leads to higher levels of stress. Let’s delve further into the study:
Nine in ten Americans own a computer. Some 74% of Americans own an internet-enabled smartphone, and 55% of Americans own a tablet. These figures alone show that we now live in an almost completely-interconnected world.
Back in 2005, just 7% of American adults used social media, but that figure shot up to 65% by 2015. In the 18-29 age bracket, the figure was even higher, with 90% using social media in 2015.
Of all the American adults that were online in 2016, some 79% had a Facebook account, making it by far the most popular social media platform in America. Usage figures for Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn stood at 32, 31 and 29% respectively. Twitter was shown to be slightly less popular, with 24% having a presence on the platform.
The “Constant Checking” Phenomenon
The Stress in America survey showed that almost one in five respondents felt that technology usage was a very or somewhat significant source of stress. Another pertinent finding was that those who check their phones constantly were more likely to find technology stressful - 23% versus the 14% recorded for those who didn’t tend to check their phones frequently. The reasons cited for this are the following:
1. Political and Cultural Discussions
Some 42% of frequent phone checkers stated that political discussion and cultural disagreements on social media were a significant source of stress. This figure contrasted with the 33% recorded for those that didn’t check their phone constantly. The reasons for these figures are that conflict is a stressful experience for most people, and entering into an environment that’s laden with conflict is likely to lead to much more stress.
2. Effects on Health
Numerous studies have shown that poorly-managed stress can lead to several health problems, and such studies have also shown that many Americans are concerned about the effects that stress can have on their health.
The Stress in America survey was no different, with 42% of respondents indicating their concern about the negative effects of social media on their physical and mental health. This concern doesn’t appear to be without merit, because other bodies of research have found that comparing oneself to others on social media does in fact contribute to decreased happiness and wellbeing, as well as increased levels of stress.
3. Feeling Disconnected
The most curious thing about the constant checking phenomenon is that the people who check their phones most frequently are the ones who feel the least connected to friends and family, even when they happen to be with them. Some 44% of constant checkers reported feeling like this, in contrast with 27% of those who don’t check their phones so frequently.
In spite of the above figures, some 35% of constant checkers said that they were less likely to meet with friends or family in person due to the availability of social media. This figure dropped to 15% for those who didn’t check their phones often.
The Question of Whether to Unplug or Not
The majority of the survey’s respondents indicated that they agreed with the idea of taking a “digital break” – in other words banning themselves from social media usage – from time to time to improve mental health.
Ironically, only 28% of those who believe in the importance of a digital break reported that they actually took one. The reasons for this are complex, because social media is perceived to bring various benefits to different demographics of people. For example, some 36% of millennial respondents said they felt that social media helped them to cultivate their identities.
Nevertheless, almost half (48%) of them also cited concerns regarding the negative effects that social media could have on their physical mental health. This figure was markedly reduced for “matures” (15%), Baby Boomers (22%) and Gen X-ers (37%).
It appears that certain respondents are making inroads into the problem of constant checking, by taking up practices such as banning the use of phones at the dinner table (28%), or turning off social media notifications (19%).
How to Stop Constant Checking
Although the survey’s respondents showed that people are on the right track in terms of their attitude toward social media, there is more that can be done to limit or stop constant checking:
1. Go Offline at Certain Times of Day
Try creating windows during your day when you make yourself unavailable on social media, such as during dinnertime, after a certain time of night, or every other hour. In addition to teaching yourself how to limit your availability, it will also teach others not to expect you to be constantly available.
2. Become Comfortable with “Sleep Mode”
Try putting your phone on sleep mode and only checking it once per hour. This will allow notifications to still come through, but you will have control over whether they interrupt your day or not.
3. Ask People to Call You Out For Phone Checking
Make a pact with friends and family. When you’re together in a group, ban each other from using your phones – just like the olden days when you didn’t have a phone that was internet-enabled, or didn’t have a phone at all. This will turn the exercise into a bit of a game, rather than something you have to do alone.
4. Delete Your Social Media Apps
A more drastic measure you can take is to delete the social media apps on your phone, forcing yourself into using your social media accounts only when you’re on a computer or tablet. This will make it virtually impossible to keep up the mindless habit of checking your phone, but won’t cut you off from social media entirely.
5. Try Meditating
Meditation can help to make you more conscious of the present moment, and to be in the “here and now”. Meditating regularly can get you into the practice of being present, and stop you wondering about who is saying what on social media.
Content Source: VeryWell
Images (including cover) by Deposit Photos.