How does Excessive Technology Use Create Issues for Young Adults with Anxiety?June 22, 2020
Generalized anxiety does not discriminate when it comes to the category one’s focal concerns may fall into. Young adults with anxiety disorders live in a constant state of hypervigilance, where anything that crosses their mind may lead to excessive worrying. For these individuals, the Internet can be a breeding ground for elevated levels of stress and anxiety, as they are flooded with recommended articles, clickbait, and fellow conspiracists and anxious followers on social media. As a result, young adults with anxiety are more likely to engage in digital content, even when it adds to their level of anxiety.
Why Are Young Adults with Anxiety More Prone to Excessive Screen Time?
One common theme among young adults with anxiety disorders is their fear of uncertainty, the unknown, and things outside of their control. It doesn’t matter whether that is their grade on an assignment, the long-term impact of a pandemic, or human rights violations in a country they know nothing about. In order to relieve their anxiety or at least attempt to answer some of their questions and concerns, young adults turn to the Internet to find as much information as they can about a subject. Sometimes, this resolves their immediate crises, but sometimes it becomes more overwhelming, especially when they can’t pull themselves away from the screen. This is particularly true among college students, who may justify their uber-specific google searches as research for a project.
Pamela Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Center, refers to the feedback loop of anxious thoughts and google searches as “doomscrolling” in a recent blog post published by Psychology Today. She describes doomscrolling as the “act of continuous scrolling or surfing through negative news, even when it is depressing, distressing, or painful.”
Young adults who experience high levels of baseline anxiety have a low threshold for being overstimulated by information, but also have trouble with setting limits and boundaries to reduce their chance of feeling overwhelmed.
How Does the Internet Reinforce Anxiety?
According to Rutledge, “the sheer amount of information available online triggers more anxiety because it’s impossible to keep up. Psychologically, we are not only anxious about the environment, but we become preoccupied with the sense that we are missing something that is vitally important to our survival. This creates a downward spiral effect similar to what we see in depression. Since threats are more important to our survival than other information, we pay more attention to the negative things than the positive.”
The Internet serves as both a coping mechanism and a distraction for many young adults, but as it becomes more popular, young adults have fewer offline resources that they can turn to when their Internet-fueled anxiety becomes difficult to manage. Even activities like reading, talking a walk, or spending time with friends often involve several “phone breaks.” The accessibility of the Internet from smart devices makes it harder for young adults to separate themselves from the things they read about online and the pressure to engage in constant dialogues about digital news on and offline.
Many psychologists have observed that consuming violent and distressing news through the media can have similar effects as witnessing these events in person. This phenomena is referred to as “secondary PTSD,” where individuals experience intense emotional distress resulting from hearing about the first-hand trauma experiences of another.
How Does Reducing Screen Time Help Young Adults Contain Anxiety?
As the internet has taken over many aspects of society, it has become increasingly difficult for young adults to “log off” and take space from social media, even if they decide to deactivate their social networking profiles. One of the most rewarding parts of wilderness therapy for our graduates is the time that they were able to spend without the distractions of their cell phones and constant news and friend updates. While it may feel unrealistic to continue to stay offline when they transition home, Trails Momentum teaches young adults ways to self-monitor their Internet engagement and offers therapeutic strategies to cope with distressing content.
When young adults with anxiety disorders are flooded with information online, it becomes difficult to take the initiative to put their phone down and take a deep breath. They realize how uncomfortable they are with sitting in the present moment and how unfamiliar it seems to keep track of things that are in their control, rather than out of their control. Without the pressure to contribute to online discussions, young adults are better able to reflect on and share the way information overload affects them. They have the chance to come to their own conclusions during individual and group therapy that comes from their own experiences, not “something that they read online.”
Through Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, young adults are better able to identify their anxious thoughts, consider the evidence they have that these beliefs are true, and challenge unhelpful assumptions by replacing them with more empowering beliefs. Time spent is nature is a great way for young adults to practice mindfulness and develop greater self-awareness about how their anxiety and internet use affects their everyday lives.
Trails Momentum Can Help
Trails Momentum is a wilderness therapy program for young adults ages 18-25 to transition to independence and improved self-awareness. The program uses adventure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and a strength-based approach. It is a small and nurturing community that focuses on goals of improved self-regulation and overall functioning for the young adults. Trails Momentum gives students the skills they need to lead healthier, happier lives. We can help your family today!
Contact us at 877-296-8711 for more information.