Are Our Phones Causing Anxiety?
May 19, 2017
Most people have a cell phone and have downloaded various applications that they check in on…frequently. And make no mistake; our phones are designed like that on purpose. During an interview with 60 minutes correspondent Anderson Cooper, a former Google programmer, explained that cell phones and applications are engineered to reel people in psychologically. Not only can this disconnect us from our lives, but it can also create anxiety.
This probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise. How many times a day do you check your “notifications”, alerting you to new emails, calendar appointments or game requests or updates? Because cell phones and applications are products, they are designed to make consumers engage with them and maintain a demand. Many of us have lost or broken our cell phones from time-to-time, and the anxiety that comes along with being “unreachable” is quick and severe.
A team of psychologists at California State University Dominguez Hills studied how people react when they are disconnected from their phones. Interestingly, people experienced biological changes as a result of the separation. Their bodies produced cortisol, a hormone that sends the brain a fight-or-flight response. This is the brain’s way of communicating to the body that there is impending danger, and that a reaction is necessary. In the case of cell phones, the reaction that calms a person’s anxiety is to check their phone.
The psychologists examined another interesting aspect of the cell phone phenomena – how people who do not have their cell phones sometimes experience a phantom-type vibration or buzzing, making them believe their phone is on their person when in reality, it isn’t. The team of psychologists calls this “phantom buzzing”, and report that this shows just how strong a force technology is in our lives because “phantom buzzing” is widespread reported.
Many of us wake up to an alarm on our cell phone, and check our email and calendar for the day. Our first few minutes awake are spent side-by-side with technology. While phones serve many useful purposes, they can also disconnect us from our lives and the people around us. Under more severe circumstances, phones can be dangerous. Distracted driving, when a driver is using their cell phone and not paying attention to operating a vehicle, as well as pedestrians on their cell phones have caused countless accidents and fatalities.
Anderson Cooper led the 60 Minutes interview with the former Google programmer and explained that he often feels a lack of “presence” in his life. This is a common consequence of technology and large amounts of screen-time. When we spend much of our time on phones or computers and less time communicating with our coworkers, peers and/or family members as well as engaging with the physical world around us, it becomes even more difficult to be present.
Luckily, even if you don’t get rid of your cell phone there are other ways to practice being present in your life and to feel more connected to your surroundings.
Quick and Easy Exercises—for Work or at Home—To Stay Present
- Focus on the present moment, instead of fixating on what happened in the past or could happen in the future. Simply exist in the present moment and don’t fall into the past or forward into the future. This helps to quell anxiety, reduces depression and increases positive emotions.
- Practice mindfulness, the act of simply realizing where you are. To help reach a state of mindfulness, you can repeat the words “Now, now, now” to yourself, especially if you have a hard time focusing.
- Take some time to be quiet with yourself, even if it is just closing your eyes for a minute or two behind your desk. You can listen to music, a meditation disc or just sit in silence; whatever you are comfortable with. Allow your thoughts to come and go without judgment.
- Focus on your senses: what can you touch, see, hear, smell and taste? This helps bring you into the present moment and can help decrease anxiety.
- Ground yourself. Carry an item—any item—with you for when times are overwhelming or you find yourself losing track of time. When you begin to feel this way, simply take the item out and focus only on it, for just a few minutes. Focus on what it looks and feels like.
We live in a world overrun with technology and chances are, that won’t be changing any time soon. Studies show how the use of cell phones actually creates anxiety and there are numerous reports of drivers and pedestrians suffering deadly consequences as a result of the technology. Because cell phones are here to stay, it is important that we understand the affect they can have on us physically as well as emotionally. Staying connected and practicing anxiety-limiting exercises can help to achieve this goal. Undoubtedly, the use of cell phones will continue to be researched and perhaps in the future, more useful tips will be established.
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