I was out at dinner with my family the other night, enjoying some much-needed time to unwind. Mid-conversation, my mom started snapping pictures of us on her iPhone, saying “This is so much fun!” Rather than enjoy the moment, however, she spent the next 5 minutes uploading pictures to Facebook.
We’ve all been my mom at some point. Unable to disconnect and live in the moment because we’re too busy updating social media, checking text messages, or sending emails.
We’re living in an age in which our social media feeds drive us to be constantly observing and engaging. This level of connection is unprecedented in history, and it will only continue to expand with time. But the ability to connect is also causing us to develop a new type of anxiety: Social Media Anxiety Disorder.
The disorder is not an official psychological diagnosis, but it is something that is now being researched. Researchers are finding that email and text checking that is related to work does not cause the same stress that social-related checking behaviors cause.
In addition to the anxiety that the compulsion to check your networks causes, the actual content on the sites is also anxiety-provoking. Selfies of women looking their best, men showing off their six-pack abs, friends going on trips to exotic locales, and others bragging about their new car or job or house. The forced comparison between you and your social media buddies can leave you feeling inadequate and depressed.
You are giving up control of your life to your smartphone. Or your tablet. Or your PC. We may not yet be living in a world controlled by robots, but computers are certainly already controlling us.
So how can you break the cycle of checking and regain control?
- Employ cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques. These are used by therapists to treat a variety of anxiety disorders, including those with compulsive checking components, like OCD. Here is one you can do today: be mindful of the next time you are compelled to reach for your phone. Acknowledge the desire, then do not check your phone. It will create a feeling of anxiety in you, and it’s totally going to suck. Wait through the anxiety, until you feel calm again and the desire to check your device has passed. This is a form of exposure therapy, a specific CBT technique, which exposes you to an anxiety-provoking event and forces you to experience the entire cycle of emotions.
- Mindfulness is another psychologically-backed technique for reducing anxiety by staying in the present moment. Simply being aware of your tendency to check your phone can help you actively reduce your checking behaviors. How many times have you found yourself closing out your Twitter app just to immediately reopen it? Mindfulness can help with that.
- Next time you and your friends are having a get-together or dinner out, agree to throw your phones into a basket to be left untouched throughout the evening. You can even make it a game where the first person to give in to phone-checking pressure has to buy a round of drinks (or some other financial incentive).
- Stop comparing yourself to your social media friends. Next time you find yourself envious over an Instagram shot or tweet, remember that you’re comparing your entire life to their highlight reel.
What other techniques do you use to remind yourself and your friends to stay engaged with the present moment—not with the internet?