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Coping during the age of digital anxiety

May 5, 2017 GMT

Remember the 1990s? That last decade of the 20th century witnessed the final gasp of pay phones as mobile phones slowly took over the consumer market. Then, most cellphones where basic, as most had no cameras or other frills and performed as a house or pay phone did: simply connected you to another caller. Yup. That was it. No sports or weather reports. No Facebook checks or uploading images to Instagram. A phone that just made calls or, at the most, allowed SMS text messages. And, imagine messages without colorful emoticons because the calling units of the ’90s (and even early 2000s) only had grayscale screens.

Flash forward to the year 2017, where the number of smartphone users in the United States is estimated to reach 222.9 million, with Statista.com predicting the number of smartphone users worldwide forecast to exceed 2 billion users by year’s end.

Smartphone technology is an integral part of life, and many users cannot imagine life not checking for text messages, emails, news, social media updates, oh, and also phone calls. These advances in telecommunications have made headway into our daily lives and have many of us constantly reaching for our cellphone. It’s been estimated that most people check their mobile phones 150 times a day. Often, it is the phone that is beckoning its owner with a beep or buzz (or both) indicating a new notification announcing an application update, or another news story, or simply that your battery is running low. Both Apple and Android phones have automatic popups that are set to “On” until a user explicitly heads to the settings to adjust otherwise.

For many, the constant connectivity is stressful and has led to anxiety and feeling emotionally overwhelmed by a constant flood of news (often bad) and demands. After reading about an upsetting new event, your nervous system is kicked into overdrive, explained Nicky Lidbetter, chief executive of the charity Anxiety UK and a trained cognitive behavioral therapist with a background in neuroscience.

“The news is full of stories that make us feel out of control, a feeling which is really the central point of any anxiety condition,” says Lidbetter in an interview with Quartz Media. “This can trigger a cascade of adrenaline, which is meant to prime our body for action, but there is usually no response needed. This adrenaline is circulating your body with nowhere to go.”

In other words, with an increase of cellphone notifications your body goes into “fight or flight” mode and reacts with an increased heart rate, sweating, loss of appetite, dry mouth, shaking and tightness across the chest, to name a few.

Should you feel physical discomfort after engaging with your mobile phone, then turn it off and put it away. However, we here at “Visible Digital” know that it is easier said than done, so join us next week as we share options for digital detoxing.