Staying Tranquil in Your Digital Life

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Have you ever experienced anxiety in your digital life? According to OMICS International’s Journal of Depression and Anxiety, anxiety is “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome and strong desire or concern to do something or for something to happen” [1].

What may be some of the sources of anxiety in your digital life? Let’s take a look at behaviours and attitudes that lead to an increase in such feelings of anxiety.

Observing a Skewed Reality of Others

When we browse through our news feeds and see the exciting, fun, and cool things that other people in the world are doing, it may cause feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, or jealousy. We may feel dissatisfied with our own lives when we compare ourselves to the lives of others.

However, we must remember that this comparison should not be made, as it is comparing your reality with a skewed reality of others. By viewing only the highlights of other people’s lives, we omit the more mundane, or even embarrassing, parts of their lives. We rarely see the other side of other people’s stories, but know our own story all too well.

Some tips to counter this source of anxiety include:

  • Focus your energy on improving yourself
  • Celebrate your achievements rather than celebrating being better or worse than others
  • Remember that there is probably more to the story than meets the eye

Misguided Expectations of Others

Another source of anxiety stems from misguided expectations, which may lead to misguided conclusions of others. An example of such expectations include response time to messages from friends.

As the Atlantic quotes Naomi Baron, instant messaging tools are “media that are in principle asynchronous increasingly function as if they are synchronous” [2].

Instant messaging, whether it is facilitated through SMS, MSN Messenger, Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, Allo, or any other platform, provides the affordance of synchronous, or real-time, communication.

You may have experienced this first hand when you catch your friend online at the same time as you; a high-speed string of back-and-forth messages between the two of you. As it’s happening, it seems very exciting! You get to send messages as quickly as you can think of them.

However, this affordance sets us up for anxiety when reality does not always match with our expectations. Instead of an instant response, we may be faced with a delayed response that provokes those feelings of worry, unease, and nervousness about ourselves.

Rationally, you may be aware of the reasons why someone may not respond to you – working at a job, driving, or sleeping are just some activities that prevent friends and family from replying to you. However, as Sherry Turkle states in the Atlantic article:

“You create for people an environment where they feel as though they could be responded to instantaneously, and then people don’t do that. And that just has anxiety all over it”

It is precisely that gap in the expectations of the affordances of technology and the reality that we face that causes the confusion and anxiety about ourselves when we do not receive an instant reply. Dr. Brandy Engler explains that the human ego is “what gets you saying things like, ‘Oh, they didn’t text back because they didn’t like me'”[3].

As a result, we should attempt to challenge our ego’s expectations of others by looking at how we respond to messages ourselves. Even if we determine that we reply to the messages of others quickly, we should not hold others to the same expectations that we hold for ourselves.

Preference for Online Interactions Instead of Face-to-Face Interactions

In the Journal Pediatrics, Elizabeth Hoge, David Bickham and Joanne Cantor reveal that by substituting face-to-face interactions with online interactions, people may increase their risk for social anxiety disorder. They state:

“the behavior may actually increase risk in individuals vulnerable to social anxiety disorder. For these individuals, opting to substitute digital media for interpersonal communication to avoid feared situations may become cyclically reinforced over time, making the person even more avoidant and worsening the symptoms and severity of social anxiety disorder”[4]

By substituting with online interactions, social skills such as reading non-verbal cues, maintaining eye contact, and active listening are not practiced. As a result of these skills being underdeveloped, people who frequently substitute face-to-face interactions may find themselves to rely more on the internet as “a social outlet to the exclusion of face-to-face interactions”.

Cyber-bullying and Harassment Online

A potential source of major anxiety may be the impact of comments and behaviour of other people within your digital life. Of course, nobody likes getting insulted or harassed for being themselves, but these mean-spirited occurrences may happen to us at any moment.

Strategies to reduce anxiety caused by cyber-bullying begin with not participating or reacting to the instigator’s provocation. You can monitor for repeat offenders and prevent them from harassing you by blocking their account or turning off notifications from them. By not responding, you can avoid providing validation to the instigator by not making it known that what they said affected you. In cases where you must respond, respond with kindness and sincerity instead of leveling and fighting fire with fire.

Remember, if you don’t reply, the people who try to provoke you will seem like they are talking to themselves!

Improper Digital Work-Life Balance

In John Tomlinson’s text The Culture of Speed, he mentions that the dimensions of ‘Time’ and ‘Space’ were being sped up through technological advancement [5]. An example is how a webcam can ‘shrink’ space by allowing us to be ‘together’ with people across the globe as if they were next to us. Likewise, the smartphone can shrink and blur the boundaries between work and life, as its affordances allow employers to contact their employees at any moment and at any location.

Now, we may even be accustomed to working from home, responding to emails at the dinner table, or answering calls from clients at home. If we can not truly disengage with the stress of work while at home, then it may lead to an accumulation of stress and anxiety that is unable to be released.

In order to combat this speeding up of time and space, clear boundaries must be set by you and communicated to your workplace, family and friends. You can set the expectations of your friends, family, and employer by communicating the times which you are available for contact and the times which you are offline and away from your devices. This way, you recognize and actively prevent the abuse of the affordances of modern communication technologies in your work-life balance.

Sleep Dysregulation from Blue Light Exposure

Lastly, a physical cause of anxiety and stress may be the type of light emitted from the LED screens of smartphones. According to research done by Derk-Jan Dijk in PLOS Biology, the pineal gland of the brain can produce less melatonin [6] through exposure to light [7].

Dijk continues to explain that in dirunal animals like humans, who are awake during the day and sleep during the night, exposure to light exerts an acute (strong) alerting effect. Furthermore, he reveals that:

Blue light has been shown to be more effective than green light (the maximum sensitivity of the classical visual system) in attenuating (reducing) the increase in sleepiness and deterioration of performance in the evening and during the night

As a result, blue light should be avoided during the evening and night time as it reduces sleepiness and keeps us awake when we should be sleeping. Several apps are available for your computer, as well as your mobile phone to adjust the colour temperature of your display (See ‘Links’). As well, there are glasses that are coated with a substance that reflect blue light that help to reduce their alerting effects.

Discuss

The Digital Tattoo Project encourages critical discussion on topics surrounding digital citizenship and online identity. There are no correct answers and every person will view these topics from a different perspective. Be sure to complete the previous sections before answering the questions.

  • Do you stay mindful of your emotions when consuming content on social media?
  • What are some of your ideas to remind yourselves of the principles mentioned in this tutorial?
  • What are the strategies you employ in dealing with unpleasant or hostile people on the web?
  • How closely do you look at your phone or monitor in the evening? Do you defend against exposure to blue light?

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