Digital Addiction and Stress
Young people are stressed living with digital media 24/7, it makes them overwhelmed and in some cases drives them crazy straight into psychiatric diagnoses of anxiety and depression. Many of them are very aware that this near-constant connectivity is not good for their mental health. But they cannot live without it – and speak of their unhealthy attachment using direct terminology of addiction. The level of dependence is extreme – it’s both behavioral and biochemical, and withdrawal from digital media feels as painful as withdrawal from hard-core drugs.
The vulnerability lies in a heightened dopamine response in the reward centers of the young brain. That’s why adolescent addiction is particularly dangerous – the brain responds to the hyperactivity of dopamine by reducing dopamine receptors, and the addict must take increasingly higher doses of the drug or engage in addictive behavior to maintain the same high, “hard-wiring” addiction into the brain.
A global study of university students’ media habits conducted by the International Center for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA) asked about a 1000 students in 10 different countries to go without media for 24 hours and report their reactions. Regardless of where students were from, their reactions were incredibly similar and equally disturbing – to the researchers and to students themselves:
“I WAS ANXIOUS, IRRITABLE, AND FELT INSECURE.”
“I WENT INTO ABSOLUTE PANIC MODE.”
“I BEGAN GOING CRAZY.”
“I FELT LIKE A DRUG ADDICT.”
“I FELT SAD, LONELY AND DEPRESSED.”
“I AM ADDICTED TO TECHNOLOGY.”
“I FEEL LIKE A SLAVE TO THE MEDIA.”
“THE ONLY THING GOING THROUGH MY MIND WAS (VOICE OF PSYCHOPATH): ‘I WANT FACEBOOK, I WANT TWITTER, I WANT YOUTUBE, I WANT TV.”
“MY DEPENDENCE ON MEDIA IS ABSOLUTELY SICKENING.”
“I FELT AS THOUGH EVERYTHING I KNEW WAS TAKEN AWAY FROM ME AND THAT I WAS BEING TORTURED.”
“I LITERALLY DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH MYSELF.”
“MY PHONE IS MY ONLY SOURCE OF COMFORT.”
Then why unplug at all if it makes them feel so horrible?
Reasons to unplug
If digital media overload is a stressor, then regular “unplug time” is the key to healing. Like detox is the key to becoming clean from drugs. As we have seen above, the withdrawal symptoms can be bad. Most study participants could not handle it. But some of the students found the positive in being unplugged:
“As soon I got used to it [being without media] I felt happy and unrestrained. I had enough time and space to do what I really like. There was no need to worry about other things. No one to disturb me. I could take a walk along the pathways in my school as much as I like. I could sit beside the lake shore to enjoy the nature and the beauty of the lakes and mountains. Bring a book with me. It couldn’t be better in my heart.”
Taking a break from the digital media allows young people to slow down, and experience peace and rest.
This is a good habit that is better to build earlier rather than later.
“WHEN YOU REALLY GET OFF THE MEDIA YOU REALIZE… HOW MANY QUALITY THINGS YOU CAN DO.”
Freedom from the million obligations they have to do online every day frees up the time for healthier real world activities: going for a walk, reading a book, or having a face-to-face conversation. Which brings us to another benefit:
3. Real human connection
Being fully present makes for more meaningful conversations, and a deeper human connection – another human is your priority and has your full undivided attention, not a phone in your hand. Being unable to use social media actually made study participants seek real people:
“I INTERACTED WITH MY PARENTS MORE THAN THE USUAL. I FULLY HEARD WHAT THEY SAID TO ME WITHOUT BEING DISTRACTED….”
“THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST DAYS WE’VE SPENT TOGETHER. I WAS ABLE TO REALLY SEE THEM, WITHOUT ANY DISTRACTIONS, AND WE WERE ABLE TO REVERT TO SIMPLE PLEASURES.”
Facing real loneliness that have been masked by social media connections can also help people realize the need to do something about their own isolation:
“WE DON’T KNOW HOW TO TALK, TO SHARE OUR FEELINGS IN OTHER WAYS THAN ON FACEBOOK OR THROUGH A PHONE.”
4. Reclaim humanity
Young people today have lost the ability to just be, without constant distractions and entertainment. To listen to and examine their own thoughts. To even have their own thoughts in the first place instead of opinions being fed to them by digital media. To let the deeper questions of life surface and have the courage to examine them.