5 Ways Technology is Making Us Anxious

Technology is essential, but it’s also making us—especially younger generations—more anxious. But how exactly? This week, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen weighs in on 5 ways technology feeds anxiety.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
5-minute read
Episode #191

Reason #3: On-screen communication is really different from face-to-face.

I’m dating myself here, but remember when email first became popular (or for that matter, when the internet had a White Pages?) Experts in the early 1990s predicted we’d all be sipping mai tais on a beach with the time we saved using this new thing called electronic mail.

But what’s happened in practice is that all the methods of communicating via a screen—email, texting, and posting to social media—actually buys us time.

Here’s what I mean: on-screen communication allows time to compose, edit, and perfect, whereas face-to-face communication (or even calling someone—that thing in our jeans pockets is called a phone after all) happens in real-time.

Again, it’s additive. When we’re accustomed to taking our time to think of exactly what we want to say, it’s much harder to do it face-to-face and on the fly. And of course, when there’s less face-to-face experience to draw on, we stay shaky and uncertain, which in turn makes us anxious.

Reason #4: Social media is judgment in public.

No matter the platform, likes and followers are enumerated and everyone can see the comments. Public adoration or public shaming happens in front of everyone. And for teens and young adults still figuring out their identity and moral compass, managing social media can feel like a social crisis.

But what’s happened in practice is that all the methods of communicating via a screen—email, texting, and posting to social media—actually costs us time.

Social anxiety is a fear of being revealed and judged as somehow deficient. And social media pushes all those buttons perfectly. For many, the ability to curate and control what goes out on social media reduces our anxiety in the short-term. But long-term, all the impression management that goes into curation and filtering can make us feel like any approval we get is more for our “brand” and less for us as an authentic human. The result? The gap increases between what we project and who we actually are, therefore increasing our anxiety about being revealed.

Reason #5: “Compare and despair.”

Finally, by now we all know that social media is the highlight reel and that no one posts about not being able to afford the electric bill or getting reamed out by the boss. We know the endless parade of pictures of tropical vacations and perfect families is a carefully curated show. But it’s hard not to compare and end up feeling inadequate or defective, which, again, is the heart of social anxiety.

All in all, just like Homer Simpson says of beer, technology is the cause and solution to all of life’s problems. Social media does bring us together, but at the same time, can tear us apart inside. Technology makes our lives more certain, convenient, and entertaining, but then we lose out on learning how to cope with uncertainty, inconvenience, and boredom.

The solution? Remember the saying about the mind being a wonderful servant but a terrible master? Same goes for technology. Ironically, a number of excellent online interventions are available for social anxiety, from apps to teletherapy. And according to the research, they work.

Overall, the tide is turning. People are craving real connection. So don’t toss your smartphone, but make room for people. Make room for face-to-face conversation. For instance, rather than automatically emailing your coworker in the next room, walk over and talk. In addition to using technology for all the good it provides, make sure you’re still interacting with your fellow humans. The date the iPhone debuted into our lives will still be an important date, but it won’t be one that will live in infamy.

how to be yourself ellen hendriksen bookPre-order Ellen's forthcoming book HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety. Get even more savvy tips to be happier and healthier by subscribing to the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher, or get each episode delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for the newsletter. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

For free, helpful downloads to fight social anxiety and be your authentic self, visit EllenHendriksen.com.

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All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets.