The Link Between Fear and Anxiety, and Technology
As I have touched upon in previous posts, I have been wrestling with anxiety and occasional panic attacks throughout this past year. Ever since I began experiencing prolonged periods of anxiety, I have been on a quest to uncover the root of my anxiety and corresponding fears. Although I am still on this quest, I have already learned so much through my devouring of podcasts, sermons, books, and more on the subject of fear and anxiety. I have learned, through my research, that fear and anxiety are becoming more and more typical experiences for people living in our world today. While it can be easy to dismiss fear and anxiety as normal and therefore unimportant to address, I believe we have a collective responsibility to analyze and uproot the causes of this unusual growth in cases of fear and anxiety. I myself have a personal, vested interest in identifying these causes to hopefully overcome my anxieties.
Although anxiety and fear are defined separately, I believe they are two sides of the same coin. Anxiety is a generalized fear of the future, and may not always have a specific identifiable cause. Fear, on the other hand, is a reaction to a specific object, as opposed to the general future. Fear and anxiety are interwoven, and often manifest together. Fear can oft cause anxiety, and vise versa. For instance, fear of physical death (a very real and present fear) can lead to feelings of anxiety as a result. Anxiety can likewise produce a fear of real, future events.
From my research, I’ve collected several likely causes of fear and anxiety that I personally relate to, most of which relate to our relationships with our devices, media outlets, and social connectivity. I hope that by writing them down and sharing them with others, they may inform help anyone dealing with similar struggles.
The availability and immediacy of global, national, and local news on our devices.
In my own life, I’ve noticed that many of my anxiety triggers are from the news. Although this may not be true for every person, for some people with anxiety, disturbing news articles (on natural disasters, political events) can lead to a sudden onset of anxiety. To make matters worse, news is now immediately accessible via our devices. Most of us even have pre-set news alerts that pop up on our screens whenever newsworthy events happen. News companies, of course, profit from traffic to their sites or applications. Therefore, news companies often utilize the strategy of fear mongering to garner more interest (and clicks) in their articles. Articles are deliberately titled in a way that incites fear in the reader. As such, news on our devices has a two-fold effect: it incessantly informs us of events (mostly negative) happening around the world, and intentionally provokes fear in us through the way it is presented. Altogether, news is extremely conducive to fear and anxiety.
The distraction and chaos of social media (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat).
Another cause of anxiety is the distraction and chaos that is unavoidable on social media. Most of us are on our phones throughout the day, and most of our screen time is devoted to perusing our Facebook and Instagram feeds. A huge chunk of our time is spent catching up on our friends’ activities via Snapchat and Instagram stories. Although it is hard to spot the direct link between social media consumption and anxiety, social media (like the news) functions to constantly pull our attention in various directions. Scrolling through your Facebook feed alone can present you with a stream of advertisements, status updates, event notifications, photos, and more. Instagram, likewise, has a discover page tailored to your interests, which neatly presents you with an abundance of photos and videos to devour at a moment’s notice. (I’ll skip Snapchat, but you get the idea.) Although I have yet to research the way in which media shapes our psychology, it is evident that this plethora of distraction is detrimental to our mental health. Humans simply are not biologically wired to stare for hours on end at screens, with our attention pulled in a million directions in a short span of time. Social media, in essence, produces in us an expectation of control and immediate gratification that, if unmet in our daily lives, can lead to increased anxiety. Additionally, addiction to social media leads to an imbalanced lifestyle that is unable to hold up in times of stress.
the rate of change in our world, largely owed to technological innovation.
An interesting point that was made in a podcast I recently listened to on the subject of anxiety is the exponential rise in anxiety in recent times is due to to the corresponding exponential rate of change in our world over the past few decades. A statistic cited in the podcast states that in the past thirty years our world has undergone more change than in the prior three hundred years put together. Most of this change is due to technological advancements (e.g. computers, smartphones, the Internet, etc.). In order to adapt to these changes, humans living in our world today must be ready to change their lifestyles dramatically every few years. I believe that our expectation of, and inability to cope with, change is one of the reasons for our surge in anxiety. Anxiety, at its root, is a fear of changing events and the future. And in our world today, this change is inevitable and we must always brace for it.
The sedentary lifestyles that most of us live.
Recalling the imbalanced lifestyle caused by social media consumption, most humans today living in industrialized countries live relatively sedentary lifestyles. When we feel stressed/fearful/anxious, our bodies’ sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is activated. As humans, we are wired to initiate a “fight or flight” response when we feel threatened. During “fight or flight,” blood flows to our extremities, our digestive functions slow down, our pupils dilate, etc. Our bodies prepare us to either fight the source of threat, or run away from it. Back when we were hunter-gatherers, our natural response would be to physically act on these impulses by fighting or running away. Once we successfully fought off the threat or ran away, our body would release endorphins to reward us and calm our nerves. But nowadays, with our sedentary lifestyles—sitting at our desks behind screens, we do not have a healthy outlet to physically respond to the activation of our SNS. Without a regular work-out routine (which, lets face it, is hard for most of us to keep), the constant activation of our SNS can take a negative toll on our health and exacerbate our emotions of fear and anxiety.
The lack of effective coping methods to deal with all of the above.
All of the above would not be an issue if we had proper systems and education in place to prepare people to combat the negative effects of media and technology. However, our educational systems do little to nothing to prepare children to cope with our technology and media-infested world. This is because even adults struggle with finding adequate coping mechanisms to deal with technology and the mental toll that it takes on us. We have seemingly exhausted our available options: medicating ourselves to the point of dulling our senses, paying for expensive yoga classes, spending hundreds on therapy, etc. But we have yet to find a feasible, effective solution to address the anxiety caused by living in our modern world.
My goal in writing this post is not to give an expansive overview of the causes of fear and anxiety, but to share my personal findings of the link between fear and anxiety and our relationships with technology and media. Personally, I have begun to implement measures to combat these triggers by: limiting my social media usage, blocking news alerts on my phone, and installing a Chrome extension to block my Facebook feed. I have already begun to see the healthy effects of these limits in my life, and I plan to continue my research into anxiety to help others who are living with fear and anxiety.
Peace and blessings,