Cell Phone Stress: How Social Media is Controlling Our Lives

Turn to your left. Turn to your right. Both of the people next to you were probably looking at their phones. Perhaps you’re even reading this on your phone right now. Digital technology has become such an integral part of our lives that people are actually becoming addicted to their cell phones. This is especially feared for the millennial generation, who are some of the most active mobile users.

Who suffers from cell phone addiction the most?

Anne Bowker, a professor of psychology at Carleton, said there are a myriad of causes for mental health problems related to cell phone overuse.

“There is research that suggests a strong link between lack of sleep and heightened feelings of anxiety and stress,” Bowker said.

According to Bowker, for students who already suffer from lack of sleep, cell phone overuse only makes this problem worse.

“Excessive use of cell phones tends to be related to sleep problems. University students don’t get enough sleep to begin with, and if they have their phones beside their beds at night, the kind of light that comes from a phone display, and being constantly vigilant for notifications from your phone, can definitely have an effect on your mental health,” Bowker said.
“FOMO,” a psycho-social phenomenon?

The effects and symptoms of cell phone addiction can be wide -ranging and have many different consequences.

The “fear of missing out (FOMO),” according to a report on the #StatusofMind survey, is an almost compulsive need to be constantly checking social media, something that portable technology such as cell phones allow people to do.

Kailyn Henderson, a second year University of Toronto materials science and engineering student, said she has experienced “FOMO.”

“I turned off notifications for [Facebook] Messenger and Snapchat on my phone, because I’d get so anxious waiting for replies that I couldn’t focus on anything else,” Henderson said via email.

The #StatusofMind survey was recently conducted in the UK. In it, nearly 1,500 people aged 14-24 rated how social media platforms affected various aspects of their mental health.

The study determined that Instagram was the worst for developing “FOMO,” with Snapchat being the second-worst. Henderson said that after seeing the study she deleted the Instagram app from her phone.

“It’s that idea of how people only post the best of the best, so you see all these people having incredible experiences and it makes you feel bad, but if you hadn’t looked in the first place, you wouldn’t feel upset,” Henderson said.

Most studies are targeted at millennials, because they are the most likely to exhibit these behaviours.

Alessia Zaino, who recently graduated with a degree in psychology from York University, said she has noticed how people can become obsessed with social media services like Instagram, and how this can happen starting from a young age.

“I have a little cousin who is 12, and is always on Instagram. If her picture doesn’t get a certain number of likes or comments, she starts to think, ‘Oh, is this not a good picture?’ ” Zaino said.

Are cell phones addictive?

Whether cell phone addiction is a real condition is still up for debate. According to Bowker, some studies have demonstrated cell phone use as being similar to an addiction.

“There was some research done recently where people were tasked with not touching their cellphones for a day, and only half of the participants could do it. Which can suggest it’s a fairly strong addiction, but of course it depends on your definition of addiction,” Bowker said. But, not everyone is convinced that cell phone overuse is really an addiction.

Tayana Pavona, a PhD student who is doing research at Ramon Llull University, said she disagrees with the assessment that cellphones are addictive. She said the term “addiction” is used incorrectly, and said she believes that cell phones are mostly positive.

“Smartphones are problematic, but not ‘addictive’ . . . [people who overuse their phones] could be better described as engaging in maladaptive or problematic use if they are experiencing negative consequences. But the severity of those consequences vary,” Pavona said in an email.

Some of the consequences of cell phone overuse can be anxiety, increased stress, and depression often attributed to “FOMO.”

“It can be a cyclical process, if you have a strong need for the gratifications a cellular phone and social media can provide it, then those needs will keep getting stronger,” Pavona said.
The growing need to engage with social media often results in the growth of these feelings of anxiety and unease.

A 2015 study by the Pew Research Centre looked into the relationship between the use of social media and heightened feelings of psychological stress.

The study discussed how social media can create a lot of social stress, because of the pressure people feel to release information from their private lives, in order to stay connected. This can put people at risk for increased stress and adverse mental health effects. But, the study also showed that overall, people don’t experience increased stress because of social media use.

However, people are more aware of events that happen in other people’s lives because of social media, including the negative events.

Being aware of these negative events can cause additional stress in users of social media.


How can people cope with cell phone stress?

Bowker said that for people who are trying to deal with potential cell phone-related anxiety, they must make a conscious effort to change their routine.

“This way of living is such a big part of society now, people are going to have to decide on their own to change,” she said. “Whilst there is a lot of anxiety for people about losing the connection [they] get with always having their cell phones, people who are able to unplug report numerous positive feelings, including more personal time, [and] better mental state.”

It’s a problem some students are recognizing, and trying to combat. Sarah Ivanco, a second-year neuroscience and biology student at Carleton, is trying to do just that.

“Social media is a great platform for maintaining connections, but when we start measuring our self-worth with the amount of Instagram likes we get, there is a major problem, and that is where we are in today’s society,” Ivanco said.

Now that you’re done reading this, maybe it’s time to unplug.