In today’s tech-intensive world, we invest increasing amounts of ourselves online – our time, our energy, our identities. But for all the time and effort we put into our virtual lives, how much do they really reflect the truth? In all probability, what you share on your social networks is reality skewed through the ability to only post the best of yourself, or at least what you believe to be your best. It is because we have so much invested in our online personas – which we seemingly control, more so than in real life – that the prospect of disconnecting can feel devastating.
In my book #Hooked: The Pitfalls of Media, Technology, and Social Networking</em>, I cite a study of “disconnect anxiety.” In it, participants described the following feelings when not being able to connect via the Internet, email, social networks, texting, chat, and other online activities:
- Feeling lost
- Half a voice
- Getting behind info flow
- Loss of freedom
Paradoxically, we all suffer from plenty of anxiety when we are connected.
Maybe there’s a slow Internet connection, or no connection at all! Maybe we’re overwhelmed with a multitude of social networks we’re intent on updating on a daily basis. Or maybe we’re suffering from information overload, struggling to stay on top of every development – from world news to the latest from your friends in your Facebook news stream.
In other words, at any given moment throughout your day, the desire to connect online may be a source of anxiety. Even the conscious decision to voluntarily disconnect can be anxiety-ridden, certain you’re going to miss something or, worse, that your “friends” and “followers” are going to forget you.
If you suspect you may have an unhealthy level of anxiety associated with your online activity, or lack thereof, consider the following criteria used to determine non-chemical addition:
Importance: How important has it become to your sense of self and the way you live your life? You can determine importance not only by how much you’re doing it but also by how much you’re not doing other things. Priority equals importance.
Reward response: Does doing it make you feel better, more in control? Does not doing it make you feel worse? Doing things you enjoy makes you feel better. Avoiding things you dislike can make you feel better, at least initially. There is a positive payoff to all this activity that can obscure the negative consequences.
Prevalence: Do you find yourself doing it more often and for longer period of time than you originally planned? If you feel compelled to say, “Just a little bit more,” all the time, you’re carving out more and more space in your life for these activities. The question becomes, in order to carve out this time, to what else are you taking the knife?
Cessation: Do you feel anxious or uncomfortable if you cannot do it or if you just think about not doing it? One way to gauge how important these things have become to you is to consider doing without them. The higher the level of panic and pain you anticipate, the stronger the hold they have over you.
Disruption: Has doing it disrupted your life and your relationships, causing interpersonal or personal conflicts over what you’re doing?
Reverting: Do you often say to yourself you’re going to do something different but then turn around and keep doing the same thing – or doing it even more? Before you know it, you’re right back to doing what you did, and more.
As someone who embraces and loves all the latest and greatest in new media and technology, I am not immune to the near-constant call of connection to the virtual world. That’s why I must be constantly mindful of the extent and of my online activity, frequently checking in with myself to be sure I’m maintaining a healthy balance of living online and off!
The above is excerpted from Turning Your Down Into Up: A Realistic Plan for Healing from Depression by Dr. Gregory Jantz.