This episode follows Chapter 1, Section 2: The Constant Digital Chatter. What you’ll learn in this episode is:
- How your phone might be making you anxious
- The effects of “comparison culture.”
- The anxiety-provoking secondary trauma
- The impact of commercialism on your mental health
I am continuing to de-mystify anxiety in this episode, and to call it out, we have to look at all the contexts that contribute to you feeling powerless. This means we cannot leave out the increased use of cell phones in the last two decades.
Resources for this Episode:
Hey, you’re here with Dr. Jodi, and this is “Anxiety… I’m So Done With You!”
I am so excited about this podcast. It’s an accompaniment to my book by the same name, “Anxiety… I’m So Done With You!” It’s a teen’s guide to ditching toxic stress and hardwiring your brain for happiness, because that is what we’re going to do in the series: We’re ditching that freaking toxic stress and hardwiring your brain to generate happiness every day.
This is what you do: You read or listen to a section of the book. Then come on over here and listen to an episode where we’re going to go a little bit deeper, give more examples, and tell more stories. I want to provide you with everything you need to be sure that you find your way out of this horrible anxiety cycle so that you no longer have to suffer. Please leave me a five-star review on Apple podcasts. That’ll help me get in the ears of more people who need this series. Mental health problems are skyrocketing, especially among teenagers, and this series will change the tide.
Welcome to Chapter 1, Section 2: The Constant Digital Chatter
What you’re going to learn in this episode is:
- how your phone might be making you anxious
- comparison culture
- secondary trauma
- the role of commercialism.
Taking the Mystery Out of Anxiety
In Chapter 1, we’re taking the mystery out of anxiety, and to do that, we have to look at all the contexts that might be creating an increase in anxiety. This means we cannot leave out the increased use of cell phones in the last two decades. Cell phones have defined your generation. The difference between millennials and Generation Z is that Generation Z had cell phones connected to the internet from as early as middle school, which was also when social media started.
So you had it from a very young age, and you developed with that phone, making you distinctly different from any other generation. I’m not going to say in this episode that phones are evil. I love my phone, and I’m sure you love your phone too, and I’m also quite positive that you probably have a love-hate relationship with it. Don’t worry; I’m not going to suggest you ditch your phone, and I realize that phones are not going away. But maybe after you hear me out, after you read this section, and listen to this episode, maybe you won’t be glued to it 24/7 anymore.
I’ve been studying this phenomenon for my doctoral thesis, and researchers have not yet identified the actual mechanisms that cause the phone to make us anxious. But I’m going to share with you what I spoke about in my TEDx Wilmington talk and from what I’ve witnessed in my therapy practice.
You are not powerless
Your phone gives you access to thousands of messages a day. Or more accurately, these messages have access to you. Texts, comments, likes, news, ads, calls…(well, maybe not calls. Who gets calls anymore?) But practically 24/7, these messages are reaching you. How many of you sleep with your phones? Yeah. When I say 24/7, I’m barely speaking hyperbole. It’s 24/7.
These messages leave you feeling powerless, worthless, and out of control. Not all of these make you feel powerless, worthless and out of control. You have some messages from your friends that are kind. You have some funny things that you see. You are entertained, and you learn things sometimes. However, there are still too many messages that do leave you thinking that you are powerless, worthless, and out of control. You’re not. You’re not powerless, you’re not worthless, you are not out of control, but the messages are very convincing, so you believe them. You’re not the only one. These messages trigger everyone’s insecurities, so we’re all having this problem together.
What’s bad about those messages that leave you feeling powerless, worthless, and out of control is that those feelings make you anxious, angry, and depressed. In my thousands of conversations with people, I’ve noticed three categories of these disempowering messages.
- You are not good enough
- The world is a dangerous place
- You deserve cool stuff just because
Let’s look at these. The first one is “you are not good enough.” This is from comparison culture, which makes people use social media to help them define their worth. See, Western culture, or colonizing culture, has all of these invisible standards. You have to be smart, independent, pretty, rich, put together, sane, heterosexual, light-skinned, happy. Even though these are beyond ridiculous, people are desperate to meet these standards because we are biologically programmed to do whatever we must do to belong. And we are encultured to believe that we must meet these ridiculous and unrealistic expectations or we will be left out. We can’t meet them all, all the time. We can barely meet some of them, some of the time.
At their worst, they structurally and personally oppress people at their best, they have us comparing ourselves to the people around us to make sure we are not the only loser who is inadequate.
Unfortunately, in comparison culture, we will always feel inadequate. You are comparing someone’s outward, public, filtered appearance, with your inside mess. You cannot win that scenario. You will always find yourself not good enough. Social media plays into this comparison culture, exponentially making it more powerful and oppressive. In fact, research has shown that the more time teenagers spend on social media, the worse they feel. These were self-reports from teenagers. And when they take breaks, they almost immediately feel better. Let me say that again. When they took breaks from their phone, they almost immediately felt better.
Let’s look at that second category of messages: the world is a dangerous place. You read in the book that secondary trauma is real and causes horrible consequences. We have a constant stream of horrible news coming into our hands in an instant. Even when you try to avoid it, there are messages coming from everywhere, so it is too hard to avoid. Seeing horrible things happen all around the world makes the danger seem random and out of control, making you feel more vulnerable. But it’s only sometimes random and out of control.
Also, your sympathetic nervous system is meant to trigger when you’re present in danger, and you could use the energy to do something to get yourself safe. But now you’re watching tragedies very far away, and there’s nothing you can do about them but sit helplessly on your couch. That helplessness feeds the anxiety both biologically and emotionally.
Marketing plays on your insecurities
The last category of messages I will share in this episode is that you deserve stuff just because you’re cool. I’m talking about the marketing messages that companies use to get you to buy their stuff. If you thought that you had to work hard to buy their products, sales would go down. They know this, so instead, their marketing plays on your insecurities, making you connect “getting things” with your worth as a human being. Did you ever see a kid in a supermarket whose mom said no to candy? They’re crying and reacting as if nobody loves them anymore.
When you grow up with these messages that you just deserve stuff just for being you, the pain of not getting it goes right into the core of your being. Unfortunately, that happens all the time. We don’t get everything we want, and it has nothing to do with what we deserve, but because the belief is so ingrained that we should get it, we’re confused.
Now, I know you’re smarter than this, but this happens unconsciously, affecting you by making you feel worthless and powerless to do anything about it, increasing your anxiety, anger, and depression. I’m telling you about all these messages because if they happen unconsciously, you can’t do anything. But once you know about them, you can do something about them. You could change the way you think about them and how they affect you.
These messages strip you of your growth mindset and agency. Agency is that knowledge that you can respond to and take actions to make things happen that you want to happen.
Attachment to Your Phone
Attachment to the phone is akin to an addiction to consuming. The Monkey Mind gets attached to knowing all the things. It tells you that you are protecting yourself by not missing anything and that something bad will happen if you do miss something. It has created a groove of that pathway, y’all. Luckily you now know how to change it by overriding that pattern with your prefrontal cortex. To can laugh, have fun, create and repeat over and over and over that you are powerful, you are worthy, and you are in control. You are not just a passive recipient of this life. You have the ability to act and respond in ways to make yourself better, make your mood better, and make your relationships better.
What do you think? Does your phone make you anxious? Did this episode inspire you to take a little break from your phone today? I hope so. If nothing else, maybe you can take it out of your bed? Or, at least, not look at it first thing in the morning!
To help you practice taking a break from your phone. The “What’s in your hand? “activity in this section invites you to take a walk without it. I want you to connect back with thinking for yourself instead of these messages having any kind of power over you. If you have a safe place to walk, please try that exercise. Plus, I have more resources on the blog post on how nature improves your mental health.
Thank you so much for listening to this episode, where we discussed how your phone could be making you anxious. Please share this. You never know who is suffering because anxiety and depression are invisible. Please leave me a five-star review on Apple Podcasts because that will help me in helping more people like you. Remember, you can find any resources we discussed in the blog post: The link is in the show notes.
The next episode is Chapter 1, Section 3, The Hellish Symptoms, where we will continue to demystify anxiety, so you feel safer and build confidence in your abilities and get rid of it. Read the section and then come on over and start the next episode. I’ll meet you there.
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