I hate being obsessive—with myself, with other people and especially with material things like my phone and everything in it.
But somehow, even when I repress those subconscious obsessions, there still seems to be one thing that consistently triggers a strange obsessive nature, allowing it to resurface and make me anxious. In today’s society, of course that would be social media—it’s just so addicting.
It wasn’t until an absurd encounter I experienced the other day that I realized I need to chill with my obsessive nature of grabbing my phone. It's like I'm constantly trying to balance my schedule with opening apps, clicking Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, checking my e-mails—all while carrying out tasks of everyday life. It’s unhealthy that sometimes I drive with my phone in my lap because I don’t want to miss a phone call or an e-mail, or something that can obviously wait.
I really try my best to leave it in my purse and not constantly worry about being connected to the world. As I was driving in the midst of Philly’s traffic hour and hitting every single red light, I couldn’t help but to neurotically check my e-mail as I waited. I was having a frantic day bustling through the city and trying to do too many things at once—but the impulse to open the app without even looking down seemed to come naturally without a second thought. As I saw the light turn green out of my peripheral vision, I look up to see the yellow-cab in front of me was not moving and the driver was standing outside of his car, staring me dead in the face with a look that burned through my soul. It was a look of disgust combined with disappointment, and the weirdest part was—I didn’t even know he saw me reach for my phone.
I was confused, but at the same time, I knew exactly why he got all the way out of his car to blankly stare at me. He didn’t yell anything, he didn’t shake his head, or even make any expression at all—he just wanted to make a statement and I could see it in his eyes. I threw my phone on the passenger seat as he drove off and I disconnected from the virtual world for a while to focus on the real one.
Psychologists say our obsession with social media is driven by a combination of attempting to gain pleasure and trying to prevent anxiety—but in reality, it can actually do the opposite.
Psychologist and author, Larry Rosen, Ph.D., wrote a blog post on Psychology Today about his research dealing with neuroscience, psychology and technological interaction. He explains how the urge to naturally check our phones for pleasure releases “a squirt of dopamine or serotonin,” giving us a temporary, false reality of happiness.
“Whether we have received an alert or notification—an external interruption—or we are musing about missing out on something in our virtual social world—an internal interruption—is akin to obsession or compulsion, both of which are anxiety-driven issues,” Dr. Rosen said.
He explains how in the last few generations, technology advancement has drastically changed how people get their quick fix for attention from the outside world. People’s guilty pleasure of posting something to receive a reaction can be a tool for personal satisfaction, but it can also lead to anxiousness and yearning for a need for approval.
“We have not sunk to the level of a psychiatric disorder like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but we are not far away,” Dr. Rosen said.
It is important to stay connected with friends, but to not let the falsification of having a large network of social media friends be detrimental to our mental health. Spending some time disconnected from the virtual world seems to be the best therapy for reducing anxiousness, obsession, and FOMO (fear of missing out) when dealing with depression and anxiety in the real world.
A small network of close friends is always better than a huge network of fake ones.