Why ‘digital detoxing’ is the new New Year’s resolution. Social media and internet addiction is driving more people to seek treatment for anxiety, says clinical psychologist Jenny McGee at The Buttery Private.
Traditionally, the new year is a time to kick-start healthy habits, with resolutions to quit smoking and reduce alcohol consumption. However, in 2018 more Australians than ever are looking to form a healthier relationship with their smartphones, says Ms McGee.
Increasingly, Ms McGee said people were presenting at The Buttery Private, an evidence-based wellbeing program, with a combination of anxiety and internet addiction.
“Like many addictions, problematic internet use is a coping behaviour people use just to get some time out from the stress and overwhelm they are feeling. You can’t just take people’s smartphones away and expect their anxiety will go away,” she said.
FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is making us anxious
The fifth annual National Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey found 26 per cent of Australians reported above normal levels of anxiety symptoms – the highest level since the survey started. The same survey found more than one in ten Australians (12 per cent) reported keeping up with social media networks contributed to their overall levels of stress.
The survey also found, one in two young people feel they are “missing out” on the seemingly perfect lives that others portray through social media.
“Through social media, people are driven to seek instantly gratifying solutions to their problems and to keep up with unrealistic images. The pictures are multiple now and they are just not realistic,” Ms McGee said.
“Eating the right clean diet, being environmentally correct, having the beautifully renovated house, maintaining the right body, having the right clothes, going to the right places for coffee, having children going to the right schools and doing the right extracurricular activities.
“You have to ask, does being successful in all these different roles and aspects of life make you happy? Is it really true success or is it a source of stress? Does it make us feel like we’re never good enough?
“Ironically, keeping up with wellness trends on social media– curating images of clean eating, yoga and exercise — may actually be contributing to anxiety,” she said.
Treating internet and social media addiction
Social anxiety and the need for social assurance (often in the form of ‘likes’) are also associated with problematic Facebook addiction one recent study has found.
Ms McGee said it was not enough to simply ditch your phone and think that the problem goes away. Unlike other ‘digital detox’ retreats, The Buttery Private’s wellbeing program treats the underlying cause of digital device addiction, using the same evidence-based methods used at The Buttery’s residential rehab centre, which has effectively treated drug and alcohol addiction in a therapeutic community setting for over 40 years.
The four-week intensive residential therapy program with follow-up counselling ensures participants don’t slip back into bad habits during the year.
Ms McGee emphasised the importance of early intervention when it came to treating anxiety. Generally, the longer the symptoms are left before treatment, the more prolonged the recovery period is.