How Technology is Destroying Our Mental Health

What we don’t know can’t hurt us, right?

Don’t turn away. You ARE going to watch this. by Andrei Lazarev on Unsplash

TW: violence

It’s 2019, and technology is everywhere.

It’s also destroying our mental health.

  • “Just browsing” Wikipedia and stumbling upon things we didn’t realize we needed to be worried about
  • Watching disturbing viral videos because they appear in our news feeds
  • Consulting WebMD for a headache and convincing ourselves that we have a rare illness
  • Checking the locations of our loved ones and wondering if they’re up to no good (They’re at the pharmacy? Buying what? To use with whom?)
  • Checking the locations of our loved ones and wondering why they aren’t moving on the highway (has there been an accident?)
  • Wondering if that random spike in heart rate while we were sleeping (thanks, Apple Watch) is a warning sign
  • Googling. Everything.
  • Tracking everything that can be tracked
  • Someone isn’t answering our texts. Are they okay? It’s been, like, three hours.
  • Checking emails before bed, when years ago we’d have to wait until we got back into the office to see if we had any memos
  • Calling and texting our loved ones at work. Remember when we had to call their office, say there was an emergency, and ask their supervisor if they were available?

Our treadmills let us know that we haven’t burned enough calories, so now we have to go for an extra 19 minutes or we’ll have to skip lunch. 437 calories isn’t enough. It has to be at least 500. We trust these metrics more than we trust how our clothes fit or how our bodies look.

We have been conditioned to collect, track, and obsess over data regarding our personal health and wellness to the point that it’s difficult to actually be well anymore.

It even stretches into our religious practices, for those who practice, and contributes to our spiritual fears. Did we break our fast a minute too early by accident? Back in the day, the fast was broken at sunset — but now we can time the sunset with such precision that we assume God is judging us using the same strict metrics.

We’ve become numb to disturbing web content. Graphic videos — including extremely triggering videos — go viral and show up on our news feeds on autoplay. No matter how sick we feel, we sometimes watch them more than once. We’ve have been conditioned to watch things that we don’t even want to watch and wouldn’t have sought out on our own. It’s hard to be well when this happens again and again.

On one hand, technology can open our eyes to the world around us — but on the other hand, I didn’t need to see that video of a child bleeding out on the floor in order to believe that it happened. I didn’t need to watch the first-person perspective video from the New Zealand mosque shooting in order to understand the severity of that situation. I didn’t ask to receive this content, but I did. I used to make light of trigger warnings, but now I understand them.

See how quickly this escalated?

This is one of the real reasons I cancelled my home internet.

It’s also the reason I’ve pretty much accepted that my anxiety cannot be cured. No amount of deep breathing, meditation, or trigger elimination can take it away.

There is too much that we have the ability to know, to track, to find out, to think about.

What we don’t know can’t hurt us. But now, we CAN know. We can watch our biggest fears unfold in real time.

I know the knowledge is out there — and now I need it.

I’m afraid to not know.

I can turn off every device. I can cancel my internet. I can refuse to look when someone offers to show me a “crazy video”. I can stop tracking any and all metrics regarding myself or my loved ones.

But I can’t stop thinking about the fact that if something bad happens, I could have known — and through technology, I could have prevented it.

Trapped. by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

With advances in technology, researchers develop and test new medications and treatment options for those who suffer from anxiety, panic disorder, or related conditions. These treatments are designed to prevent dependence on benzodiazepines and to help patients “stabilize” their moods so that they won’t be “too” anxious.

Gone are the days of asking for a magic pill and receiving it. Now, if you demand medication, you’ll have to try SSRIs first — even if you have no symptoms of depression. If you push hard enough, you might get to try glorified Benadryl (a.k.a. Hydroxyzine) before a benzodiazepine will even be considered.

You’ll have to prove that your mental health is really in shambles — and when you try, technological advances in medicine will be there to put you in your place and to remind you to meditate your troubles away. Even if your anxiety is a lifelong condition, you won’t have an easy time getting lifelong treatment.

  • people filming other people’s lowest moments and sharing the videos online
  • TVs in public spaces tuned to footage of world news
  • a bunch of clocks, reminding you that you’re late

And you might receive:

  • 6 work emails
  • 4 text messages asking where you are
  • a voicemail that’s time sensitive
  • 11 social media notifications
  • a notification from “Find My Friends” regarding the location of a loved one
  • a reminder from your fitness app that you’ve eaten too much today

and so on.

I’ve accepted that I can’t get away from technology, nor the anxiety that accompanies it. I acknowledge that technology has deeply affected my emotional well-being, but I need it. I recognize that no matter how much I push it away, it will come back.

Is this the new normal?

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technical writer • site reliability engineer • engineering leader • all views are my own • 👩🏻‍💻