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Are our smartphones contributing to a stress epidemic?

Lifestyle | by Denise Timmis | Mar 31, 2022

Are our smartphones contributing to a stress epidemic?

 

Are our smartphones contributing to a stress epidemic?

 

  • More than two thirds of young Britons feel stressed from phones, survey reveals
  • 35% of 16-24 year olds check their phones every 5 minutes
  • 57% of 25-34 year olds would find life harder if they didn’t have access to What’s App

 

Stress Awareness Month, co-ordinated by the Stress Management Society (SMS), is held every April to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic.

We recently conducted an independent survey to closely examine our phone use, and to see how much stress our phones actually cause and what the biggest stressors of our phones are. 

Unsurprisingly, the survey revealed that more than two thirds of young Britons (67%) feel their phones make them feel stressed. The perfect storm of high amounts of social media use and frequent checking for notifications, combined with a lack of sustained uninterrupted sleep seems to be playing a part in causing young people to be heading towards a stress epidemic. 

35% of 16-24 year olds check their phones more than 11 times per hour (every 5 minutes) compared to only 4% of the over 55s checking their phone more than 11 times per hour.

The majority of 16-24 year olds revealed they get an average of 6-7 hours of sleep per night with 93% stating they sleep with their phones in their bedrooms. Not only are they not getting enough sleep, but a third are checking their phones more than 7 times per night, leading to interrupted sleep.

 

According to the independent survey, the five biggest stressors of our phones are:

  1. No Wi-Fi
  2. Low battery / Phone about to die
  3. Too many notifications pinging throughout the day
  4. Reading the news
  5. Negative comments on your social media posts

 

  

The following table shows phone users across different age groups and what their biggest phone stressors are.
 

The Biggest Phone Stressors

Stressor

Overall Stress

16-24

year olds

24-34

year olds

35-44

year olds

 

45-54

year olds

 

55+

year olds

No Wi-Fi

57%

 

67%

67%

65%

56%

45%

Low

battery/phone about to die

53%

 

66%

 

68%

 

66%

 

52%

 

36%

 

Barrage of notifications (pinging)

36%

 

46%

45%

44%

33%

24%

Reading the news

35%

 

44%

49%

44%

28%

23%

Negative comments on your social media post

28%

 

48%

41%

39%

22%

11%

Seeing your friends attend events/parties and you're not there/wasn't invited

25%

 

50%

40%

35%

18%

8%

 

The survey found that people between the ages of 16-34 are more likely to feel stressed over their phones than those aged 35 and older.

More than two thirds of people aged 16-34 felt stress over having no Wi-Fi and low battery.

Those figures steadily declined as people got older, although just over half (56%) of 45–54 year olds felt stressed about low Wi-Fi and low battery. Only a third of over 55s felt stressed over having low battery.

But perhaps the most glaring differences between the younger generations compared to the over 55s is the stress felt about feeling left out. Half of 16-24 year olds reported feeling stressed when seeing your friends attend events that they weren’t invited to compared to only 8% of over 55s feeling stressed over this.
 

Sarah Tombs, Registered Therapist and Certified Psychological Coach says:

“The increase in social media usage, frequency of phone checking and the lack of good quality sleep due to device usage is absolutely something that we all need to pay attention to and take seriously.

“Usage of digital devices are heavily linked to the physical stress we feel within our bodies. Our ‘fight or flight’ response or ‘stress activation system’ is a biological response to stressors and can be triggered through the constant stream of information received through phone use. Every time we receive notifications, emails, messages, phone calls, comments, and news updates we are continuously overloaded with information and our threat-response system is activated; our bodies feel this on a physiological level.

“Furthermore, the research shows a significant number of people are constantly checking their phones throughout the day and into the night (some, every 5 minutes!) and each time we do this, it can trigger the stress activation system multiple times. This keeps your body on ‘high alert’ mode and your system does not have chance to shut off or stand down. This not only disrupts quality sleep but also biologically means that every time someone checks social media, they can have a stress reaction. This behaviour keeps us in a constant state of alertness and impacts our wellbeing over time.   Essentially your body does not get chance to go into ‘rest & repair’ state, making it a challenge for your body to receive the nourishment and healing that’s intended when you go to sleep at night. 

Equally, use of social media (along with receiving likes & comments) activates another response within our bodies; the dopamine circuitry reward system. Each time we receive social notifications we get a hit of the ‘feel good’ hormone dopamine which is part of the brain’s reward system. The hit of dopamine we get and the pleasure we feel when we receive a sea of likes and comments conditions us to want to receive more, thus perpetuating the constant phone checking cycle as we seek the next hit of ‘feel good’ hormone.”


How our smartphones are helpful
 

The following table shows phone users across different age groups and what they find the most helpful when it comes to their smartphones

The Most Helpful Uses for Phones

Use

Overall Helpfulness

16-24

year olds

24-34

year olds

35-44

year olds

 

45-54

year olds

 

55+

year olds

Making important calls

88%

80%

86%

88%

87%

91%

Checking emails

84%

67%

87%

90%

86%

82%

Alerts & Updates

75%

76%

81%

80%

76%

68%

Scrolling on social media

63%

68%

77%

76%

64%

48%

Writing notes

62%

69%

80%

75%

58%

45%

 

71% of Brits feel that their phones are more helpful than a hindrance. The over 55s fall above the national average with 78% stating their phones are more helpful than a hindrance. Only 56% of 16-24 year olds feel that their phone is more helpful than a hindrance. 

The most helpful components of our phones, according to the survey, is making important calls (88%), checking emails (84%), and receiving alerts and updates (75%).
 

App Usage

When it comes to phone apps, more than half of Brits (56%) said life would be difficult without their banking apps, and just under half of Brits (49%) say life would be difficult without their map apps.

57% of 25-34 year olds would find life harder if they didn’t have What’s App compared to the national average of just 43%.

Tik Tok, the short-form, video-sharing app, is hugely important for 16-24 year olds.  41% of this age group would find life difficult without it, more than 215% above the national average of just 13%.
 

Phone Enjoyment

According to the survey, the most enjoyable use of our smartphones is messaging with family and friends.  88% of Brits enjoy this activity with every age group showing a strong, positive affinity with this use.

83% enjoy looking at photos of friends and family, taking photos of their own and browsing the internet, while more than two thirds of Brits enjoy watching funny videos on their phones.

Surprisingly, only 41% of Brits find wellbeing apps enjoyable.  By comparison, only 23% of over 55s find this an enjoyable use of their phones compared to 58% of 25-34 year olds.

 

Denise Timmis, Brand Manager of Envirofone, said: “Some of the results of this survey are alarming, especially when seeing how much stress people are experiencing when it comes to their phones.  With April being Stress Awareness Month, we have joined forces with Registered Therapist and Certified Psychological Coach, Sarah Tombs, to offer some top tips on how to manage phone use for better mental health. Although the majority of people feel their phones are more helpful than harmful, we still need to put systems in place to manage our phone use to prevent ourselves from becoming a nation of stressed-out Brits.”

 

Top 5 tips for managing phone stress from Sarah Tombs, Registered Therapist and Certified Psychological Coach
 

  1. Cultivate healthy boundaries with your phone. Create a new folder on your phone for all news, social media, and email apps. This simple technique removes instant app access away from your home screen and will help you begin to create more intention around how you use your phone; you’ll be less likely to be tempted to check and scroll with icon access out of your natural eyeline.

 

  1. Set timers. Many apps allow you to set time usage limits and having this realisation of just how long you’re spending each day will help you build awareness on over usage.

 

  1. Become mindful. Focus on one thing at a time rather than multitasking. Many people out of habit will be used to using their mobile phone at the same time as indulging in their daily needs & activities such as eating, drinking and watching TV. This will start to increase your sense of joy and pleasure associated with other activities, rather than those derived from phone use.

 

  1. Morning and night phone tactics. To help ease stress levels and prepare for sleep, switch your phone to aeroplane mode before you get ready for bed and limiting screen use to an hour before you go to sleep. If this is too challenging, start by putting your phone away 20 minutes before you sleep and gradually increase this time period the more you become accustomed to this practice. 

 

  1. Be intentional with social media. Remember that social media is not real life and often is presented as a ‘highlight reel.’ It can be helpful to keep this at the forefront of our mind when utilising social media and creating intention with how we use the apps. Follow accounts that inspire and help us feel good about ourselves and focusing upon everything good within our lives already.

 

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