Increasing use of technology can increase chances of anxiety

This is the second article in a series about anxiety.

Q: What is additional information about anxiety and other feelings or emotions?

A: In an article from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, there is a differentiation between everyday worry and anxiety disorders.

Everyday worries include the following:

• Worry about important life events, such as getting a job.

• Embarrassment in an awkward social situation.

• Case of nerves before a presentation or performance.

• Realistic fear of a dangerous place, object or situation.

• Anxiety, sadness or problems sleeping after a traumatic event.

Anxiety disorders include the following:

• Constant anxiety that causes distress and interferes with daily life.

• Avoiding social situations for fear of being embarrassed or judged.

• Panic attacks and preoccupation with the fear of having another one.

• Irrational fear or avoidance of object, place or situation that poses little or no threat.

• Recurrent nightmares of flashbacks about a traumatic event that occurred months or years before.

Depression and anxiety disorders are among the most common psychiatric disorders in the United States. Although 40 million Americans experience anxiety disorders, only approximately one-third receive treatment, although anxiety disorders are treatable. With depression, 3 percent to 5 percent percent of adults suffer from depression.

The following information is from the Mayo Clinic. In diagnosing anxiety problems, doctors need to look for underlying medical problems if a person meets the following criteria: does not have blood relatives with anxiety disorders; didn’t have an anxiety disorder as a child; does not avoid things because of anxiety; has a sudden onset of anxiety that seems unrelated to life events and has no previous history of anxiety.

In a University of Maryland Medical Center publication, there is an explanation of how anxiety disorders are associated with different physical illnesses. Anxiety is associated with several heart risks that include unhealthy cholesterol levels, thick blood vessels and high blood pressure. Anxiety is associated with worst outcomes following heart surgery. Cholesterol that is excessive contributes to atherosclerosis as blood cholesterol levels increase.

Gastrointestinal disorders frequently have anxiety components, particularly irritable bowel syndrome. Pain and muscular tension are common in persons with anxiety disorders. Tension headaches and migraine headaches are associated with anxiety.

Studies show an association between persons with respiratory conditions such as asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis, and anxiety. Such persons have more frequent relapses.

Regarding obesity, anxiety disorders can lead to obesity and the reverse also is true. Anxiety disorders are associated with many allergic conditions, such as hay fever, hives, eczema, food allergies and conjunctivitis.

There are some conditions that are associated with anxiety that are less well-known. Persons with obsessive-compulsive disorders can experience skin problems from excessive hand washing, injuries from repetitive physical acts and loss of hair from repeated hair pulling, called trichotillomania.

Children who experience anxiety disorders also have physical symptoms, such as stomachaches. Anxiety predisposes children for a higher risk for sleep disorders. These include restless leg syndrome, frequent nightmares and bruxism, which is the grinding and gnashing of teeth while asleep.

In an article titled “The Anxiety Epidemic,” Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D., professor of psychology at California State University, points out that anxiety now is more common than depression among college students, whereas depression always has been the leading mental health disorder among college students. The National Institute of Health reports 26 percent of boys and 38 percent of teenage girls have anxiety disorders, according to author Alex Williams.

In 2014, Dr. Nancy Cheever published a study about an experiment with college students and smartphones. The research compared 163 subjects and divided them into three groups: those who used their smartphones the least; those who used them moderately; and those students who used smartphones the most. Those students with the highest use showed the most distress with no phones; those with moderate use had moderate anxiety; those with the least use had the least anxiety when deprived of their smartphones.

FOMO is a particular form of anxiety among college students. FOMO is an abbreviation for Fear of Missing Out. FOMO directly predicted more smartphone use daily, more preference for multitasking, and more nighttime wakings to check a phone, which predicted sleep problems. Furthermore, FOMO predicted lower grades, more daily smartphone use, shorter attention span when studying, and a lack of classroom attention due to distraction by technology which, in turn, was predictive of poorer grades.

Smartphones have been a significant part of life for the last decade. That, and other technological devices, have a harmful effect on people. People get anxious when deprived of their technical devices. Whether the anxiety is FOMO or some other form of anxiety is an open research question. In a study monitoring smartphone use, the typical college junior/senior checked their phones 60 times a day for total of 220 minutes.

Rosen recommends people try to decrease their incessant use of technology, which appears to be related to the development of increased anxiety.

• Next week’s article will discuss anxiety and anxiety disorders in children.

Judy Caprez is professor emeritus at Fort Hays State University.