With the invention of the internet, we have defied the laws of physics enabling people in different areas of the globe to connect virtually in an instant. And with the recent boom in mobile technology, we are more connected than ever. However, as Voltaire would say, “With great power comes great responsibility.” All this power and data at the touch of a button is both a gift, and a curse.
Many of the information found on the internet can be misleading and may trigger anxiety. Since this technology is fairly young, the world has never dealt with this phenomenon of worldwide connectivity all day every day. As a result, many of us are blind-sided by the harmful effects of the internet on our psychology.
If you are new to the internet, consider yourself lucky that you came across this article because it will save you from a lot of anxiety, headache and confusion. If you are an internet veteran like me who has been permanently scarred from a random trip to the weird part of the internet, you probably know this list by heart. Without further adieu I bring you the 7 Hidden Rules of the Internet to Protect Yourself From Anxiety in Today’s Connected Generation.
1. DON’T GOOGLE EVERY SYMPTOM YOU FEEL
Google is a great tool that allows us to research anything and everything. One of its most popular use is to search for the causes of health symptoms. So why is “googling” everything a root of anxiety? The answer lies in how the Google search connects people from around the world in a unique way. Let me show you an example:
A typical Google user, Jenna is worried she might be pregnant, so she searches for the symptoms of pregnancy. She is greeted with a bunch of symptoms very similar to what she is experiencing – feeling bloated, swollen breasts, fatigue, nausea, and cramping. She then proceeds to look at forum posts and yahoo answers results of people who have similar experiences. Alarmingly, many of the women in the forums say they did in fact eventually find out they are pregnant. After a few days of stressing about it, she is horrified to realize that she is a few days late on her period. After a few weeks of not being able to sleep, and extreme stress, Jenna decides to take a pregnancy test that returns negative.
Here are a few things she failed to realize about Google results:
1. Google search results are from people all over the world gathering in one area. This means even if something is highly unlikely, you are bound to find someone who experienced what you are experiencing. This makes your problem seem bigger than it is because of the “bandwagon effect.” Bandwagon effect is a cognitive bias that gives people the tendency to believe what everyone else is believing. This was a useful bias back when we were living in small villages. If everyone in the village believed something, it often means it’s a big deal. In modern times, however, with the internet connecting everyone everywhere, this bandwagon effect is very misleading. It does not put into account the context of each person experiencing the problem. It can make trivial problems seem more distressing than they actually are.
2. People who post on forums never follow up if everything turns out fine. You are reading posts from people under stress. It is a natural human tendency to socialize when stressed. People experiencing the same symptoms, but not experiencing problems never post on these forums because they don’t have a reason to. As a result, you become subject to availability bias – a cognitive bias which is the tendency to overestimate the likelihood of events based on what you can recover from your recent memory. Since all you can read are postings of people with negative experiences, you start to think there is a high possibility of a similar result.
3. Many article headlines are anxiety inducing. One of the strongest motivation for people to visit a website is through fear. Content creators know that and often times use it to urge people to click on their articles. Overexposure to these anxiety-inducing articles will certainly heighten your anxiety.
Many people search Google or any search engine for health advice not noticing the biases associated with worldwide connectivity. As a result, panic over what someone finds from a typical Google search has become quite prevalent.
How to prevent anxiety from Google search results
Wait a few weeks before panicking over symptoms. We experience a cocktail of different pains, sensations and changes as we get older. Unless, symptoms are debilitating and severe, there is no need to break a sweat over it.
Have frequent regular check ups and trust your doctors. Modern medicine has gone a long way. These regular check ups are meant to scan our bodies for anything that is out of the ordinary. You can also routinely bring up certain things that concern you without stressing over it. If you have anything worth worrying about, it would be detected by your doctors.
If you do have to use Google search results to look up your symptoms, just keep in mind the biases that are associated with worldwide online connectivity.
2. AVOID ARGUING WITH INTERNET TROLLS
Youtube, the largest video sharing website, is a great website for free video entertainment. It is also a great place to socialize with other Youtube users and share your thoughts on videos. At least, that is what everyone thought. The truth is Youtube comments have become breeding grounds for heated up arguments that Google incorporated a more controlled version of the comment section to control the exposure of verbally abusive users.
The problem with comment sections of popular websites such as Youtube is it attracts what we call “trolls.” Trolls find the unmoderated comment sections of these popular websites the perfect place for their “activities.” These are people who find amusement in getting other people upset or deceiving other users. As a matter of fact a study on internet trolls have found that individuals who participate in this type of online activity exhibit personality traits of the “Dark-Tetrad: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others).”
Engaging internet trolls can only lead to anxiety and can lead to extreme emotional distress. Despite the fact that there aren’t that many people who exhibit the Dark Tetrad personality trait, trolls account for a significant amount of the comments on popular websites simply because they post more comments than the typical internet user.
Aside from the anxiety induced when dealing with these trolls, a person who spends a significant amount of time dealing with these types of individuals will be subjected to availability bias. This person would start thinking everyone on earth is this negative. This could lead to magnified social phobia which is stemmed from fear of being judged by other people. If you think you have engaged with an internet troll, it is best to stop all communications and ignore them.
How to avoid internet trolls
Only engage in respectful objective arguments online. Arguments are good if done in a civil manner. It can lead to a better understanding of other people’s perspectives, and it can also help you grow as a person by learning new things. However, trolls like to make personal attacks. These attacks can be quite obscene and insulting. If you notice an online argument is suddenly escalated into personal attacks, you are most likely dealing with a troll. Stop all communication and ignore everything else.
3. DON’T WATCH BAD NEWS ALL DAY
Terrorist attacks, murders, and anything that is alarming and anxiety inducing is sure to show up on the daily news. I’m not saying you should not stay tuned to current events, but watching stressful news all day is one sure way to increase anxiety.
Similar to the other drawbacks of perpetual worldwide connectivity, you subject yourself to availability bias. Since the only news you see are bad news, you end up thinking only bad things happen outside your house. According to a study on the effects of the Boston Marathon Bombings wall-to-wall coverage of the bombings was more stressful than actually being there.
The researchers have found respondents who followed media coverage for six or more hours after the bombings were twice as likely to suffer from high acute stress than those who had direct exposure to the bombings. When compared to respondents with no direct exposure to the events or significant media exposure to the bombing, heavy TV watchers were found to be nine times more likely to exhibit symptoms of high acute stress. The findings may be due to the fact that direct witnesses of the bombing averted themselves from further traumatic information about the bombing while heavy TV watchers were constantly exposed to emotionally distressing content for a much longer time period.
How to avoid anxiety from watching news
If you really like watching news, try to tune in to feel good new stations once in a while. This balances out all the bad news you see and prevents yourself from experiencing availability bias.
4. AVOID STALKING PEOPLE ON SOCIAL MEDIA
People are naturally curious about other people. After all, its always interesting to find out what friends are up to once in a while. During the pre-Internet days, we have to least make a phone call to get updated on what our friends are up to. In modern times, the internet has allowed us to know everything about someone without having to say hi. We can go through their entire life story within a few clicks even if we were in fact not even remotely close to them. It’s good because its convenient, it’s bad due to a few things.
You start judging people. If you are not close to someone you are more likely to criticize them. Why is that? Because you have no context of what caused them to do the things they did. As a result you judge them based on face value without putting into the account the human element. It’s a subconscious reaction, so you don’t have to feel bad for criticizing some people, but it has its drawbacks. When we start judging people, we begin thinking everyone is as judgmental as we are so we start worrying about what other people think of us. Eventually we start rummaging through our own life looking for things we think could be seen as “uncool,” or “cheap.” Eventually we start planning our lives according to what looks good on our social media profile. This is when the anxiety gets to use because we start worrying about what people think about us too much.
How to stop this
Try not to look through the entire profile of people you are not too close to. Other than the fact that its kinda creepy, and a waste of time, you will end up judging them.
Instead of hating on people, you can flip your mindset and start looking for things you like. This is a subconscious habit of positive individuals that backfire in a good way. Since they have a positive view of people, they end up feeling like everyone else has the same positive view of them. This is why positive people are more social and more comfortable in social situations.
5. AVOID THE ‘WEIRD PART OF THE INTERNET’
Most of us experience an internet surfing session that ends somewhere we are not quite sure of. I’m talking about the part of the internet filled with violence, gore, people making crazy theories about everything and just downright emotionally traumatic content. This place is called the “weird part of the internet.”
A picture, a gif, a video, and even a piece of literature could cause emotional trauma not only to children but to adults as well. Most of us come across this type of content by accident, or you might have been redirected to such websites by a malware. It is absolutely paramount to avoid this part of the internet. According to a study, exposure to violent images for extended periods can damage your mind. One of the disadvantages of worldwide connectivity is the fact that it connects innocent individuals with malicious people. In the old days, personality types like these are often isolated due to their violent/abusive behaviors, however, worldwide connectivity enables them to find people to victimize online.
How to avoid the weird part of the internet
Don’t click on random links. Often times links to these weird sites have long urls with a random collection of letters and numbers. Some use url shorteners, so it’s best to avoid clicking on random links from unknown websites. Not only do these sites have offensive content, they are also littered with malware.
6. LEARN TO PROTECT YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION ONLINE
A study has found identity theft is on the rise once again with 12.6 million victims in 2012. With a little less than 10 billions dollars worth of stolen money, online scammers are figuring out sneakier and sneakier ways to get your personal information, and what better way to get people’s information than on the internet.
Malwares and phishing websites are used as avenues by these individuals to trick you into divulging your personal information. There is an entire economy behind protecting yourself online which often cost money through subscriptions of virus protection programs, but here are a few simple tips you can do to save yourself from the anxiety of being a victim of data theft.
Quick tips on how to protect yourself from online theft
Designate a safe computer. This is the computer you use for purchasing things online or signing into financial profiles like your bank account. Also make sure you do not use any infected data storage on this computer since malware can also be transferred through portable data storage.
Use a tablet with no personal information to visit risky websites. If I am curious to visit a particular url, but I’m not sure if its safe, I use my tablet instead. Devices such as the ipod and the ipad operating on the ios platform need to go through apple approval before they could be installed on the devices making them safer to use when visiting risky websites when we have to. Keep in mind you are still capable of transferring virus to other people, and you are still susceptible to phishing websites if you give out personal information.
Use common sense. You can often times feel when something is too good to be true, or when a website seems suspicious. These are just some of quick tips I personally to keep safe on the internet and anxiety free. Make sure to search for a more detailed guide on how to keep safe online.
7. STEP AWAY FROM THE INTERNET ONCE IN A WHILE
The internet is an amazing tool. It has enabled humanity to do great feats previously thought unattainable. Truly, despite all of its disadvantages its benefits more than make up for all the trouble. However, when all is said and done we need to remember that the internet is a tool. It’s purpose is to enhance the quality of life. It’s easy to get lost in its endless entertainment and versatility, but experiencing life through a screen can never replace experiencing life as its meant to be experienced.
The world is an amazing place
The world is an amazing biosphere filled with beautiful places, and interesting characters whose beauty and wonder can only truly be experienced if you open your eyes to what is in front of you. Memories formed from visceral experiences formed from cocktails of sensations unduplicable by any technology out there. My most memorable and moving memories are the memories of me and my own existential outlook trying my best to understand what is in front of me. Wide-eyed with hands spread open, these are the experiences that shape who we are. The Internet and world-wide connectivity is an amazing thing, but sometimes it is best to put down these technologies so we can stretch our arms, lie down on the grass, look up at the sky so we can feel the lukewarm breeze of air, taste the mist in the air, and feel the warmth of each others’ hands.