Dr Rijusmita Sarma
(The writer is a Counseling Psychologist.
She can be reached at 7578014066)
T he current pandemic of COVID-19 is undoubtedly taking a toll on the physical and mental health of people throughout the world. But we can be sanguine as experts are working efficiently towards finding a way to emerge out of this. In this entire scenario, the phenomenon that may remain unaddressed but can be extremely harmful is INTERNET ADDICTION. There has been a significant spike in internet addiction during the lockdown across countries. Let's know more about it –
Internet addiction disorder also known as Pathological Internet Use or Compulsive Internet Use can be defined as compulsive use of the internet that results in significant impairment in an individual's function in various life domains over a prolonged period of time. There can be various forms of internet addiction. The major forms are:
n Cyber gaming: It is characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other important activities, irritability and restless when trying to reduce gaming and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.
n Cyber-sexual: It involves online pornography, adult websites, sexual fantasy/adult chat rooms etc.
n Cyber-relational: Extreme use of social networking sites to create relationships rather than spending time with family or friends and may destroy real-life relationships.
Some other forms may be:
n Information overload: Information overload is a compulsive habit of web surfing, browsing and researching. It negatively affects daily activities and decreases productivity.
n Cyber-gambling: In cyber gambling addiction there is a preoccupation with gambling and a need to spend a greater amount of money in order to achieve the desired level of excitement along with returning to gambling after losses as a way of earning back lost money and irritability and restlessness when trying to reduce or quit gambling habits.
n Cyberchondria: This is excessive online searching for medical information that is associated with increasing levels of health anxiety.
n Cyberbullying: It can include online social exclusion, social comparison and competition, use of defamatory statements and/or sexual harassment.
The following signs can be helpful in identifying and seeking timely intervention:
n Salience: preoccupation with the Internet and digital media
n Tolerance: the need for more time or a new game to achieve the desired mood
n Withdrawal: withdrawal symptoms, e.g., anger, irritability, restlessness when not engaged with internet
n Mood management: changes in mood, escape or relieve a dysphoric mood
n Conflict: continuation of the behaviour despite family conflict, a diminishing social life and adverse work or academic consequences
n Relapse/control: the inability to control the amount of time spent interfacing with digital technology
A study on the association between pathological internet use and comorbid psychopathology revealed there is a comorbidity of Internet Addiction with Depression (strongest correlation), ADHD, anxiety and OCD.
Internet addiction can lead to numerous detrimental effects related to both physical and mental health. Anxiety, depression, decrease in productivity at work or academics and other engagements, conflict in interpersonal relationships, insomnia, poor nutrition, reading deficits in young children, procrastination, physical symptoms like headache, dry eye etc are to name a few.
Some of the reasons that could result in the rise of internet addiction during lockdown are:
l Disruption of daily routines
What can be done?
Two interesting concepts that can be helpful are:
n Digital diet: Restriction of the number of hours like restricting the number of calories one consumes
n Digital nutrition: Being mindful about what we click on. Click on things that are necessary rather than mindlessly and compulsively doing it
Some more ways to deal with it:
l Check your checking: Be mindful of how many times you use your smartphone in a day
l Set limits: Set boundaries and limits both for yourself and your children
l Enjoy a digital detox: Enjoy a day or two without technology. This is found to very effective in feeling better and scheduling time for things which can be more fulfilling
l Disconnect to reconnect: Enjoy technology-free family time. Engage in creative and enjoyable activities e.g., painting, storytelling, craftwork etc
l Have a balanced activity schedule for yourself and your children
l Physical activity can also be helpful as it is a better way to deal with dysphoric mood than the internet
l Most importantly, seek help whenever you feel the need of it.
It has been said that individuals who lack social support are found to have a higher risk of internet addiction. They resort to virtual relationships and support to deal with their loneliness. So stigmatizing them or blaming them can actually make them spiral deeper into the trap. Let's empathize with them as we would with people going through other illnesses and help them in the process of recovery. Internet addiction is common and with proper and timely intervention it can be overcome.
We shall emerge victorious out of this COVID-19 pandemic, let's not fall prey to another. Staying heedful can be helpful.