Digitalization and internet are important tools for technological advancement of the society. Internet has become an integral part of life all over the world and its growth is phenomenal. Although, internet has enriched our lives, however, for some, it grew into a problem. Digitalization has forced itself into the very texture of our lives. Most of the users lose control over the amount of time spent online and the way they use the Internet.

People may find themselves online-shopping, gaming, social networking, site surfing, blogging, stock trading, having cybersex, viewing pornography- to an extent that it interferes with their ability to keep up with school, relationships, work and has a negative effect on their mood. It also increases communication gap and physical anomalies such as insomnia, lethargy etc. leading to health problems.

Internet or digitalization cannot be blamed as addictive. According to the operant conditioning phenomenon, it is obvious for people to increase their internet use because of its pleasurable nature and reinforcement structure. 

Individuals who misuse the internet may suffer from a number of emotional and personal problems. They see the internet as a safe place to absorb themselves mentally to reduce their tension, sadness or stress. They can loosen themselves in anything ranging from online pornography, chatting, online gambling or online gaming and once online, the difficulties of their life fade into the background as their attention becomes completely focused on the screen. The internet becomes a new way of escaping without really dealing with the underlying problems. It becomes a quick fix to wash away the troubling feelings and is identified as a ‘reward’ by brain’s reward system.

akanksha pandey on digital health

Interpersonal difficulties, introversion or social phobia and lack of social support makes the individual turn to virtual relationships as a substitute for the missing social connection in their lives. This provides them a medium for false sense of connection or interaction which makes them socially isolated. This social isolation further causes them to be more engrossed in the internet-based activities, possibly leading to a vicious cycle of social withdrawal.

How Do We Ensure Not Being Dominated By It?

In order to deal with anything, we must first identify the potential causes and understand it properly as it gives us a direction. One must try to identify the intent behind their actions, behaviors or choices. Is it because you really want it? Is it because everyone is doing so? Is it to deny the painful reality? Loneliness or isolation always makes way for a lot of negative feelings which makes one vulnerable to faulty decisions. Thus, by engaging in various activities and seeking social support can prove to be a healthy substitute for the void.

Talking it out with your partner may or may not lead to desired results. In such situations, it is alright to seek help from a neutral resource such as a friend or a counselor as they can lend you a nonjudgmental or sympathetic ear. Sharing your dilemmas with them would help you to release the pressure and guilt and allows you to think freely.

Where To Draw The Line?

The new age ‘Behavioral Addictions’ are very similar to substance addictions like alcohol, cannabis etc. seen in the society. They exhibit features of excessive indulgence, intense craving with anticipated pleasure, neglect of alternative pleasures of daily life, failed attempts or intense distress on reduction amounting to significant personal, marital, occupational and social problems. The first step towards maintaining the digital health is to identify the signs of distress and exercise restraint either by self-discipline, time-out and timely social reinforcements by engaging in social activities. Practicing ‘digital-detox’ for a defined period on an everyday basis proves to be beneficial.

If the above-mentioned measures are futile, it is preferable to seek a professional help.

Akanksha Pandey is a Consultant Clinical Psychology- Fortis Hospitals, Bangalore