Social Anxiety and Internet Addiction

Dr. Pranavjeet Kaldate

6/4/20234 min read

silver Android smartphone
silver Android smartphone

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is characterized by excessive fear or anxiety about social situations, which leads to avoidance or distress in these situations. Individuals with SAD experience fear of being judged, evaluated, or rejected by others and may have difficulties in initiating or maintaining social relationships. They may also have low self-esteem, negative self-evaluation, and negative beliefs about social situations. Social anxiety disorder and internet addiction are two prevalent mental health issues in India. According to the National Mental Health Survey (2016), the prevalence of SAD in India is approximately 3%, and the number of internet users has increased to 627 million in 2019. This makes India the second-largest internet market globally. Several studies have explored the relationship between SAD and internet addiction, suggesting that individuals with SAD are more likely to develop an addiction to the internet. A study conducted by Kaur and Kaur (2018) found that social anxiety was significantly associated with lower levels of social support and higher levels of perceived stress among college students in India. Another study conducted among adolescents in India found that social anxiety was significantly associated with higher levels of depression and lower levels of self-esteem (Krishnamoorthy et al., 2017). On the other hand, internet addiction refers to excessive internet use that leads to impairment or distress in daily life. Individuals with internet addiction experience cravings or urges to use the internet, have difficulties in controlling their Internet use and may neglect other important activities. Internet addiction can also lead to negative consequences such as poor academic or occupational performance, social isolation, and psychological distress. It is a growing concern in India, with increasing internet penetration rates and the availability of affordable smartphones. A study conducted by Hussain and Griffiths (2018) found that 12.6% of Indian college students were addicted to the internet, with males more likely to be addicted than females. Another study conducted among adolescents in India found that internet addiction was significantly associated with higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress(Sharma et al., 2018).

Several studies have found a significant association between social anxiety and internet addiction. For instance, a study conducted by Shahraray et al. (2019) among Indian college students reported that individuals with SAD were more likely to use the internet excessively and had higher levels of internet addiction compared to individuals without SAD. The study also found that individuals with SAD reported using the Internet to cope with social anxiety symptoms and seek social support. Another study by Chakraborty et al. (2020) among Indian adolescents found a significant association between SAD and internet addiction. The study reported that adolescents with SAD had higher levels of internet addiction and spent more time on social media platforms than adolescents without SAD. The study also found that adolescents with SAD used social media to cope with social anxiety symptoms and seek social support. The relationship between SAD and internet addiction can be explained by the self-medication hypothesis, which suggests that individuals with SAD may use the internet as a coping mechanism to reduce anxiety symptoms and avoid social situations (Huang et al., 2014).The internet provides a safe and anonymous platform for communication and social interaction, which may be appealing to individuals with SAD. However, excessive internet use may lead to negative consequences such as increased social isolation, poor academic or work performance, relationship problems, and decreased face-to-face social skills (Tang et al., 2018). Some of thesecan further perpetuate SAD symptoms.

In conclusion, social anxiety and internet addiction are prevalent mental health issues in India, and several studies have reported a significant association between these two conditions. Individuals with SAD may use the Internet as a coping mechanism to alleviate anxiety symptoms and seek social support. However, excessive internet use can lead to negative consequences and further perpetuate SAD symptoms. Therefore, it is essential to recognize and treat these comorbid mental health conditions to improve the overall well-being of individuals in India.

How It Can Be Helped Social anxiety disorder (SAD) and internet addiction can both be challenging to deal with, but there are several ways in which someone struggling with these issues can be helped. With proper treatment, individuals can learn to manage their SAD symptoms, manage their use of technology, achieve a healthier balance, and lead fulfilling lives. The following are evidence-based therapies for SAD and internet addiction. However, it is important to work with a mental health professional to develop an individualized treatment plan that addresses specific needs and goals.

Social Anxiety

1. Cognitive-behavioral Therapy

This is one of the most common treatments for social anxiety disorder. CBT is a type of talk therapy that focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. In the case of social anxiety, CBT may involve exposure therapy, which gradually exposes individuals to social situations that trigger anxiety in a controlled and safe environment. This allows them to learn coping strategies and develop a sense of mastery over their fears.

2. Pharmacotherapy

Another effective treatment for social anxiety disorder is medication. Antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Benzodiazepines may also be used in the short term to manage severe symptoms, but they carry a risk of addiction and should be used with caution.

3. Others

Other treatments for social anxiety disorder include group therapy, mindfulness-based interventions, and self-help strategies such as exercise and stress management techniques.

Internet Addiction

1. Cognitive-behavioral Therapy

One approach to treating internet addiction is, again, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors related to internet use. This may involve developing a plan for reducing screen time, setting goals for offline activities, and learning strategies for managing stress and boredom.

2. Addiction Counselling

Another treatment option is addiction counseling, which can help individuals address underlying emotional issues that may be contributing to their addiction. This can involve exploring triggers for internet use, developing coping strategies for dealing with cravings, and learning healthy communication and relationship skills.

3. Pharmacology

In some cases, medication may also be prescribed to manage underlying mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, that may be contributing to internet addiction.

4. Others

Other strategies for managing internet addiction include setting boundaries around technology use, such as turning off notifications and limiting time spent on social media, as well as engaging in offline activities that provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Support groups, such as 12-step programs, can also provide a sense of community and help individuals build healthy habits and relationships outside of the digital realm.

“We are half present, therefore half appreciative, and our relationships suffer because of it.”

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