Anxiety and Technology: The Positive and Negative Effects

Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 15 - 21 May and the theme for 2023 is anxiety.

Technology has become an inseparable part of our lives. From socialising to paying bills, online shopping to online gaming, work, and education, we use technology for almost everything.

While technology has brought many benefits when it comes to helping us manage our mental health, it has also brought some negative impacts. So, let's run through some of the pros and cons.

Good: Access to Information

The internet has provided us with a practically unlimited amount of information. Anyone experiencing anxiety can access this huge repository of information to learn more about their condition or find ways to manage their symptoms. Online resources like medical journals, blogs, and forums can provide reliable information and support and can be accessed anonymously without needing any formal diagnosis. Quality sources of information, such as the NHS or Mind, can provide reassurance and advice at our fingertips at any time of the day.

Bad: Information Overload

While access to information can be helpful, too much information can be overwhelming, and information overload can also cause decision paralysis, where too many choices prevent us from making any choice at all. The quality of information available can also vary, with 'fake news', misinformation, or sensationalist information rising to the top of our news feeds simply because we tend to click on sensationalist stories! People experiencing anxiety may also feel like they need to constantly stay updated on news and information, which can feed back in a negative loop.

The information available via the internet can also lead to anxiety-inducing behaviours such as an ache, pain, or other minor ailment being self-diagnosed by consulting "Dr. Google" and an insignificant issue being self-diagnosed as a far more significant condition. Something most of us have scared ourselves with at one time or another, and something that will inevitably lead to increases in our anxiety level.

Removing mental health barriers – Don't Disable Me digital disability awareness training

Find out from disabled people with lived experience how technology can support those with mental health conditions. Learn more about mental health barriers at work

Good: Online TherapyA person sits in a therapy space and is seen over the shoulder of a person taking notes

Technology has made it possible for people to receive therapy online. This can be beneficial for people who are unable to attend in-person therapy sessions or are uncomfortable with face-to-face therapy, and during lockdown it became the only method for many people to continue talking therapies.

Online therapy can be delivered in a way that provides a level of anonymity, which can be helpful for people who are self-conscious or feel judged. For mental health services, providing access to practitioners online has meant being able to see more people, providing services that can be more flexible and on-demand, and enabling the recruitment of practitioners in different time zones, which has meant access to out-of-hours support at times that might better suit people seeking support.

Online services can also enable practitioners to ‘triage’ those seeking help and make sure those who need in-person support the most are skipped to the front of the queue.

Bad: Less human contact

Online therapies can feel impersonal, and many therapists have highlighted that even on camera, there are lots of visual ‘cues’ that can go unnoticed online that would be far more obvious in person. There is also the worry that a bad internet connection could cut someone off from support at a significant or critical moment, for example, during a panic attack or a moment of significant disclosure.

An anxious-looking robot sitting in a chairGood: Apps

There are many apps available that can help reduce anxiety. These apps can be used to provide guided meditation, mindfulness, breathing exercises, and other relaxation techniques. Some popular apps for relaxation include Calm, Headspace, and the excellent free app MindShift from Anxiety Canada. We also wrote about some other anxiety-management apps in a previous blog, 'Apps to help stroke survivors with anxiety'. There are also chatbots, which are effectively just ‘chatty’ interfaces to apps but often provide a more engaging or friendly face to the self-help on offer.

Bad: Apps

Apps are largely unregulated, so the support they offer can vary in quality. App stores might provide some protection, but if you choose to install something on your phone and share personal data, you need to be confident that whoever created the app is trustworthy. Apps also cost money to build, support, and maintain, so ‘free’ rarely means free.

Many apps might charge a subscription for the really useful features or might allow you to use them for long enough to become a positive habit and then ask you for a subscription to continue to use them. People living with conditions such as anxiety might be particularly susceptible, as the thought of not having access to a support strategy can add stress and anxiety, effectively making them a 'soft target' to exploit in this way.

AbilityNet has produced a factsheet on how to avoid internet scams to help you to identify the risks.

It is also worth noting the 'rise of AI' here. Large Language Models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT can seem uncannily human in their interactions. The way these LLMs work can lead to the perception that "this AI understands me!". This may provide hours of amusement for many of us, but for people who may be struggling with social connection, there is a very real danger of attachment to a thing that has (very openly) never been designed to offer any level of support.

Training: Accessible Social Media 

Learn techniques for producing inclusive social media content on major social media platforms including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok, as well as general principles that can applied regardless of platform.

Find out more about social media training

Smartphone showing social media icons on the home screenGood: Social Support

Social media platforms can provide a sense of community and support for people. They can connect with others who have similar experiences, enabling them to share their thoughts and feelings and receive encouragement and advice.

Joining anxiety support groups on social media can help reduce isolation and provide a sense of belonging, and it has given people a means to stay in touch with support networks, something we really learned during lockdown.

Bad: Social Media Comparison & Cyberbullying

Social media can be very detrimental to mental health. We have a habit of comparing ourselves with the perfect (albeit curated) lives of others on social media, which can lead to distorted self-image, unrealistic expectations, and increased anxiety.

BeReal is an interesting concept that aims to address the polished and curated view we present of ourselves on social media. The BeReal app will message you at a random point during the day, and you have two minutes to take a pair of pictures, one with your front-facing camera and one with your selfie camera. The idea is that this short window means that posts will be far more representative of our actual lived experience and therefore far less anxiety-inducing for all our connected friends.

The anonymity of the internet has given rise to cyberbullying, which can be extremely damaging to mental health and often preys on the most vulnerable as the easiest targets. Cyberbullying can lead to feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression. Being the target of negative comments, posts, or messages can be very distressing, leading to low self-esteem, social anxiety, and other significant mental health issues.

Conclusion: find a balance that works for you

While technology can provide many benefits and tools to help manage anxiety, it's important to find a balance that works for you and supports your mental health. Technology may be a useful tool, but remember that stepping away from a screen, taking a break, and ‘unplugging’ can be just as beneficial.

Support for Mental Health Issues

You can talk to your GP or contact the NHS for help with any mental health questions you may have (call 999 or go to A&E in an emergency. Call 111 for less urgent help).

There are also a number of charities where you can talk to someone:

C.A.L.M. – Campaign Against Living Miserably – for men

0800 58 58 58 or webchat


116 123

Papyrus – for people under 35

0800 068 41 41 

Text 07786 209697

Childline – for children and young people under 19

0800 1111 – free and the number will not show up on your phone bill

Further resources for mental health