The Digital World and Stress Levels

In our digital age, social media and digital devices are everywhere, transforming how we communicate, access information, and even perceive the world around us. While these technologies offer numerous benefits, they also come with their own set of challenges, particularly concerning our mental health and stress levels. This blog post explores the effects of social media and cell phone usage on stress, focusing on cortisol levels, a key indicator of stress in the body.


Understanding Cortisol

Cortisol, a stress hormone, is produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress and low blood glucose. In short bursts, cortisol is your friend, providing the energy and alertness needed to handle challenging situations. However, chronically elevated cortisol levels can negatively affect your health, including impaired cognitive performance, decreased muscle tissue, suppressed thyroid function, and increased abdominal fat.


The Digital Connection to Stress

Social Media: A Double-Edged Sword

Social media platforms can serve as a source of entertainment, information, and social connection. However, they can also be a source of stress. The constant updates, notifications, and the pressure to maintain a shiny online presence can lead to anxiety and stress. Studies have shown that excessive use of social media can increase feelings of inadequacy and anxiety, potentially raising cortisol levels.

A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that high usage of platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat increases feelings of loneliness and depression. These feelings are also closely linked to stress. Participants who limited their social media use showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression, suggesting a direct link between social media consumption and stress-related health outcomes.

Cell Phones: Always On, Always Connected

Cell phones have completely changed how we communicate, offering endless information and connectivity. However, being “always on” can lead to higher stress levels. The expectation of being always available and responsive to work emails, texts, and calls can blur the lines between work and personal life, leading to even more stress!

Research indicates that the mere presence of a smartphone can increase cortisol levels, even if it’s not in use. A study from the University of Basel in Switzerland revealed that participants who took a break from their smartphones showed a marked decrease in cortisol levels, suggesting that our physical and psychological attachment to these devices contributes to our stress levels, not to mention what it does to our in-person relationships. If you haven’t listened to Esther Perel’s interview with Brene Brown at SXSW, check it out! 

How About all Those Notifications?

Notifications are a particular aspect of smartphones and social media that contribute to stress. They can create a sense of urgency, prompting us to check our devices frequently. This constant interruption can disrupt our focus, reduce productivity, and increase stress levels. A study from the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication found that frequent interruptions from notifications are associated with higher levels of inattention and hyperactivity, similar to the symptoms observed in ADHD, contributing to overall stress. Personally, I’ve turned all my notifications off, and I keep my phone on silent. Always.

What About Other Devices?

Stress goes beyond cell phones and social media. The influence of these electronics is not inherently bad but depends a lot on how we use them. Here’s a look at some other electronics that can affect stress levels:

  1. Computers and Laptops: These are almost impossible to escape from. The pressure to constantly engage with work emails and projects, even during off-hours, can increase stress levels. Consider taking a planned digital detox and/or setting clear boundaries around when you are available to respond. I cut my day off at 5 pm. – hard stop.
  2. Television: While TV can be a relaxing activity for many, excessive screen time, particularly watching stressful news broadcasts or intense, suspenseful programs, can increase anxiety and stress. Late-night viewing can disrupt sleep, so I recommend turning it off at least an hour before bed. 
  3. Tablets and E-readers: Similar to smartphones and laptops, tablets can contribute to stress when used excessively or for work-related activities. However, when used for leisure, such as reading or playing relaxing games, they can help reduce stress. Again, the blue light they emit can wreck your sleep, so either use a yellow filter app or turn it off before bed.
  4. Wearable Technology: Devices like smartwatches and fitness trackers can motivate you to lead a healthier life, but the constant monitoring and alerts from these devices can also lead users to overly fixate on this data.

Managing the impact of these devices on stress levels often involves mindful usage, setting boundaries for work and play, and ensuring that activities that include the use of electronics are truly relaxing and not additional sources of stress. Like cell phones and social media, the key to these electronics is balanced and intentional use.

  1. American Psychological Association (APA) – “Stress in America: Coping with Change”
  2. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication – “The Attentional Cost of Receiving a Cell Phone Notification”
  3. Journal of Behavioral Addictions – “Problematic smartphone use: A conceptual overview and systematic review of relations with anxiety and depression psychopathology”:
  4. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health – “Association between Screen Time and Sleep Habits in 11-to-12-Year-Old French Middle School Students”:
    • Summary: This research examines the association between screen time and sleep habits, finding that poor sleep quality can significantly contribute to increased stress levels.
    • Link:


Dr. Anna Garrett is a menopause expert and Doctor of Pharmacy. She helps women who are struggling with symptoms of perimenopause and menopause find natural hormone balancing solutions so they can rock their mojo through midlife and beyond. Dr. Anna is the author of Perimenopause: The Savvy Sister’s Guide to Hormone Harmony. Order your copy at

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