Indian Journal of Social Psychiatry

: 2021  |  Volume : 37  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 275--276

Stress, adolescence and internet use during difficult times – A perfect storm? Commentary on Anand et al.: “Problematic internet use and its association with psychological stress among adolescents”

Tathagata Mahintamani, Debasish Basu 
 Department of Psychiatry, Drug De-addiction and Treatment Centre, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Debasish Basu
Department of Psychiatry, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh - 160 012

How to cite this article:
Mahintamani T, Basu D. Stress, adolescence and internet use during difficult times – A perfect storm? Commentary on Anand et al.: “Problematic internet use and its association with psychological stress among adolescents”.Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2021;37:275-276

How to cite this URL:
Mahintamani T, Basu D. Stress, adolescence and internet use during difficult times – A perfect storm? Commentary on Anand et al.: “Problematic internet use and its association with psychological stress among adolescents”. Indian J Soc Psychiatry [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 Sep 25 ];37:275-276
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Full Text

Anand et al.[1] cross-sectionally surveyed 682 school-going predominantly female adolescents in south India for their pattern of internet use, prevalence of problematic internet use (PIU), and perceived psychosocial stress. They found both high levels of PIU, high levels of stress, and a positive correlation between the two. What can we learn from this?

Stress, as also coping with stress, has a close association with various stages of addictive behaviors. Various types of avoidant coping strategies, including denial and disengagement, are often associated with behavioral addictions. Different components of PIU, including online gaming, gambling, social media, pornography, etc., are used to a varying degree for coping with stress.[2] On the other hand, the psychosocial consequences of PIU itself might lead to significant stress. Online social capital was initially thought to be a protective factor. A recent study revealed that with indiscriminate internet use, especially in adolescents, the interpersonal resources garnered through online interaction act more as a source of psychosocial stress.[3]

Stress and behavioral addiction have significant psychosocial underpinnings. The apparent counterintuitive finding of the similar prevalence of PIU among males and females can also be due to the compensatory effect of other sociodemographic factors. Although the role of sociodemographic and internet-related factors (including socioeconomic class, urban-rural residence, access to the internet, duration, device, and nature of the connection) in the development of stress and PIU is not apparent in the presented data, the published study is important as it looks at the stress among the young population through the lens of PIU, despite its cross-sectional survey design.[1]

These findings are more pertinent in the present time. The coronavirus disease-19 pandemic has changed the social interaction pattern. The adolescents faced the school's closure, limited peer interaction, and loss of caregiver earnings due to the prolonged lockdown and movement restrictions. All these factors and the fear of the disease have led to a significant increase in psychological stress.[4] At the same time, the use of the internet has tremendously increased during this period, and the internet has become the primary medium for academic, occupational, healthcare-related, and recreational activities.[5] The increase is reflected in the substantial increase in internet penetration, the number of users, and traffic in 2020 compared to the previous year.[6]

The compound effect has the potential to increase PIU, especially in the young population, with their inherent and age-appropriate impulsivity, sensation seeking needs, and boredom susceptibility as opposed to reflective thinking and restraining action tendencies that appear later in neurodevelopmental trajectory. There are preliminary reports from the subcontinent highlighting the problems. Sedentary lifestyle, nuclear family, and online activities (such as gaming and social media) are associated with problematic internet usage among the young population during the COVID-19 pandemic.[7] Although the longitudinal data regarding the course of internet addiction during the pandemic is lacking, the prevalence has undoubtedly increased during the pandemic, implicating a higher rate of psychosocial consequences in the future.[8]

Here comes the role of resilience or the ability to adapt to adverse situations in a positive manner. Various studies have shown that resilience can have a protective role against the adverse outcome of both substance use disorders and behavioral addictions. Effective dealing with stress can intuitively protect against PIU. A recent study has also shown that resilience is a vital protective factor for online gaming disorder, but it was not so in social media addiction. Interestingly, the significance is retained even after controlling for the hours of online activity.[9] Thus, efforts at fostering resilience at school and at the family level can act both to fight the pandemic-related stress and PIU without curtailing the necessary screen time.[10]

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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