Your smartphone is making you kiasu

How often do you check your phone? Are you annoyed every time someone sitting in front of you at the cinema starts texting during the film? Do you check your ‘likes’ on your Instagram post constantly? Thanks to smartphones, this instant communication has certainly made us all addicted to constant attention – for instance, apps like WhatsApp tell the sender whether the other person is online or has read their message.

This instant gratification diminishes our ability to sit with uncertainty – we even have a word for it: kiasu.

Our reliance on our smartphones – and all the instant gratifications of ranting online and gaining ‘likes’ on posts – are simply “safety-seeking behaviour” which may reduce our anxieties short-term, but over time, we can’t stop relying on this behaviour. It’s like trying not to post anything on social media or a WhatsApp group whenever something pops up.

We need to retrain ourselves from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and fear of rejection, because learning to face uncertainty is essential to managing our mental health.

We need to embrace uncertainty

Individuals suffering from a range of mental illnesses are less able to sit with uncertainty compared to those who do not have these diagnoses. And the more a person is intolerant to uncertainty (aka kiasu), the more they are likely to be diagnosed with a greater number of mental health conditions.

We know that uncertainty in positive areas, such as new relationships, heightens our emotions. Gambling, app notifications and emojis play on this mechanism. They interfere with our concentration and pull our attention back to the device. Imagine the slight buzz you get when you receive a warm text from a friend you particularly like.

However, uncertainty such as being disliked by someone that we like, or fearing that we have failed an exam destabilises many of us. It leads to a desire to eliminate the uncertainty quickly, so we depend on our smartphones since we can instantly connect with other people to obtain reassurance when facing a worrying situation instead of coping with it ourselves.

So when the situation unfolds, rather than developing self reliance, we rely on their phones to help us cope.

Managing uncertainty

Being more comfortable with uncertainty improves a person’s ability to cope with worry and improves the conditions of those suffering from anxiety. When treating anxiety, psychologists encourage people to sit with not knowing the outcome of a particular situation and learning to wait to see if what they are afraid of will eventuate.

By sitting with uncertainty, a person gradually learns to distract themselves, let go of trying to control situations and realises they can survive the distress of “not knowing” in the situation.

Using phones to push the worry onto another person prevents self management from occurring. Keep in mind the old adage that “no news is good news” and resist the tendency to message first. Worry leads to more worry – and talking about a worry repeatedly does not alter the outcome.

Being able to wait and let go of the desire to control each situation is a major key to overcoming anxiety. We all need to show ourselves that we are not kiasu, and we are fine without our phones.