Commentary

Social Media Can Cause Anxiety

If social media has ever left you with that ambient feeling of unease about your own circumstances, you’re not alone: it turns out social media can indeed make users feel anxious and insecure, according to a new study by the U.K.’s University of Salford sponsored by Anxiety UK, a British non-profit.

The University of Salford’s Business School surveyed 298 Brits about their social media habits, and found that slightly more than half -- 53% -- said that the advent of social networks had changed their own behavior. Within this group, 51% (that’s 27% of the total) said the changes have been at least partly negative.

Among the negative outcomes, the most common was a feeling of insecurity or lack of confidence which resulted when users compared their achievements to their friends; fully two-thirds of users with negative outcomes said the psychological distress made it hard to relax or fall asleep after being on a social media site.

There’s also what might be termed “access anxiety”: 55% of people surveyed admitted to feeling “worried or uncomfortable” if they couldn’t log into Facebook or email. Conversely, 60% of respondents said they deliberately turn off their mobile devices to give themselves a break.

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In January of this year I wrote about a study by Utah Valley University sociologists Hui-Tzu Grace Chou and Nicholas Edge, published in an academic journal called Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, which found that students who spend a lot of time on Facebook are relatively more likely to perceive other people as having better lives than themselves. According to the authors, “Those who have used Facebook longer agreed more that others were happier, and agreed less that life is fair, and those spending more time on Facebook each week agreed more that others were happier and had better lives. Furthermore, those that included more people whom they did not personally know as their Facebook ‘friends’ agreed more that others had better lives.”

And in March of last year I wrote about another study, published in Pediatrics (the official publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics) detailing a mental health phenomenon called “Facebook Depression” by pediatricians, which noted that by allowing some individuals to present idealized images of their own lives, social networks can subtly build unrealistic expectations in users of all ages.

So what should you do if social media leaves you feeling anxious or insecure? Here’s some advice from the Tao Te Ching, as translated by Stephen Mitchell: “In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present. When you are content to be simply yourself and don't compare or compete, everybody will respect you.”

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