Commentary

Social Media Behind Rising Stress Levels, Say Shrinks

If constantly poking at a little machine that randomly bestows rewards and punishments sounds like it might be stressful to you, you might want to put away your smartphone.

That’s one of the suggestions from the American Psychological Association’s new report, “Stress in America 2017: Technology and Social Media,” which claims social media is a major factor driving an increase in stress in the U.S. population.

The APA notes that 86% of Americans say they frequently check social media, emails, or texts during a typical work day, with 45% qualifying as “constant checkers.” Even during a non-work day, however, 34% say they are constantly connected, while 47% say they check frequently.

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Respondents who check their social media and other accounts “constantly” reported a higher level of stress than “non-constant” checkers: the former reported an average stress level of 5.3 on a 10-point scale, versus 4.4 for the latter.

Overall, 18% of respondents said that they view these technologies as a major source of stress, and once again there’s substantial difference based on frequency of use.

Among constant checkers, 23% said they are a somewhat or significant source of stress, compared to 14% of non-constant checkers.

Further, 42% of constant checkers say they worry about the effects of social media on their mental or physical health, versus 27% of non-constant checkers.

Social media contributes to stress in complex ways beyond mere monkey-like tapping, the APA found.

For one thing, the content that people encounter on social media is itself stressful, and this appears to be ramified by frequency of use.

For example, 42% of constant checkers say that political or cultural discussions on social media cause them stress, while 33% of non-constant checkers say the same.

Interestingly, social media stress appears to spill over into the “real” world: 44% of constant checkers say they feel distanced from their families as a result of technology, and 35% say they are less likely to meet their family and friends in person because of social media (maybe because technology appears to fulfill the social function, or perhaps because of disagreements).

That compares to 25% and 15% for non-constant checkers, respectively.

On a positive note, 65% of Americans agree that it’s a good idea to sometimes “unplug” or take a “digital detox” – but so far just 28% have actually done so.

Some of the popular measures include not allowing cell phones at the dinner table, at 28%; don’t allow devices during family time, at 21%; don’t allow devices during time with friends, at 19%; and turning off notifications from social media apps, also 19%.

1 comment about "Social Media Behind Rising Stress Levels, Say Shrinks".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, July 26, 2019 at 11:40 a.m.

    I am happy to see that this story does report a cause-effect relationship such that social media somehow cause stress. I believe that constant checking is a bad habit but it seems plausible that people who are already socially anxious are the ones flocking to social media for validation rather than well-adjusted people somehow succumbing to the influence of social media. I sometimes wish that researchers would look for the positive benefits of connecting with people on a regular basis. While it's true I have to block those who overshare or otherwise espouse negativity, I am mostly gratified with the ease of connecting with long-lost friends and seeing their grandchildren. Social media can be a happy pursuit but it's easier to attract eyeballs by reporting stories that connect devices to some problem in life.

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