Can Social Media Cause Anxiety?
The advent of social media is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the last ten to fifteen years, social media has exploded in a way that nobody could have predicted. In order to stay in touch with people, you use to have to call or email them. Now you can see into their homes on Instagram, learn what they like on Pinterest, follow friends on Facebook and get the latest news on Twitter. This generation is switched on like nothing we have seen before. But can social media cause anxiety? Can being confronted with the barrage of information impact our mental health?
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Does Social Media Feed Anxiety?
The reality is that social media can have a big impact on your stress and anxiety levels as well as your general mental health if you don’t control and limit your usage. It is really important to note that you actually have considerable control over what you see, who you connect with and how long you stay on a platform for. Think of social media as you would your everyday life. If you don’t like someone or something then you don’t need to talk to them or hang out at that location.
The problem is that many people have forgotten that they have this control and they are sucked in to being in a space that doesn’t always make them feel great. The social media platforms reward them for this and actually do everything they can to get you to stay on them even longer. The Royal Society for Public Health recently did a survey amongst young people to look at the mental health issues that social media created. Instagram was considered the most harmful according to their studies.
As a business owner, Facebook unlocks badges if you answer queries from potential clients within a certain time frame. Yet Facebook doesn’t seem to take account that answering queries 24/7 is not allowing you to relax from your job and get downtime. We ignore these messages but others don’t.
If you are a private individual then these systems put pressure on you to get likes, follows and repins. These are usually public which means that many people are constantly playing the comparison game with their friends and worrying about whether they are as populate. Can social media case anxiety? Well yes, of course, it can if it trains you to keep on posting and actively encourages you to spend more time online rather than in the real world.
How Does Social Media Affect Anxiety?
So how can social media cause anxiety exactly? Let’s look at what can be so problematic about social media usage if it isn’t well managed and restricted.
Tuned in All the Time
In the past, in order to connect with people, you would call them or send them an email. Once this was done you would move on to something else. Your time connecting was limited but everything changed with smartphones and tablets. Now you have devices that you can carry around easily. You can use them on them just about anywhere you can get a signal.
The problem is that in life we need downtime. We need space where we can relax and allow our minds to go quiet and still and be calm. When we are switched on all the time this time that we usually use for relaxation is now filled with what our friends are doing, influencers and news stories. Social media is happy to provide you with information 24/7.
Misinformation and Social Media
Social media does not always tell the truth which can also create problems. Misinformation is being spread all the time on these social platforms and it can cause distress to some people. Should you vaccinate your children? Are certain foods bad for you? Will 5G give you Coronavirus? When you are bombarded with these stories it creates worry, stress and anxiety.
We always tell our clients to never forget that if someone has a Facebook group or is using ads then there is a monetary or political benefit for them. Ignore these people because they are likely to be after your cash or your votes.
Sleep and Social Media
We talked about being switched on all the time but now let’s discuss how this impacts your sleep. Can social media cause anxiety? Well certainly in the cases where it keeps you awake at night or makes it difficult to switch off in bed.
The problem with smartphones and tablets is that they can be brought into the bedroom. People spend hours scrolling their feeds and catching up usually at the end of the day. These devices emit blue light which is known to impact sleep plus they keep your mind active when it should be winding down to sleep. Blue light blocking glasses have been designed to limit the impact of this when worn.
A lack of sleep creates tiredness, irritability, causes poor decision making and affects your general health. Prolonged sleeping problems will cause anxiety especially in those worrying about not being able to get the rest they need. In reality, all social media and electronic devices should be turned off at least two hours before bedtime. We also give our clients a guided sleep meditation to help them relax their minds so that they get a great nights sleep.
Comparisons with Others
One of the biggest problems that psychologists have identified with social media is that of comparing ourselves to others. Can social media cause anxiety when this happens? Well yes because what we see on these platforms is not the real picture but just a snapshot of a moment or space that has usually been filtered.
If people are constantly bombarded of pictures of beautiful people, wearing hardly any clothes looking toned and fully made up it is going to set unrealistic expectations. We believe we should be looking like this as well. If influencers post pictures of their clean eating and extensive beauty regimes other people will want to follow to try and look like they do.
What you don’t see in the pictures in the amount of work that has gone into editing those photos. The photoshopping and lighting and the camera angles. Young people especially can buy into this dream and feel that they need to look the same when that is impossible to do. When they don’t reach that goal they can feel depressed, anxious and upset because they have failed to match up this idealised vision.
Pressure to Be Liked
Social media platforms have created pressure to be liked. People will compare how many friends they have with their peers. When they post a photo or comment they look to see how many likes and shares they get. If someone doesn’t comment or unfollows them it can send them into a tailspin.
Nobody wants to feel unpopular so the pressure increases to post something funny or breathtaking to get positive feedback. The social media platforms prey on this and actively punish you when you are off the platforms for too long by reducing your reach or engagement. Any form of pressure or stress is going to increase anxiety and make you doubt yourself. The key to managing this is to recognise that you don’t have to play the game. Post what you want to post and move on and don’t look back.
Social Media Trolls and Cyber Bullying
Can social media cause anxiety? Yes especially when the trolls are about. These are probably one of the worst aspects of the social media platforms as they are rude, mean and downright abusive people.
Everyone seems to want to have an opinion now and because it is online and they are not having to talk to people face to face they become brave and post the first things that pop into their mind with no filter. Sometimes this is done deliberately to create drama but at other times it is because they just haven’t taken time to think through what they are doing.
In real life, these people would never dream of saying the things that they are writing to your face but they can be brave when they are anonymous and hiding behind a computer.
You don’t have to be sensitive to for this to impact your mental health because a constant barrage of abuse can impact the mental health of anyone that is on the receiving end. If you are running a private account you can of course block and report them but when you are a figure in the public eye, an influencer or even a business owner it can be demoralising facing this day after day. As soon as one is reported another three appear.
Social Media Anxiety Disorder
Social media anxiety disorder also needs to be mentioned when talking about how can social media cause anxiety. This is a disorder that is linked to social anxiety which is a worry or a fear of embarrassing yourself or being judged by others. If you suffer from social media anxiety disorder then your usage of these platforms will impact your physical and mental health.
In these cases, the person is likely to feel very self-conscious about what they are doing on these platforms and will constantly be worrying about how they come across. Will they be judged for what they have posted or look foolish? This can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.
The pressure to be perfect on the platforms goes far beyond what we have already spoken about. Social media anxiety disorder can make people spend hours and hours a day trying to create perfect posts and responses. If the feedback they get is not what they expected it can create huge amounts of anxiety and worry. Social media starts to become an obsession which takes over their life. Usually in situations like this professional help from a therapist is needed to stop the negative patterns of behaviour.
Pros and Cons of Social Media On Mental Health
Social media is not all bad of course. There are some incredible ways in which social media can be informative, heartwarming and keep people connected.
Who hasn’t had their heart melted by some cute video or story that appeared on their feed? Who hasn’t been entertained by some quiz, comedian or viral video? Social media has many pro’s and well as cons.
The key to winning at social media and not letting it dominate your waking life is to limit your usage and the people you allow to engage with you. Try and follow only your closest friends and family and refuse requests from acquaintances and people you don’t know or care about. If you follow influencers only choose those that are good for your mental health. If you find yourself feeling jealous, upset or worried about their content then unfollow them. Limit the amount of time that you spent on them and avoid them completely in the late evening so that they don’t disturb your sleep.
Therapy for Social Media Anxiety
If you struggle with social media addiction or that social media is causing you anxiety then please seek professional help. It is possible to change the way you think and create a more positive relationship with these platforms. For more information about our anxiety programs just fill in our contact form and we will get in contact.
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