No “likes” for social media stress

February 26, 2018 Providence Health Team

Social networks can cause stress in a variety of ways

Too much time online, as well as reading negative content, can lead to worry and anxiety

If you’re feeling stressed, find some ways to unplug and fill your time in productive ways

You’re scrolling through comments on a news story — which are devolving into name calling, arguments and all-caps “yelling” — when you get a notification that there are five new posts from friends on Facebook. You’ve barely begun reading those updates when your phone starts buzzing again — two new job listings on LinkedIn, five new Instagram stories and four texts are coming in. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s not surprising. Social networks can be too much of a good thing; plus, for every viral video of cute kittens or picture of your cousin’s new baby, there are not-so-great things such as Internet trolls and sad news about a friend’s health. It can all add up to a lot of stress when:

  • You’re on your device too much. According to the American Psychological Association’s 2017 Stress in America survey, the number of American adults who say they check their gadgets for social media updates constantly or often is 86 percent. Of those who say they are “constant checkers,” many say they are worried about how social media affects their health and feeling disconnected from loved ones.
  • You’re exposed to bad news. Social media is a good way to keep up with what’s going on in the lives of friends and loved ones. But if those updates are about divorce, job loss or a cancer diagnosis, the stress from negative life events can cause social stress in your own life that affects you mentally and physically. And as social media has become a more common place to learn about the deaths of friends, it’s changed the grief process, which can be difficult to navigate solely through online forums.
  • You’re overloaded with information. It can be exhausting trying to keep up with all your networks on various social sites. Processing all that information and trying to stay engaged with posts of your own can cause fatigue and irritability. That FOMO (fear of missing out) can also cause you to worry too much and keep you tethered to your device.
  • You’re consuming contentious content. Of those constant checkers from the Stress In America survey, 42 percent said online political and cultural discussions are stressful. With heated subjects, the anger, vitriol and personal slights lobbed by (mostly) anonymous commenters can raise feelings of tension and anxiety.
  • You’re craving likes. If you’re constantly monitoring your Instagram feed to see who likes your posts, that’s a sign you’re too dependent on your social media. Chasing those likes, or wondering why more people aren’t checking out your social feeds, can lead to anxiety; conversely, seeing other people’s Instagram-worthy lives on their feeds can spark feelings of jealously or low self-esteem. This can be a particular problem for kids, who not only are grappling with how their online persona affects their burgeoning sense of identity, but also have to deal with potential cyberbullying.

If your social media is making you stressed out, there are steps you can take to alleviate the pressure. Try one or more of the following ideas:

  • Take a social media break. Whether it’s for a week or a month (or even a day, to start), make the conscious effort to unplug. If your device is set to send you notifications when your friends have new posts, make sure to shut them off.
  • Fill that time you usually spend on social media with something more productive for your health. Yoga, for instance, is a proven stress buster; walking is also good, as it’s appropriate for people of all fitness levels.
  • Practice mindfulness. If you’re feeling tense or worried as you’re scanning your feeds, take a moment to figure out why — is there too much negative news, or are you feeling crunched for time? Pinpointing where the anxiety is coming from can help you cope with it. Meditation is also good for reinforcing mindfulness.
  • Set limits on your social media use. If you feel like your phone is always in your hand, find times throughout the day to set it aside — meals, right before bed and first thing in the morning are all good times to curb your social media intake.
  • Keep an eye on your kids’ social media time as well. If you think your child is too caught up with online life, instead of real life, find a balance with appropriate time limits. And if your child is being cyberbullied, take these steps to stop it immediately.
  • Ditch Facebook for face time. Devote some of the time you’d normally spend on your feeds to making connections offline. Make lunch plans or a phone call with a friend to catch up; it will keep you from feeling disconnected.

Are you struggling with stress? Find a Providence St. Joseph Health provider near you who can help you manage.

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