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Is Social Media Making Your Anxiety Worse?

July 21, 2019 George Abitante

Social media and anxiety have a relationship although we're not quite sure what it entails. Tell me if this sounds familiar to you: You're at work, at home, or on the train between the two, and you pop onto social media. You go down the rabbit hole, and 15 minutes later you realize you've been immersed in this virtual platform without noticing the time passing by. And strangely, despite feeling fine during this immersion, you find yourself feeling worse after you're finished. You're likely experiencing the relationship between social media and anxiety.

Many people seem to have this love-hate relationship with social media that involves frequent, immersive engagement with various platforms that don't make them feel good afterward. If you experience anxiety, you may notice changes in your anxiety when you use social media, or may even use it in different ways when you're anxious. But what effect does social media use have on anxiety? 

What We Know About Social Media and Anxiety

It turns out that we really don't have much information about how social media affects anxiety even though we know that the two are related. Several studies have demonstrated that social media use is associated with anxiety, such that more social media use is associated with more anxiety1. However, this doesn't mean that social media use causes anxiety -- it may be that people just tend to use social media more when they're feeling anxious. So even though the two are associated, it's not clear that reducing social media use would actually make you feel less anxious. 

On the other hand, there is evidence that all social media use is not created equal. Engaging with social media by making comparisons with other people or having negative interactions is associated with increased anxiety and depression2. Conversely, using social media to obtain positive interactions, social support, and foster connectedness is associated with lower levels of anxiety and depression ("Benefits of Social Media for Mental Health Support"). Again, these associations do not tell us that using social media in different ways causes increases or reductions in anxiety, they just tell us that the two are related. 

Understand Your Social Media Use and Anxiety  

You may be wondering how this information helps you if it doesn't tell us whether social media causes higher or lower anxiety. Unfortunately, these studies don't provide a clear answer for whether to reduce social media use, but they do provide some direction for helping us understand and work through anxiety more efficiently.

  • Examine your use. Do you understand your social media use? Do you use it more when you're anxious and do you primarily use it to communicate or to observe other people? The answers you find to these questions may provide you with greater clarity about how your social media use is related to your anxiety, which in turn may help you develop more effective coping skills. When you're anxious, observe what about social media can help you, and importantly, keep track of what aspects of it can exacerbate your anxiety. 
  • Remain open to change. Although it's easy to feel like social media is harmful to your mental health, it's possible for it to be useful. Using social media to facilitate connections with others can be invaluable for overcoming anxiety, whereas just observing other peoples' lives may not be helpful. 

The relationship between social media and anxiety seems to be a complicated one, and although we are learning about how they are related, more work needs to be done before we can say precisely how much or little you should be engaging with it. For now, evaluate for yourselves how social media affects your anxiety and experiment with ways to use social media to empower yourselves.

Sources

  1. Woods, H., "#Sleepyteens: Social Media Use in Adolescence Is Associated with Poor Sleep Quality, Anxiety, Depression, and Low Self-Esteem." Journal of Adolescence, August 2016. 
  2. Seabrook, E., "Social Networking Sites, Depression, and Anxiety: A Systematic Review." JMIR Mental Health, November 2016. 

APA Reference
Abitante, G. (2019, July 21). Is Social Media Making Your Anxiety Worse?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2019/7/is-social-media-making-your-anxiety-worse



Author: George Abitante

George is a Master's Student in Clinical Psychology at Northwestern University and is focused on improving the efficacy and accessibility of treatments for depression and anxiety. Find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @AbitanteGeorge.

Lizanne Corbit
says:
July, 21 2019 at 6:18 pm
I love your suggestions to examine your use and remain open to change. Social media is like anything else in the sense that it's important for us to be mindful of how we interact with it. Too much of anything is never good so being particularly mindful of time is key, but then also taking note of the kind of content we're engaging with/looking at. Are we choosing to look at posts that can actually uplift us and make us feel better and more connected? Or are we choosing to look at content that instills comparison and negative self-talk?
July, 22 2019 at 8:29 am
Hi Lizanne,

Thanks for your comment! I really like your points about how we engage with social media -- I completely agree that it provides opportunities to connect with others if we focus on the uplifting content. Great thoughts, thanks for sharing!

George

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