Don’t Be So Quick to Blame Social Media for Your Stress

mar3-1We’ve all seen the headlines about how social media is bad for your health. It seems like every week there’s yet another study showing that social media is responsible for any number of ailments, from being overweight to dealing with anxiety, depression, and inadequacy. Researchers claim that seeing others’ supposedly “perfect” lives online makes one feel bad about themselves — and can even lead to debt and poor health as we try to keep up with the cyber-Joneses.

There may be some truth to the negative effects of social media — after all, who hasn’t felt a little envious after seeing a friend’s fabulous vacation or major weight loss? However, a new study has concluded that social media doesn’t create as much stress as you might think. In fact, according to this new report, social media might actually be good for you.

A New Study

With the rapid growth of social media in the last decade, researchers have grown curious about its effects on our lives. As anyone with a Facebook, Twitter, or other social media account can attest, it’s not always sunshine and roses in the online universe. As a result, many researchers have concluded that social media has a detrimental effect on our overall mental and physical stress. Stress is a major contributing factor to heart disease; not only can it raise blood pressure and heart rate, but it also increases the amount of cortisol in the bloodstream which can contribute to diabetes. There’s also some evidence that suggests that stress also increases the amount of cholesterol being released into the bloodstream, leading to the need for cholesterol lowering drugs like Lipitor.

Researchers at Rutgers University, in conjunction with the Pew Research Center, were curious about those conclusions, though. Few of the existing studies, for example, compared the stress levels of non-social media users to those who used the sites. In addition, many of the studies relied on subjects’ own reports of their mental state after using social media. In other words, some of the most widely touted studies connecting stress to social media were based on simply asking subjects about their stress levels after using social media, without examining any other assignable causes.

The Rutgers study, on the other hand, compared the stress levels of those who use social media to those who do not, and based their conclusions on an objective test of stress levels. The most surprising conclusion? Women who use social media — including email and text — on a regular basis scored an average of 21 points lower on the stress test than those women who do not use online forms of staying connected. While the test did not specifically ask questions related to the use of particular technologies and stress, i.e., do you feel more or less stressed after using Facebook, the researchers argue that the significant difference in overall stress between the users and non-users of social media cannot be overlooked.

Facebook as a Coping Mechanismmar3-2

Researchers suspect that one of the contributing factors to reduced stress among female social media users is the fact that social media is a coping mechanism. Social media is all about making connections with friends and family (as well as complete strangers), and as a result, women who are active online tend to report feeling more supportive, more trusting of others, and more politically active. Sites like Facebook provide a forum for women to share their feeling and connect with others, and as a result, often have more close friends than those who aren’t online.

However, there is a downside. In some cases, social media can increase feelings of stress, at least temporarily, due to the fact that social media makes users privy to the stress in others’ lives. For example, when a friend loses a job or faces a serious illness, and shares that information online, some users experience a spike in stress due to their empathy and concern for a loved one. Researchers call this the “cost of caring,” and note that while it’s essentially unavoidable, it’s a far cry from the torrent of uncontrollable stress that other studies attribute to social media.

Managing Social Media Stress

Given the news that social media doesn’t contribute to stress as much as previously believed, there’s no reason to close down your accounts and revert to a tech-free lifestyle. As with anything, though, it’s important to practice moderation when it comes to social media. If you find that you’re experiencing negative emotions because of social media, go on a “social media diet,” and restrict how often you use the sites. For example,

  • Limit yourself to using one or two social media sites.
  • Set time limits on how often you use the sites; i.e., one hour per day.
  • Remove social media apps from your mobile devices to help curb your usage.
  • Declare “social media free” days and unplug completely.
  • Learn to use site settings to hide or block people that cause you stress or anxiety.

    Just because your cousin wants to share the gory details of an argument with a co-worker doesn’t mean you have to read them.

  • Log off from social media well before bed – and don’t log in again until morning.

Social media is here to stay, so understanding how it affects our lies — positively and negatively — is important. However, if you are worried about how checking your status updates and commenting on your friends’ snapshots is affecting your health, don’t be. You most likely aren’t increasing your stress.