Between Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even LinkedIn, social media is undoubtedly an outlet that engages most online users. However, according to mental health consultants nationally, social media has become an anxiety-provoking factor.
Compare and Despair
A large item contributing to social media anxiety is the compare-and-despair factor; that is, doctored pictures of friends on a vacation in Mexico seems to make your Dairy Queen-filled weekend pale in comparison, which in turn can lead to unsettling anxiety (in short, fear of personal failure). Feelings of self-consciousness or a need for perfectionism can arise, which often manifests itself into social anxiety or pervasive thoughts indicative of Obsessive-compulsive Disorder.
Comparing can also lead to anxiety when it relates to followers. For example, teens using Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook have indicated that it's more about quantity rather than quality; that is, the quantity of your followers, re-tweets, and "likes." Users can take these obscure numbers, and twist them to support negative thoughts.
Fear of Missing out
Another social anxiety triggered by online media is the fear of missing out; pictures of a party where the user was not invited, or yet another wedding they weren't able to attend thanks to their grueling work schedule can take a toll on self-esteem, say mental health specialists.
There's a flip side to this, however: it's been hypothesized that those that use social media are traditionally actually more anxious to begin with. And that the anxiety doesn't necessarily derive from the content itself, but not being able to access the content. In a sense, users become almost addicted to social media.
Social Media is More Addictive Than Cigarettes
Not only does social media attract more anxious users, but the University of Chicago found that it's also “more addictive" than cigarettes, and harder to abstain from than a cocktail might be. However, its not going to give you emphysema or liver disease, so perhaps folks are less likely to forgo that fix.
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Date of original publication: June 05, 2013
Updated: September 12, 2019