Anxiety and social media

Between them Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, social media has undoubtedly become an outlet that engages a huge amount of online users of all age groups. However there is a dark side to social media, with a large number of users in the 14-24 age bracket suffering from increased feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. The question is why can social media make us feel like this?

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 holiday somewhere amazing and the endless pictures of happy families seems to make your ordinary weekend with it’s normal issues pale in comparison, which in turn can lead to unsettling anxiety or feelings of failure.

Feelings of self-consciousness or a need for perfectionism can arise, which can for some people lead to social anxiety or negative thoughts causing you to sink further into anxiety, as you imagine that the whole world is better looking than you, more successful and having more fun than you.

Comparing can also lead to anxiety when it relates to the amount of followers that you have. 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 their own 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 gruelling work schedule can take a toll on self-esteem.

The Royal society for public health under took a survey of 1,479 young people who were asked to rate the impact of the five forms of social media on 14 different criteria of health and wellbeing, including their effect on sleep, anxiety, depression, loneliness, self-identity, bullying, body image and the fear of missing out.

Instagram emerged with the most negative score. It rated badly for seven of the 14 measures, particularly its impact on sleep, body image and fear of missing out – and also for bullying and feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness. However, young people cited its upsides too, including self-expression, self-identity and emotional support.

YouTube scored very badly for its impact on sleep but positively in nine of the 14 categories, notably awareness and understanding of other people’s health experience, self-expression, loneliness, depression and emotional support.

Although you can’t place all the blame for the rising tide of anxiety on social media it certainly dose have an effect on all genders. Cutting back on the amount you use it has certainly helped with the clients I see. Although for my younger clients cutting back on social media use is as hard if not harder than giving up cigarettes.


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