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Is Social Media Increasing Your Anxiety?  

Social media has become a big part of modern culture. Many people spend a great deal of time on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and so on. What was once considered a harmless distraction, is according to research conducted by the University of Chicago, “more addictive” than cigarettes and harder to resist than a cocktail. Studies have found that online social networking has been associated with anxiety, depression, loneliness and increased self-consciousness. According to researchers, many questions regarding social media’s impact on mental health remain unknown.

Think about the last time you scrolled through your Instagram feed. There are pictures of your friend on vacation, sitting at a quaint Paris bistro, flawlessly dressed, holding a perfectly chilled glass of rose. And your other friend, a mother of two, who has just prepared a completely healthy, gorgeous dinner of grilled organic salmon served on top of a bed of quinoa, cranberries and sautéed kale to her gorgeous, well-dressed family, who of course, all loved her meal. And there are images of sculpted abs, picture-perfect vacations, couples in love. It’s enough to make the most secure and well adjusted among us feel anxious and envious.

The feelings of depression and anxiety brought on by social media are referred to as the “compare and despair” factor by psychologists. Maria Oquendo, president of the American Psychiatric Association, states, “We used to judge ourselves by our peers and our neighborhood, and that used to be restricted to where you lived and worked,” she says. “But now our neighborhood is huge, and so we compare and judge ourselves on a larger scale.” But few realize that what we are actually seeing is an artificial, curated, artfully edited life that others choose to show us.

Research has shown that social media causes an increase in anxiety due to feelings of inadequacy, worry and stress. Social media’s constant updates leads many individuals to frequently compare themselves to others, which makes them feel inadequate. Another study found that those with lower levels of self-confidence cared more about what others posted about them on Facebook, whereas those with higher self-confidence spent more time creating their perfect online image. Social media was also found to affect a person’s mood. A study found that when individuals increased their social media use, their overall state of well-being declined. When those same individuals increased the amount the spent interacting with others face to face, their state of well-being improved.

Although there are benefits to social media, it’s important to remember that life is about more than getting a lot of likes. This appears to be a difficult concept for teenagers, in particular. According to a study published by Psychological Science, the same brain circuits that are activated by gambling, sex and drugs are activated when teens see a lot of likes on their photos. In addition, seeing a lot of likes on pictures of their peers was very influential in deciding whether to click that they also liked a picture. Because teenagers respond differently to information they believe has been endorsed by their peers, the influence of peers, even if those peers are strangers, is even more dramatic in the age of social media.

So what can you do to cope with anxiety and depression brought on by social media?

Take a social media break. Do an experiment – try one full day without any social media and see if you feel better. The difference in your moods might convince you to limit your social media consumption.

Spend face-to-face time with others. It’s important to make time for real relationships. Real relationships are based on shared experiences, support and interactions. Real relationships are more than just “likes” on a picture.

Help others. Social media encourages shallow, narcissistic, self-absorbed thinking. Research has shown that helping others boosts your well-being, reduces anxiety and depression and makes you feel more connected to others.

At GroundWork Counseling in Orlando, our therapists have found that our cultures’ use of social media has contributed to anxiety, depression and feelings of disconnectedness in adults and teens. We have also noticed that social media has had a negative effect on academic performance in teens. It appears that being more “connected” has made many individuals feel more anxious, disconnected and lonelier.

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