Anxiety and the Social Media

Are you addicted to social media? Has your life become unmanageable due to your electronic gadgets and are you constantly searching social media sites? Are you powerless over having the ability to limit your time scrolling through social networking sites? Social media has become a prevalent part of modern society. So has anxiety. Anxiety is the number one mental illness reported in the United States. Social media is the number one pastime for many. Is there a connection between social media and anxiety? Quite possibly. If we look at social media and examine anxiety in this context, the two may be linked. There are several reasons for this. One reason social media can be linked to anxiety is in terms of the type of interaction the individual engages in on social media.
According to research, if the interaction experienced by an individual online is positive then the anxiety will not be present, however, if there is a negative social media interaction anxiety can soar. Well, how many of us have turned on our social media this week to see total strangers ripping each other apart because of political preference and such? The result, a spike in anxiety. Self esteem can also be wounded or improved based on the type of interaction one has while connecting via social media with another. There is much opportunity for misunderstanding through social networking bringing much anxiety. Also, social media promotes quantity of friends over quality and this can bring about anxiety as the individual tries to grow the size of their social network online. How many likes do you have? What are the implications of the constant struggle to be more and achieve more for your social media audience ?

If an individual already suffers from anxiety, they are more prone to experience anxiety through social media interactions and maintenance. For example, if they experience a negative interaction like cyber bullying this can magnify the anxiety they are already experiencing. Assertiveness is at an all time high on social media and many typically quiet individuals become keyboard warriors in this environment thus venting and releasing anger that is typically not present in their in person connections. Negative social media interaction can affect self -esteem, mental health and mood, lowering all three. Those who are struggling in life will make comparisons to those who paint the picture on social media that their lives are wonderful and this can also cause an increase in anxiety. Some individuals may not consider the filter most use when posting on social media and rarely do people paint the true picture of their lives. What you see is not always reality. Social media envy is very real and anxiety producing So much of social media is linked to the personal meaning the individual user attaches. For example, posting a single status for some can increase their anxiety if they are not comfortable with this relational position in life. Research shows that rejection by an ex for a friend request can also be linked to anxiety. Social media promotes social interaction and connection but is it as beneficial as in person connection? Some researchers believe isolation occurs quite often when the individual does not interact in person. There are certain elements of in person interaction that are not present online. For example, when Maslow constructed his hierarchy of needs he accounted for connectedness through intimate relationships and considered it one of the basic human needs for adequate development. Many believe that internet interaction can be a supplement to healthy relationships but certainly not the predominant way individuals interact. It likely does not provide the same sort of comfort and can in fact bring anxiety rather than peace. Anxiety can impact social relationships and bring about a spiral of sorts for individuals. Social media connects us to friends and family and in this way it is a positive action however, when we isolate and only connect through this medium it becomes problematic. In that way social media can be a link to well being. When there is an inconsistency between the idea of interaction quality and social support the negative impact of social media decreases. The perception by the user that they are receiving comfort or social support can be more important than actual support and decrease anxiety. However, if the individual’s anxiety is already high, they are not able to accept the support available on social media. Of course, the frequency of social media use is also relevant and linked to anxiety. There are some who feel extreme anxiety when separated from social media, which brings about an increase in anxiety. This is when social media use becomes a compulsion rather than a past time. It is not the material we are viewing as much as it is the compulsion to view it and the frequency involved. We are constantly checking social media to see what our friends, exes and family members are doing and then weighing our own activities against theirs. The gadgets are affecting every area of our lives. Research has supported that waiting one-hour to plug into technology after rising in the morning can make your day less stressful. Who knew, right? We subconsciously begin comparing and making judgments immediately when we plug in and this sets the tone for the day. Or we compulsively look at just one more thing, before dressing for the day, and being late because one more thing turned into twenty. Thus, a compulsion is born. How many of us come home in the evenings and begin checking in on social media and hours later realize we have not walked the dog, done our taxes or homework due to irresponsibly compulsive scrolling? When we better understand how a compulsion makes us feel we can better decide how we will engage in such. Have you ever misplaced your phone and felt the anxiety from the disconnection? The dopamine rush we get when checking our electrical gadgets is addictive. The stress chemicals released in our brains when we lose our phones is alarming. The complete opposite of the happy chemicals released when anticipating scrolling.. Our brains on social media are similar to our brains on crack. Our brains confuse the promise of reward for the certainty of pleasure online and so we scroll and scroll in search of satisfaction that is not delivered. The dopamine releases an assurance of gratification, which is not factual but triggered by the hunt and in this case scrolling. This desire alone triggers anxiety for most. But is this longing reality? Likely, not. When, if ever, do we get enough of social media to fulfill the desire we experience when logging in? Does the need simply drive you to scroll more, never feeling satisfied? Individuals often find disparity between the promise and the actuality of reward. This realization can provide restraint over a habit that brings no pleasure. When I have suggested to clients that they limit their internet use at times this brings great apprehension. Many find that after limiting time on social media they are less anxious and able to be more productive in life. Like any addiction after a time away the fog lifts and the individual wonders exactly what they spent so many hours doing on social media. Checking, checking and checking some more………. Some users utilize social media for self-disclosure to lower their anxiety and vent as a coping strategy. Anxiety is linked to negative self-disclosure on social media. Research has connected the need to use social media addictively to compensate for preexisting social anxiety. Likely many use social media to meet unmet in person communication needs such as the need to belong, as well as to be thought of as socially competent. This makes the anxiety likely if the need for social connection is also high. Anxiety is linked to social media addiction and problematic use of this medium. While engaging in social media look for the clues that you are being manipulated through dopamine and neurons to scroll endlessly through hours of your day. Resisting such anxiety provoking triggers can be possible through predetermined Amounts of time surfing social media. High levels of dopamine released when anticipating time spent online can result in less worry about the consequences of wasted time online. Our reward system is distorted by social media and individuals become obsessed and manipulated through the reward system. The dopamine rush while interacting is what makes it so addictive and difficult to discontinue. Because the very next message or “like” could be the one that makes us happy, we keep scrolling compulsively, which releases the dopamine. There are few substances we partake of that can give us the addictive effect on our brains that technology delivers, also the anxiety when we cant get our social media fix.