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5 Ways Social Media Stresses Us Out and How to Manage It

Social media is "the ultimate equalizer" because it gives everyone a voice but what if that voice doesn’t shut up and give us a break?

A sign that shows "We like you too" text.
Photo by Adam Jang on Unsplash.

Digital Royalty CEO Amy Jo Martin once called social media “the ultimate equalizer” because it gives everyone a voice. That’s great, but what if that voice doesn’t shut up and give us a break? What if it causes more stress than self-empowerment?

When it comes to social media, there really can be too much of a good thing. Here are five ways that social media stresses us out and how you can manage it.

1. Comparison Stress Kills Confidence

We all have triggers that can cause our self-confidence to hit Ground Zero, and most of them are found on social media.

Maybe you’re trying to get in shape. You’re on your way home, feeling accomplished after an invigorating power walk when ding! It’s a Facebook notification, and it shows your best friend flaunting her killer body in her latest Beaufille Palici midi dress.

Cue a gut-wrenching feeling and even some frustrated tears as you second-guess your appearance. Suddenly you don’t feel so great after all.

As if I’d ever look that great in designer clothes. Kate looks so perfect all the time, and her life is just as amazing. Unlike mine.

Our emotional response to these social media comparisons is so strong that logic takes a back seat to despair. We forget that people only show the glowing snippets of their lives on Facebook: everything else (the morning acne, bad hair days, and blow-ups with the significant other) doesn’t see the light of day if they can help it.

Kate may look great in Beaufille (and so will you, thanks to your new fitness routine), but her life isn’t perfect, no matter what Facebook says.

Focus on what you’re accomplishing instead. Ivana Taylor, the publisher of DIYMarketers, recommends using social media’s storytelling features to share your strengths. “Let your friend own ‘looking great in designer clothes’ because you can own something else—maybe it’s your killer apple pie, crafting skills, or fantastic photography.” She adds, “Pick your strength and double down.”

2. It Becomes Hard to Relax and Sleep

According to the National Sleep Foundation, 71% of people sleep with their smartphone within reach. If you’re using your phone as an alarm clock, this technically makes sense, but it’s still not a good idea.

When your phone is close enough to touch, the temptation to check your social media accounts can be overwhelming, even if it’s past midnight. You fire up Facebook, see something that depresses or angers you, and end up staring at the ceiling until dawn—this is one of the many reasons why one study found that those who check social media before bed are 1.5 times more likely to have disturbed sleep.

To get the rest you need, impose a phone curfew, such as no social media within an hour before bedtime. This cutoff will be harder to break if you also leave the phone in another room for the night and invest in a digital alarm clock to wake you up.

3. It’s Addictive

Did you hear about the tourist who was so absorbed by Facebook that she walked off a pier in Australia? Or the pregnant woman who was hospitalized for severe wrist pain after over six hours on WhatsApp?

Social media addiction is real. (It even has its own page on the Addiction Center website.) Psychologists estimated that up to 10% of Americans are so addicted to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram that it overshadows other important areas of their lives.

If your use of social media is stressing you out and having a negative impact on your career and relationships, opt for a gradual detox instead of cold turkey (which rarely works). For example:

  • Allow yourself one 30-minute social media break at lunch
  • Set aside one day a week for a social media blackout
  • No social media within one hour before bed

If putting aside your phone is not realistic (e.g. you need it for work or want to be available if there’s a family emergency), turn off all social media push notifications and mute anything that will make you fire up Twitter in a flash. The silence will do wonders for your well-being.

4. It Leads to Procrastination

Social media is arguably the Great Procrastinator of the modern age. When Stop Procrastinating, a productivity-boosting app, analyzed the study habits of 1500 U.S. students, it found that 64% regularly lost their train of thought after responding to a social media alert during a study session. 44% were stressed over the quality of their work going down due to this procrastination.

It’s normal to need a break from work or studying. Research has shown that our brain only works at peak capacity in 90- to 120-minute chunks. Instead of picking up your phone and falling down a Facebook rabbit hole, go for a stroll outside, refill your coffee, or chat with a coworker. Your brain will get the reboot it needs while your productivity stays intact.

5. It Causes Self-Isolation

A study by the University of Pittsburgh found that teenagers who are regular social media users are 3x more likely to feel isolated socially. This issue, which can affect adults too, can be attributed to two causes:

  • Users substitute their social media friendships for in-person social interactions.
  • They are exposed to distorted or unrealistic portrayals of their online friends’ lives, making them feel inferior and causing them to withdraw.

If social media is making you feel trapped and isolated, reach out to family and ‘offline’ friends. Call, email, or have a video chat. In the real world, it’s the quality of your friendships, not the quantity, that matters. This difference can have a positive impact on your mental and emotional health.

Make Time For The Real World

When used properly and in moderation, social media can be an enriching way for you to share experiences and opinions, stay current on world events, and maintain a connection with distant friends and relatives. The moment Facebook or Instagram becomes a source of stress, it’s essential to change the way you use it. That’s the true definition of self-empowerment: even Amy Jo Martin would agree.

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