What is Social Media Anxiety? How to Identify and Cope With It
Anxiety is a common and reasonable reaction to something stressful. And brief moments of uncertainty of stress are typical in everyday life. Social media use may stir feelings of anxiety as well. And as it is with your usual daily stressors, your frame of mind may influence the way you feel after scrolling through your feed.
If you’ve been worried about a family member in poor health, you may be more sensitive to anything stressful. And when you scroll through Twitter, the conflict or distressing news you see in your feed may add to your unsettled feelings. On a day when you’re feeling confident about life, it may be easier to give that content little thought.
Here we’ll review reasons social media can cause anxious feelings and the addictive loop of social media. We’ll wrap up with tips for recognizing and coping with social media anxiety.
The way social media functions plays into your emotional state, and it can take a little self-discovery to understand how it affects you. Here are some reasons you may feel anxious while scrolling through your feeds
Start by taking a look at why you’re using social media in the present moment. When you open your favorite app, why are you there? What are you looking for? Your vulnerabilities may be the key to answering this question. When you understand your motivation for using social media, you can see how it may draw you into a negative cycle.
Loneliness, trying to make a connection
There’s no question that social connection is vital to a person’s wellbeing. If you’re on social media because you’re lonely, you may feel like your online connections can bridge the gap for you. But social media interaction lacks the warmth and context of direct personal relationships. So seeking real connection through social media may leave you feeling empty, even after spending hours online.
If life feels dull, you may be looking for some excitement in your social media feeds. Boredom can make you feel restless and impatient. But you may scroll for a long time with little satisfaction, which can encourage you to search mindlessly for entertainment across multiple platforms. Unless you are very mindful of your social media use, trying to chase away boredom could lead to unhealthy habits.
Escape from stress
Rather than boredom, you may feel like stress and overwhelm are bigger problems. You may seek escape in your social media feed, hoping to relieve stress and anxiety for a while. Instead, you may find upsetting news, political conflict, and people who seem better than you. Each of these discoveries may trigger feelings of inadequacy or discomfort.
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
Fear of missing out (FOMO) can be driven by comparisons to others online. You see snippets of someone’s ideal life, thinking that yours looks dull by comparison. If you’re waiting to get your vaccine, you may even feel vaccine FOMO. Watching other people going out and being social can bum you out. Instead of feeling happy for others, you may feel sorry for yourself.
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One study found that social media use patterns may make a person more vulnerable to mental health issues. But it takes more than just spending a lot of time on social media or having multiple accounts. People who show an addictive connection to their social media accounts may be more likely to report anxiety or depression.
The addictive loop of social media goes in a cycle, much like playing a slot machine.
- You scroll on your Facebook feed looking for something that catches your eye.
- You get a social mention, or someone “likes” content you posted. These actions give you a little shot of dopamine, the body’s natural feel-good chemical.
- You check again to see if anything else looks good in your feed or if you can interact with someone. Since the previous dopamine shot was fun, you’re willing to keep scrolling until you find something rewarding.
- If you continue to pursue the next dopamine bump, you take a chance on what you find. If nobody else gives you likes or all you see is upsetting content, your anxiety may feel worse instead of better.
Here are a few key questions to ask yourself when you hop into your Instagram account. The answers can help you make the connection between anxiety and your social media use.
What are you looking for?
Ask yourself what you want when you get into your account. What are you looking for, and is social media the place to find it? Think about your scrolling and checking habits. And consider the mindset you’re in when you start.
Sometimes social media can be entertaining while you wait for a car repair or stand in line at the store. If there’s little else to do, you may be happy to have a mild distraction. But you may be jumping into your feeds for the wrong reason and doing little to relieve your stress.
Do you frequently lose minutes and hours online? Does it seem easy to get sucked in and hard to pull yourself away? If you feel the invisible tug of your social media account while you’re doing other things, you may have too much invested in your content feeds.
Be mindful of your use and what’s in your feed
It’s so easy to scroll out of habit with no real purpose. Instead of this approach, ask yourself what you’re looking for and what you might find in your feed. Think of any social accounts that bring negativity or stress to your feed. Trim those out and find content with an encouraging or fun message.
Set a timer to keep your use brief, or completely take a day off. Research shows that taking time away can curb feelings of loneliness and FOMO triggered by social media use. Stepping away can also show you how much free time you really have. Changing this habit may be hard at first, and it’s normal to slip up. Think about other enjoyable or purposeful ways to spend your time.
If you overdo it, be kind to yourself
You may find yourself going down a rabbit hole on Twitter, even if you’re trying to scale back your use. But don’t beat yourself up. Instead, take note of your thoughts and emotions when you feel the urge to check your accounts. Think about why you decided to keep scrolling instead of stepping away.
Social media has its place and can provide connection and entertainment. But it can trigger anxiety, too. The more you understand your motivations for using social media, the better you can cope with distressing feelings. Don’t ignore those emotional cues. Take breaks, manage your emotions, and make social media a better experience.
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