Let’s play a game. I’m going to describe a scenario and I want you to imagine yourself in that situation. Think about 1) how you would feel in that moment and 2) how that circumstance would impact your life.
Scenario 1: While out running errands, you lost your smartphone. You returned to the store but it was not there. You called your number and it immediately went to voicemail. You have no way to track it. Now it’s nighttime and the phone store is closed, plus it’s a holiday weekend so you have to live without your smartphone for two days.
Scenario 2: Someone hacked into your social media accounts. Thankfully each platform immediately noticed so they put your accounts on lockdown for 2 days. Which means you don’t have access to any social media until they unlock your accounts.
If you’re like most people, you’d be pretty bummed in either situation. But which one do you think is worse?
Researchers administered a similar survey and the results were interesting: losing access to social media evoked stronger emotions than just losing your phone, especially responses like depression, anxiety, and stress over the imagined loss.
This type of response is called emotion dysregulation, or “the inability to manage the intensity and duration of negative emotions such as fear, sadness, or anger.” An upsetting situation–even a made-up 2 day social media hiatus–can have prolonged emotional, behavioral, and physical repercussions.
SOCIAL MEDIA IS A RECENT TREND
As of early 2020, two-thirds of the world uses a mobile phone, more than half of the world uses the internet, and nearly half of the world (approximately 3.8 billion individuals) use social media. The first social media website popped up in 1997 and blogs became a thing in 1999, but most social networking sites didn’t gain popularity until the early 2000s.
That means that social media has only been established during the most recent generation. That’s still young in terms of history, but technology has radically transformed the way we live. In particular, it has surged the rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide.
The most recent scientific studies have made fascinating conclusions about how our social media use impacts our emotions, especially anxiety and depression.
HOW SOCIAL MEDIA IMPACTS…EVERYTHING
Let’s start with your personality. Do you have an impulsive (reactive) or extrovert (gains energy from being with others) personality? You’re more likely to overuse or misuse social media, particularly Facebook or Instagram.
And what about time? The more time you spend on social media, the more likely you are to experience an anxiety disorder.
And how much time you have is linked with the number of social media platforms you use. Individuals who use 7-11 social media platforms (compared to people who use 0-2) are at a higher risk for depression and anxiety. Essentially, the more social media platforms you use, the more likely you are to experience depression and anxiety.
Despite the number of platforms you engage on, how frequently do you post? Are you an avid social media user who posts frequently, or just an occasional user? Individuals who post often, especially to document life events, self-report more depressive symptoms. Those symptoms are even worse if you have a pattern of increased activity and decreased likes, comments, or interactions from your friends.
But watch out, because compulsive social media use predicts fatigue, and fatigue is also linked to elevated levels of depression and anxiety.
And if you’re already diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), you’re more likely to use social media as a platform to compare yourself to someone who is “better off” and are more bothered by people who unfriend or unfollow you.
Interestingly, you’re probably aware of your social media use. In one study, most respondents were aware of addiction behaviors, protective measures against addiction, and risk factors associated with social media use.
And even if you’re not sensitive to how much time you spend on social media, your family is aware. According to one research study, a mother’s “problematic Facebook use” meant that her child was more likely to experience social anxiety on social media platforms.
But not all individuals use social media in the same way. If you primarily use social media as a way to consume and communicate information, you’re more likely to struggle with social comparison (which triggers social anxiety). However, if you typically use social media as a platform to create and communicate information, your levels of social anxiety are based on the perceived support that you receive on that platform.
BACK TO SCENARIO 1 AND SCENARIO 2
Let’s rewind back to the first scenarios I offered: 2 days without your smartphone or 2 days without social media. Although those made-up situations induce a myriad of emotions, there are positives in the midst of the circumstance.
- You can use that time to take a technology sabbath. Expose your eyes to non-digital images that are farther than one foot from your nose. Take a walk to observe nature. Be intentional to look your family members in the eyes. Read a real book or newspaper. Revert to pre-technology activities: puzzles, sunset watching, eye-to-eye conversations, and playing outside included.
- Analyze your heart. For all of technology’s benefits, it’s also chock full of distractions. Pause to examine your heart. What are you feeling? Work through each of these emotions: anger, fear, hurt, sadness, loneliness, shame, guilt, and gladness.
- Set boundaries. Why do you engage on social media? How can you establish healthy boundaries with technology? Who can hold you accountable?
And remember that there is still one significant predictor of overall life satisfaction: face-to-face relationships.
If you or someone you know struggles with social media misuse or addiction, our team of counselors is ready to engage the battle. And if a loved one is anxious or depressed, we desire to step into that situation as well–if it’s related to technology or not. Take the first step and reach out today.
Redeemed Life Counseling, LLC
Teen Social Anxiety