How social media increases your anxiety and stress
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Article

How social media increases your anxiety and stress

Social media has all but taken over our lives.

Today, 4.59 billion people around the world use social media, which equates to 57% of the global population. On average, people spend two hours and 24 minutes browsing their favoured sites; that means that if an individual signed up to social media at age 16, and kept up their habits steadily until their death at age 70, they would have spent 5.6 years of their life on such platforms. 5.6 years!

Clearly, modern society has a fixation with this construct. Although using social media can be positive for certain people in moderation, a significant percentage of us have an unhealthy relationship with social media. That’s because it can generate feelings of inadequacy and disillusionment, leading to stress, anxiety and loss of sleep. This, in turn, not only impacts our mental health, but our physical wellbeing, too.

If any of that sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. Negative experiences with social media are perhaps even more commonplace than the good outcomes it can produce, but it doesn’t have to be this way. In this article, we’ll investigate exactly how social media can trigger certain unpleasant emotions, as well as how to identify those warning signs and, most crucially of all, how to overcome them.

How social media can make us feel bad

The things we get out of social media depend largely on the attitude we take into the relationship. But while most of us wish to use it as the tool for connection, community and engagement that it should ideally represent, it can quickly lead to undesirable outcomes. Here are some of the ways in which it can provoke a negative response:

  • “Compare and despair”. The human impulse to compare ourselves to others is strong. Whereas “keeping up with the Joneses” used to involve comparison with those in our immediate circle of acquaintances (neighbours, friends, family, colleagues), the globalisation of the modern world means that we now appear to be competing with virtually everyone on the planet. And since social media encourages users to edit the content they upload and carefully curate each photo and finesse every post, we are only ever exposed to the most positive and impressive parts of other people’s lives. By contrast, the lows that we personally experience can make us view our own lives as inferior and inadequate.
  • Aggravation and argumentation. If good energy is contagious, then bad energy is a veritable epidemic – and unfortunately, the internet in general and social media in particular are awash with negative vibes. Whether it’s internet trolls posting content simply in order to provoke a response, or impassioned individuals arguing their points from different sides of a political, societal or ideological coin, it’s easy to invest hours of time and waste an incredible amount of energy on pointless disputes. Given the cloak of anonymity, many people even shed the manners and decency that face-to-face contact generally demands, only exacerbating the situation further and leading to feelings of irritation, anger and frustration.
  • Despite its status a tool that was meant to bring us closer together, social media can ironically have the opposite effect in reality. That’s because connecting with another individual online is never the same as doing so in person, even if the interaction is largely a positive one. There’s simply no substitute for a smile, a hug and a friendly conversation and if we come to rely on getting that human contact we need from a computer screen, it can leave us feeling empty and alone once the session ends. This is especially true if the feelings of inadequacy or aggravation mentioned above come into play through our interactions online.

All of these unintended consequences of social media can contribute to heightened levels of stress and anxiety. If left unchecked, these can have detrimental impacts on our day-to-day lives, curbing productivity, souring moods and reducing sleep.

How to improve your relationship with social media

All of these unpleasant outcomes might tempt you to cut ties with social media altogether. While that may work for some, there are positive aspects to the technology if used correctly. For example, it’s a fantastic way to stay in touch with loved ones (especially those who are geographically distant), connect with like-minded people and learn about new concepts, events and experiences. For that reason, you might simply want to improve your relationship with social media. Here’s how you can do so:

  • Stop comparing yourself to others. It might be easier said than done, but once you learn to stop worrying about other people, you’ll be able to focus more on your own happiness and take the steps you need to in order to attain it.
  • Remind yourself that social media is a curated construct. Everybody has good and bad days, but you only see evidence of the former on social media. Take the time to acknowledge that the latter still exist for everyone and you’ll see that you’re not alone.
  • Re-evaluate your ideas of success. What is success? A well-paying job? A big house? A fast car? If you allow material possessions to dictate your happiness – especially the possessions of other people – you’ll never be truly content. Focus on your inner fulfilment.
  • Set aside time for face-to-face interactions. Instead of interpreting relationships via the number of followers you accrue or the likes on a picture you posted, focus on the ones which are built on shared experiences, interactions and support. Cultivate them with care.
  • Maintain self-control. If you recognise that spending too much time on social media is proving detrimental to your physical, mental and spiritual well-being, be disciplined with yourself in breaking free from your bad habits. Limit your time, using apps if necessary.

If you’re finding it difficult to implement any of the above steps into your relationship with social media, you might find that practicing mindfulness can help. So much of today’s modern world focuses on worrying about the past and planning for the future, with virtually no time given over to simply experiencing and enjoying the present moment. Social media can only exacerbate that tendency.

Yoga, breathwork and meditation are all invaluable techniques which you can use to help draw you back to the here and now, grounding you mentally and keeping you in tune with your own personal happiness. Even setting aside a few minutes a day can produce remarkable results in those who stick to the practice, but for others, a little guidance may be necessary. Our Meditation Moments course is ideal for accessing short sessions of peace and relaxation, while our 7-day Essentials course provides a more in-depth and involving introduction to these ideas.

Regardless of whether you decide to sign up for either of those programmes, or even if you choose to incorporate mindfulness as part of your daily routine, try to see social media for the positive force it can be, and not the negative one that it so often is. Above all else, prioritise your own love for yourself and you’ll find you attract that of others without even trying.

Namaste.

12 December 2022

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