The widespread use of the internet and related digital technologies has raised concerns that technology use may be responsible for higher levels of psychological stress. However the opposite us true. Studies have shown that the widespread use of the internet and related digital technologies is not responsible for higher levels of psychological stress. Stress is not associated with the frequency of people’s technology use, or even how many friends users have on social media platforms. For women particularly, the use of some technologies is tied to lower stress.
Such analysts often suggest that it is the heaviest users of these technologies that are most at risk. Critics fear that these technologies take over people’s lives, creating time pressures that put people at risk for the negative physical and psychological health effects that can result from stress.
How can it be that social media use is not directly associated with stress, but for some, social media use can still lead to higher levels of stress?
The answer: The relationship between stress and social media use is indirect. It is the social uses of digital technologies, and the way they increase awareness of distressing events in others’ lives, that explains how the use of social media can result in users feeling more stress.
Like the recent terror attacks in Manchester at the Ariana Grande concert that took the lives of many young concertgoers, the use digital technologies, such as facebook, Twitter, email and text messaging enables fast and distributed communication of the event. As a result of this communication, many are aware and reminded of distressing events in the lives of others.
On the one hand, there are benefits from this fast and distributed news, informing and providing awareness. According to previous research by the Pew Research Center, compared with non-social media users and those who are not as active on Facebook, this person likely: has more close friends; has more trust in people; feels more supported; and is more politically involved. While some might assume that this typical user of Twitter, Facebook and other digital technologies experiences peer pressure to participate or keep up, and a fear of missing out, if such pressures exist, our typical user does not feel more stress than what he or she would otherwise have experienced, or the social benefit of using these technologies cancels out those additional costs. He or she is unlikely to feel more stress than those who are not using or are less active on social media.
On the other hand, there is the common exception to this situation. Sometimes, a social media user’s awareness of events in others’ lives includes knowledge about undesirable events such as the terror events, or a friend or family member getting fired or losing someone close to them. Learning of such events in the life of a friend or family member can result in higher feelings of stress.
In sum, social media users are not any more likely to feel stress than others, but there is a subgroup of social media users who are more aware of stressful events in their friends’ lives and this subgroup of social media users does feel more stress.
- Hampton, K.N., Rainie, L., Lu, W., Shin, I., & Purcell, K. (2014). “Social Media and the Cost of Caring.” Pew Research Center, Washington, DC. Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/01/15/social-media-and-stress/
Tune in for part 4 next week – Social Media and stress levels.
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