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Social Media May Actually Decrease Stress

It’s become the accepted wisdom that more internet use leads to more stress, especially when it comes to social media. It’s hard to see a Facebook wall full of flattering photographs and boasting statements and not feel a little “compare and despair” when you see your friends and associates seemingly enjoying life much more than you. 

However, a new study conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project has shown that those beautiful photographs and jealousy-inducing social media updates don’t actually lead to more stress - in fact, there was no difference in stress levels in men who used or didn’t use social media, and there was a decrease in stress in women who used social media. 

The study consisted of a phone survey of 2013 US adults conducted in English and Spanish. The participants were assessed on the Perceived Stress Scale, (PSS), which tests the extent to which people feel stress in their lives. The scale is based on answers to ten questions that assess whether a person feels their life is overloaded, unpredictable or uncontrollable.

"People who use social media, especially heavy users, were not more stressed," says Lee Rainie, director of Pew Internet research.

"A woman who uses Twitter several times per day, sends or receives 25 emails per day, and shares two digital pictures through her mobile phone per day, scores 21% lower on our stress measure than a woman who does not use these technologies," Raine noted.

People only felt more stress when they saw their friends suffering through stressful events. Especially high in women, the scientists called this effect “the cost of caring.” Simply put, when we’re aware that someone in our lives is going through a stressful event, we feel more stress, too - stress is contagious. Social media allows us to be more aware of when our friends and family are in trouble and may induce this kind of “social stress.”

“It’s a well-known social phenomenon, when you’re aware of bad things happening in other people’s lives, particularly friends and family, that’s a stressor for you, too,” said Keith Hampton, a professor of information at Rutgers University. He added that with social media now available everywhere we go, on our computers, phones, and tablets, our awareness of other people’s stress is more constant and pervasive.

Choosing not to use social media is not necessarily a healthier option. Research shows that people who don’t have a presence online tend to be the most disconnected in real life. They have fewer close relationships and are less connected to their communities. 

The answer may be to stay on social media, but steer away from updates that make you feel stressed - or be proactive and reach out and lend a hand to the person in trouble.


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