Does Social Media Cause Social Anxiety?

Sleepless Man Browsing Social Media
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Social media has connected us like never before. A video or photo album can offer an intimate window into the lives of our family, friends, and loved ones from thousands of miles away. We can rekindle long-lost friendships and keep in touch with classmates and acquaintances that we have not spoken to for years. We can broadcast our thoughts, feelings, and emotions to the world in an instant and receive an outpouring of feedback almost immediately.

But unfortunately, the benefits of social media have come with a series of unanticipated consequences for our mental health.

The average adult uses his or her mobile device for more than 4 hours per day, the majority of which is spent on social media. This constant connection to the internet leaves us vulnerable to persistent distractions in the form of messages, updates, and notifications. These pings and beeps ensure that we are unable to be fully present in the moment, negatively affecting the quality time that we spend with others face to face.

The ease with which we can communicate with others on social media has also reduced our overall time spent interacting with our friends in person. We have replaced evenings of intimate discussions over home-cooked meals with a few casual text-based comments exchanged over the course of a week. Ironically, being constantly connected to more people than ever before has left us feeling more personally isolated, even from our closest confidants. In fact, a recent study of social isolation has shown that over the course of 20 years, the average number of close friends a person had decreased by nearly 30%.

Likes and Comments on Social Media Posts
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Perhaps most concerning is the way our minds react to content posted on social media. Most people tend to share the best and most interesting moments of their lives on their accounts, ignoring the inevitable lulls in between. The result is that each person's profile is essentially a digital representation of his or her "greatest hits." However, when we browse our friends' profiles, we cannot help but measure our lives up to theirs and become trapped in a phenomenon known as "compare-and-despair." We flip through a doctored photo album of our friends' exotic getaway in a tropical paradise, while the highlight of our weekend involved a routine trip to the local supermarket. We feel unfulfilled, unsatisfied, and unhappy that our lives are not as exciting as those of the people around us.

From the erosion of quality of one-on-one time to the constant comparison of our lives to others, it is no wonder that a recent study reported that most people feel social media has heightened their level of anxiety. This is not made any easier by the fact that social media applications have been engineered to be addictive and hijack our brain's pleasure centers with features such as infinite scrolling, like buttons, autoplay features, and pull to refresh.

But you don't need to abandon your accounts and live off the grid to reduce your risk of social media anxiety. Like any addictive substance or activity, you must be mindful of your use of social media and be careful to indulge only in moderation. Consider silencing your notifications and limiting your use to just once per day for a set period of time. Your mind will thank you for it!



Jennifer recently retired from her career as a Certified Manual Physical Therapist to spend more time with her family. When she isn't writing about natural medicine, she enjoys practicing yoga, rock climbing, and running marathons.

Email Jennifer at [email protected].


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