Social Media: Stress-Inducing Tech or Health-Enhancing Tool?

smart phone

There is no question that texting, social networking and new media tools have changed the way we interact with each other, do business and live our lives. How is this impacting your health? Like any tool, it depends how you use it!

The Downside of New Media Connectivity: Stress
Checking your smartphone compulsively may not be so smart. A recent preliminary study found an association between Web-enabled cellphone use and a rise in stress levels, especially when used for personal purposes, like keeping up with friends and social networking feeds, which can give us a relentless urge to immediately respond to every incoming message. Researchers found that the more someone checked their phone for personal reasons, the more their stress level rose. Interestingly, the stress wasn’t as pronounced with smartphone use when it was for work purposes. This may be because the smartphone helps people better manage their work tasks.

It’s also come to light that people with many virtual social connections – such as more Facebook friends – often seem less happy than peers with fewer friends. Part of the reason for this is that a person with hundreds of friends gets the skewed perception that their friends may be living better lives. Also, surveys of Facebook users have shown that seeing pictures of themselves compared with others on the site can make them more conscious of their body image and weight. Many users become stressed about all the things they may be missing out on, a phenomenon now popularly called FOMO or “fear of missing out.”

The trick to reducing the stress that comes with constant connectivity is to take periodic breaks from email and social networking. It may be wise to reduce your friend circles to fewer, closer friends. Try taking a whole day off from connectivity on the weekend to have fun out in the real world with family and friends.

The Good News About More Connection
There are some ways that social media is helpful, including that it is much easier to stay in touch with loved ones. This connection also makes it easier to find out about events that benefit our health and enrich our lives. At meetup.com, for example, you can find like-minded people to meet with in the real world, such as gardening workshops, cooking classes or walking clubs. And of course, connectivity offers us a simple and effective way to share articles about healthy living, significant personal milestones, worthy causes or even silly pet photos for an endorphin-boosting laugh.

This new connectivity opportunity also gives us a way to make positive lifestyle changes. Many people have gone public with their weight loss health plans to hold themselves accountable. When you are tweeting or Facebooking your progress to all your peers, you feel the motivation to stay on task. Also, many people have actually made behavioral changes by using supportive apps that help them track progress on their goals and send reminders to stay on task.