What Causes Social Media Anxiety?

Have you ever wondered if social media anxiety is a significant problem in society? Or, do you personally struggle with social media anxiety? It could also be that you’ve grown concerned about someone close to you, like a teenage child who seems engrossed or even obsessed with social media lately.

In her “Psychology Today” article entitled Anxiety and Social Media Use, Phil Reed Ph.D. shares the following:

“One way or another, anxiety seems inextricably linked to the use of social media.”

Fascinatingly, Reed shares research indicating it could be our very anxiety over the need for approval that drives us to social media. Social media and anxiety can become a consistent theme as an unhealthy relationship with a given online platform forms. So yes, social media causes anxiety sometimes. But it can be our already existing anxiety that makes it so alluring and challenging to disconnect from as well!

The reality is that while social media anxiety isn’t a concern for everyone, it is a significant source of stress, worry, and anxiety for many. Although social media isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, it can cause harm if not adequately managed.

What causes social media anxiety for many individuals? Often, it’s a combination of factors. What follows are some of the more common reasons social media can lead to anxiety.

A Flawed Reward System

Does social media cause anxiety because of a flawed reward system? Whether it’s likes, loves, hugs with hearts, or any number of options to show approval, there are plenty of ways for others to tell us what they think of us. It can make you feel good to receive support from others during a hard time or admired during your milestones. But the danger is to get caught up in how much you are “liked” or “loved.”

It’s a synthetic system that, at best, can leave you feeling validated. At worst, it can make you feel bad when comparing the “amount” of validation someone else receives compared to you. It can lead you to falsely believe that others don’t find value in you when they certainly do.

Are there some out there who will struggle to see your value? Sure, but that shouldn’t be surprising since many can’t even see their own value. The reality is you have inherent value independent of others’ opinions of you. Just because someone fails to find you valuable doesn’t diminish your true intrinsic worth. It may alter your perception of how much you matter, but that is another issue altogether. 

So, it’s essential to keep in mind that your value is set and stable. Social media is anything but. If you attempt to find your worth from social media, your faulty perceived value will feel like the stock market—crashing one moment, surging the next, and plummeting once again. That is obviously an unhealthy strategy for emotional stability. Definitely don’t get on that ride because you will get sick!

And besides, what constitutes “enough” validation on social media? Two positive comments? Ten? Two thousand? See the problem here? It’s just a number, and there could always be more. The seeming absence of enough validation and the resulting perceived lack of personal value can lead to Instagram or Facebook anxiety.

Social Media Can Lead to Conflict

Another reason social media leads to anxiety is the online conflict it can generate. Everyone has an opinion, and this quickly becomes apparent on social media. Say the world is round, and someone will eventually say it’s flat.

Political and religious viewpoints can especially become hot buttons. Insensitive comments are typed, and passive-aggressive or blatant bullying happens. People do things online they’d never do face to face. The issue that surfaces once again is you can feel devalued even though your inherent value remains fixed. This can lead to negative feelings about yourself and others. Social media and stress can lead to anxiety or depression without setting proper safeguards.

Social Media Can Be Shallow 

We all have surface interactions at work, during family gatherings or while going about our daily lives. The fact that these connections aren’t very deep is OK to an extent. You only have so much time in a day. And besides, not all personalities mesh well enough to allow for a deeper understanding. 

But one thing’s for sure: We absolutely need deep and meaningful relationships with others to be healthy people. We need people we feel comfortable sharing the real us with who still love us even if they disagree with us sometimes. We need other people to share the ups and downs of life with. In these contexts, we find our actual value, and others find theirs.

And that’s where the danger lies with social media if you aren’t careful. Most of the relationships on there tend to be superficial. Again, that isn’t necessarily a problem by itself. But if you spend a lot of time engaged in surface-level interactions to the neglect of your primary family and friends, that is cause for concern. 

Doing so, again, can lead to feeling devalued. Instead of feeling validated by others, there’s the danger of comparing your worst moments of life to others’ highlight reels. This can lead to poor self-esteem, high anxiety, and even depression. 

Also, those closest to you can feel devalued, including your spouse or partner, as you spend all your time on social media with people not nearly as close to you. This can even happen as you digitally share your family events with the world. 

It’s entirely possible to spend time with your loved ones but be so preoccupied with sharing the experience on social media that you miss the real magic of the moment with your loved ones. A link between social media and social anxiety can even result as you increasingly disconnect from your most meaningful relationships.

Are You Struggling with Social Media Anxiety? Anxiety Counseling Can Help

Suppose you finally admit, “Social media gives me anxiety.” Does this mean you should delete all your social media accounts and go on with your life? For some, that may be the healthiest step for them personally. However, most will prefer to place limits or safeguards up while continuing social media.

That could involve taking a brief or extended break from social media. You can also remove the notification app from your phone or set daily time limits for social media usage. You may also need to set up safeguards if there are individuals you find to be negative towards you online or who make you regularly feel bad about yourself. 

If you or someone close to you is struggling with social media stress and anxiety, you don’t have to handle this battle alone. The Orange County Relationship Center can assist you. We can provide evidence-based ways to handle your anxiety better. If you’d like to find out more, you are welcome to get in touch with us. You can also schedule an appointment at your convenience. 

Our trained and compassionate counselors are here to help. Please call (949) 393-8662, text (949) 393-8662 for an appointment, or schedule online.

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