You'd think that social media would stress us out. With our friends and media outlets constantly tweeting, posting to Facebook, Instagramming and Snapchatting, there's constant pressure to stay in the know.
Apparently though, in general, people who use social media do not have higher levels of stress. In fact, according to new research from Pew, women actually report lower levels of stress if they're active on social media.
The Pew researchers surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,801 adults. They asked them very specific details about their social media use, such as which platforms they use, how often they check in, how often they comment or share, and how many connections they have. Pew also administered to them a survey called the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), which asks questions designed to measure how much control people have over their lives.
The researchers found no significant correlation between social media use and stress in men — but it was a different story for women. They found that certain technologies moderately lowered stress in women. Specifically, 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 at all."
But since a survey like this can't really explain causation, why does this difference exist between men and women? The researchers believe it has to do with the fact that men and women behave differently on social media. Women, they believe, are better than men at using social media in a psychologically healthy manner:
Sharing through email, sending text messages of pictures of events shortly after they happen and expressing oneself through the small snippets of activity allowed by Twitter may provide women with a low-demand and easily accessible coping mechanism that is not experienced or taken advantage of by men. It is also possible that the use of these media replaces activities or allows women to reorganize activities that would otherwise be more stressful.
It's not all rainbows and butterflies, though. Since women are more socially aware than men, they're also more aware of negative events in the lives of friends and family. It's a double-edged sword. And when users learn about deaths, illness, job loss or other problems among their loved ones, they in turn feel additional stress they might have otherwise avoided.
On the more encouraging side of things, the researchers found no evidence that awareness of positive things occurring in friends' lives was correlated with increased stress. This could mean that, perhaps surprisingly, we don't secretly want our friends to fail so that we can seem like we're doing better. We might not be selfishly relating everything going on with our friends to ourselves.
This biggest takeaway from this study is that no matter the platform, stress can act like a contagion, and it seems as if social media can facilitate its spread — but for women more than men, that can actually be cathartic, albeit mildly.
However, this stuff is complicated, and while it's easier to broadly generalize with studies like this, ultimately, you are the best judge of your social media use. You can probably tell whether or not you're using it helpfully and healthfully.
For more information, you can read the entire report here.
And if you feel like you need help learning how to disconnect, consult the video below:
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