Study links anxiety, social media use in young adults

A new study has demonstrated an association between anxiety and social media use for young adults.


The researchers, from the University of Connecticut and the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, surveyed 563 young adults, between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two years. Each participant answered questions about his or her anxiety symptoms (if any) and the symptoms’ effect on daily life. The young adults also reported the amount of time spent on various social media sites. The data indicated that more time spent on social media predicted more frequent anxiety symptoms. The connection was particularly strong for individuals who visited social media sites daily. You can read the original study here.


Are these young adults anxious because of time spent on social media, or are they logging in because they feel anxious? Persuasive arguments can be made for both theories. Social media is a popular coping mechanism because of the ease of access (as close as your smart phone) and instant validation (likes, follows, someone always online, etc.). Researchers have seen positive feedback on social media floods our brains with dopamine, the pleasure chemical. Anxious young adults may very well use social media more often because it makes them feel better.


However, the Facebook effect has also been well-documented, and the adage “Comparison is the thief of joy,” exists for a reason. Social media documents red letter days and special moments– weddings, births, deaths, losses, graduations, moves, vacations– and omits the monotony of a functional life. After too much time on social media, it’s easy to feel everyone else has a cooler life.


The more likely scenario is that both theories are correct. Young adults, when feeling anxious or down, check social media, see the glamorous parts of others’ lives, and feel even more anxious.


What’s do be done? Abstaining entirely from social media may be helpful, but many young adults would be reluctant to do so. In this case, scheduling Facebook-free time and simply being mindful of one’s own reaction can minimize joy-thieving comparisons.


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