For those who feel as if social media is a necessary outlet with which you can vent frustrations, engage in conversations on topics or with people unavailable to you in your everyday life, or simply just kill time with by rambling on endlessly and relatively harmlessly, I have some potentially worrying news for you: Social media will make you more anxious and less confident, according to a new British study.
The survey of 298 Britons found that more than half polled admitted that interacting with social networks affected their behavior; 53 percent admitted that doing so changed their mood, with 51 percent of the respondents saying that social networks tend to feel worse after spending time on sites such as Twitter or Facebook. Amongst the negative changes people reported were increases in confrontational behavior, a need to compare themselves to others, and a sense of feeling addicted to the constant updates provided by social media (55 percent admitted to feeling “worried or uncomfortable” when they were unable to access their social media accounts of choice). 60 percent of those surveyed confessed that they found themselves having to switch off devices and computers in order to feel a sense of break from the need to constantly check for updates, with one in three admitting to doing so multiple times per day for the sense of relief it offers.
The study was carried out on behalf of the British charity Anxiety UK, which is dedicated to promoting “the relief and rehabilitation of persons suffering with anxiety disorders through information and provision of self-help services [as well as advancing] awareness of the general public in the causes and conditions of anxiety disorders and associated phobias.” According to the organization’s CEO, Nicky Lidbetter, “These findings suggest that some may need to re-establish control over the technology they use, rather than being controlled by it. If you are predisposed to anxiety it seems that the pressures from technology act as a tipping point, making people feel more insecure and more overwhelmed.”
It’s not all bad, however: “For many, many people, the rise of technology has been a big help,” Lidbetter continued. “Technology, including mobile phones, computers and social networks, allow people who are housebound, due to conditions such as agoraphobia, the chance to interact with others far more easily than they were able to in the past. That is a really positive development.”
The idea of the Internet as offering some kind of anonymous “safe space” is one that was already under some re-examination in light of recent reports of extreme harassment; given such behaviors, the surprise may not be that online social interactions have such a negative effect on so many people, but that it doesn’t have that effect on even more.