Posts

How To Deal With Stress From Social Media

With our work, relationships and lives becoming more dependent on technology, our sources of stress are shifting too.  Social media is one sneaky aspect of that stress that many of us have mixed feelings about.  We want to stay connected with friends and family, it’s VERY socially acceptable and encouraged (despite advice from The Social Dilemma), and for many of us, it’s the only way we are consistently communicating with one another.

All that aside, the social media stress is REAL, and there are some really simple and actionable ways to deal with it.  Here are some tips for dealing with stress from social media.

First things first – it’s helpful to understand the stress response in your brain and body. 

Simply put, our social media interactions, when left unchecked, are patterned very similarly to a habit:

1. we experience a stimulus: a notification badge, a ding, or a visual cue like your phone screen lighting up.

2. we have a brain + body response: Our brain gets a hit of dopamine because it’s been stimulated, and our curiosity is piqued.  Our body feels a rush and we get the impulse to act. 

3. We react to the stimulus and the feelings by grabbing our phone/switching browser tabs to check or respond to the notification.

This pattern isn’t unhealthy or stressful in and of itself, it’s just chemistry.  The stress comes from a couple things: First,  the constant interaction/disruption from our devices, and second, a phenomenon many experts are calling technostress.

Both of these are important to understand so I’ll start with the interruption/distraction. Our brains are not designed to handle constant input of information and distraction that is common with social media use.  It’s exhausting for our brains to process the images, videos, text, and information overload we get by scrolling through our social media feeds and studies show, this frequent technological multi-tasking is negatively affecting our ability to focus on any specific task for a prolonged period of time.  This might seem like a small problem, but when it comes time to try to focus on something and get it done, social media users may experience heightened stress at how difficult it is to focus and follow-through.

Secondly, let’s better understand technostress.  The stimulus-response cycle we experience when we see notifications and respond to them creates feedback loops in the brain that tell us (subconsciously), to keep checking our devices for more stuff, even if we’re feeling stressed out by the activity.  Scientists are calling this phenomenon technostress – which I’ve deconstructed in this article if you want to learn more.

It’s pretty clear our social media use is stressing us out, but how the heck do we deal with it? 

Many of us are not willing to downgrade to a flip-phone and communicate via snail-mail, so here are some ways to deal with stress from social media and still live your digitally connected life (in an intentional way):

1. Set limits on your tech use internally and externally.

This is a basic exercise in setting boundaries with yourself and your technology and is an excellent place to start.  (If you want to be guided through this process, check out this free 5-day social media detox).  To set limits on your tech use so you can better deal with social media stress, it’s essential to understand what it is about your use that’s causing your stress in the first place. 

I recommend making a list of what’s stressing you out – whether it be certain people, ideas, exhaustion from use, or maybe you aren’t sure yet and you’re just stressed and don’t know why.  (That’s okay too!) Once you’ve identified your stressors, it’s time to make an agreement with yourself.  What would you like your social media use to look like?  What would make it less stressful for you?  How many minutes per day do you want to devote to your feeds?  Once you’ve decided, write these new ideas down somewhere, and set limits with the help of your technology. 

All smartphones have app timers so you can choose to automatically log yourself out at after a specified amount of time. If you’re sneaky with yourself and will login on your desktop after your phone timers run out, you can check out the app Freedom – it allows you to set timers for all your browser tabs and even block yourself from certain websites.  They have a free trial if you want to check it out. Set these timers and limits and stick to them.  When you get the urge to add more time and stay online, remember you made the decision to cut back to decrease your stress from social media, so it’s an act of self-love and self-care to log off.  Sticking to it might seem hard at first, but once you’ve decided it’s what you’re doing, it might be a welcome relief and reminder when the timer goes off and logs you out.

For more ideas about how to set limits and make your technology work for you, check out this article outlining how to do a digital detox.

2. Find a support group or buddy. 

FOMO is a real thing when it comes to dealing with stress from social media.  We’ve gotten used to seeing everyone’s highlight reel and it keeps us coming back for more every time we’re on our phones.  Find a support group of others who are feeling stressed out with their social media use and share your feelings and your goals (ideally in a direct-message format).  This will help you feel more supported in the process and when things get stressful you have someone to turn to rather than defaulting to the most stressful activity of social media: the cyclical scroll.

(I have a free community centered around setting healthy boundaries for better relationships with yourself and your loved ones where we talk about social media a fair amount.  Join for free below:

3. Communicate about what you’re doing.

In your process of finding support, it’s important to communicate with others about what you’re doing.  Saying it out loud helps with accountability and it will reduce the stress related to worrying about what others will think of your new social media habits.  Tell others in a post that you’re feeling stressed and what you’re doing about it.  Be clear with your friends and family and you’ll most likely find some support you never knew was there.

4. Take a break.

The best way to deal with stress from social media is to know thyself: are you someone who needs to quit something cold-turkey in order to reset?  Or are you someone who does well with creating rules and goals for a new habit and sticking to them on your own?  Are you best supported by a group or a buddy?  Are you self-motivated?  Whatever version you are, you’ve gotta be realistic with yourself and set goals that support your natural way of being or it just won’t work. 

Sometimes having some space away from social media can help you get clear on what you actually want and need – and research shows that even ONE day away from your technology can help lessen the stress response associated with the use of apps and social media.  Take a day off.  Take a week off.  Take a month off!  Spend some time analyzing how you feel, and use these questions to dive in: 

what does my SM provide for me? 

Are there less stressful ways to get the same results? 

5. Have compassion for yourself.

We’re all struggling with the same addictions and stressors when it comes to social media use.  It’s an industry that works hard to keep your attention and get you to re-engage with it over and over again when you decide to step away.  Know that you’re not alone, and you WILL slip back into your old habits from time to time!  (That’s okay, you’re human).  Keep a pulse on how you’re feeling and adjust your social media use as-needed.  Remember not to beat yourself up in the process – you’re doing amazing work and ahead of the curve just for researching this topic. 

Want some extra support?  Schedule a free call with me:

Understanding Digital Stress

Digital stress is something we all deal with and in many ways it’s unavoidable in our digitally connected society.  When you can develop an understanding around why and how the stress affects your body and brain, it’s much easier to deal with.  Digital stress is kind of like addiction and this statement sums  it up: The way we deal with stress with our technology is like treating alcoholism with a glass of wine.  This sounds crazy so I’ll explain.

Here’s how ‘normal’ social media use is affecting our stress levels.

If you’re like 80% of Americans, your phone is in your palm within 15 minutes of waking every morning.

While many of us can’t quite imagine our lives without our devices, the price we’re paying is high, and what’s worse is we don’t really realize we’re paying it. Technology addiction is sneaky, and new research shows the insidiousness of our habit.

Let’s start with some facts. According to the IDC Facebook research, MOST Americans have their phones with them all but two hours of their waking day (about 79%). 69% of Americans have their phones on them for all but 1 hour of the day. That’s a near-constant connection to our devices.

This study is clearly trying to support the ‘essential’ role our phones play in providing the basic human needs of connectedness and communication, but the data doesn’t exactly support that theory.

The study also shows humans feel most connected with direct messaging apps- specifically with phone calls, text messages, and direct messaging through facebook.

Even though these activities make us feel the most connected, we spend the majority of the time on our phones doing other things:

78% of us check our email incessantly, 70% 0f us scroll facebook (not necessarily direct messaging), and 73% of us are browsing the web.

And when it comes down to it, how often can you say that you’re actively sending or reading a direct message? The majority of our time with our devices is used NOT communicating and connecting. Not directly anyway.

The stress of the scroll is doing more damage than you might think.

According to a new study from the The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, more Americans are adjusting their social media use in response to the stressful political climate, racial inequality, and the Covid-19 pandemic. While 1 in 5 Americans have taken short breaks from social media to detox, 3 in 10 Americans say they’ve increased their social media use in response to the state of the world in 2020. We’re more stressed, and trying to find ways to cope with that stress- and it turns out, our scrolling habit is just making matters worse.

According to Ken Yaeger of the Stress, Trauma, and Resilience program (STAR) at the Wexner Medical Center,

“Stepping away and reconnecting with reality offline is an important step to take for your mental health,” Yeager said. “Being constantly immersed in this stressful environment and being overexposed to contentious or traumatic events can make you feel like the world is a less safe place to be. And because these stressors have persisted over a long period of time, it’s wearing on people’s ability to cope with that stress.”

It’s clear we know we should be spending more time away from our screens, but how much is too much, and how do we cope with the stress? The first step is understanding the cycle- which is very much like an addiction loop.

This professor outlines the problem really clearly:

“While it might seem counter-intuitive, social media users are continuing to use the same platforms that are causing them stress rather than switching off from them, creating a blurring between the stress caused and compulsive use.”

– Professor Monideepa Tarafdar, Professor of Information Systems and Co-Director of the Center for Technological Futures at Lancaster University Management School

Interestingly, instead of deciding to deal with our stress by stopping the interaction with the stressor (in this case the stressor is our social media accounts), we are engaging with them MORE.  We are literally feeling stress, and then re-engaging with the thing that was causing the stress in the first place as a coping mechanism for the stress.

(This would be the equivalent of noticing you are having a drinking problem and instead of quitting or cutting back, deciding to drink more.)

The problem isn’t the stress itself, it’s the lack of awareness around what exactly is causing the stress and making the choice to treat it.

According to co-author professor Sven Laumer, “We found that those users who had a greater social media habit needed less effort to find another aspect of the platforms, and were thus more likely to stay within the SNS (social networking site) rather than switch off when they needed to divert themselves. The stronger the user’s SNS habit, the higher the likelihood they would keep using it as a means of diversion as a coping behavior in response to stressors, and possibly develop addiction to the SNS.”

Basically, the greater your social media use, the greater your stress level. And social media users who are on a specific platform A LOT, are more likely to STAY on the platform when experiencing stress, rather than close it and cope.

Let’s use Facebook as an example. Say you read a stressful click-bait article about the upcoming election and feel anxiety about what’s going to happen next for our country. Studies say, you’re more likely to click away from the article but stay on Facebook to scroll, find a group to interact with, or something else you like to do within the app, which potentially causes more stress, than to put down your phone and breathe or talk it out with a friend or family member.

Basically, we’re treating the problem with the problem, which, (you guessed it) only perpetuates the stress we’re already feeling. (This is one form of technostress).

Professor Monideepa Tarafdar added: “The idea of using the same environment that is causing the stress as means of coping with that stress is novel. It is an interesting phenomenon that seems distinctive to technostress from social media.”

Researchers are hoping the study will inspire social media users to unplug and turn off their phones when experiencing technostress, and in turn, reduce codependency on social networking sites. (Sourced from Addictioncenter.com).

Now that we understand the stress cycle, how exactly do we deal with it?

A University of Pennsylvania study “found that subjects assigned to passively scroll through Facebook (as opposed to those assigned to actively post and comment) subsequently reported lower levels of well-being and more envy, indicating not only that Facebook impacts mental health but also that the way in which we engage with Facebook matters

Since technostress is directly correlated with ‘scrolling’ rather than direct messaging or texting, begin by noticing how you’re interacting with your phone.

How much of your time are you actively commenting, posting, or engaging vs passively scrolling on social media? Make your social media interactions more deliberate, and when you begin to feel stress in your body, remind yourself to put your device down and use a more healthy coping mechanism. Take a walk around the block, talk with a friend or family member, grab your journal, or hug your dog. The key is to break the cycle of soothing the stress with the same app that’s causing the stress, which doesn’t do the trick even if it feels like the easiest option at the time.

Limiting social media time can also help you make more intentional decisions about how you use it.

According to this same study at the University of Pennsylvania, limiting social media use to 30 minutes per day leads to a significant increase in wellbeing. Every smartphone has digital wellbeing timers built-in to their settings, so get in there and set some limits for yourself this week. See how you feel!

Learn how to do a technology detox without ditching your devices in this article here.

Social Media Detox Link

How To Do A Digital Detox

Want to listen to this blog post instead?  Click below to hear the audio-version.

They have a name for the type of tech-user I used to be: The Constant Checker.

According to the American Psychological Association, in recent years a type of technology user has emerged called the ‘constant checker’.

The bottom line is this: our devices are addictive, we’re always on them, and it’s stressing us out.

Turn your screen to Grayscale.

Set time limits for your social media accounts (and DON’T extend them).

Make a plan for what you’re going to do INSTEAD of scrolling, checking email, and texting.

Turn off your notifications.

Keep your phone out of your bedroom.

Set ‘cell phone hours’ for yourself and your family.

Schedule 30 minutes of intentional, non-screen time each day.