How many times do you check your social media sites per day?

Once, twice, five times, ten times?

Whether it be for work or for pleasure, do you find that your social media usage is taking up a lot of time and as a result you’re feeling sucked in stressed out?

It’s no surprise.

For work, we’re told we should use it or else our businesses could fail, right! Networking with people. Promoting our services. Picking up new leads. Securing new business. Getting actively involved in relevant industry discussions. Talking with your peers. And on and on it goes …

And then of course, once suckered in for work, it’s so easy to ‘quickly’ check our personal profiles.

Then you see Amy’s ecstatic, she’s just announced she’s pregnant. Lovebirds Kate and Dan have just got back off their honeymoon and uploaded 600 idyllic pictures (didn’t they have anything better to do?). Leanne and James are excited at having just exchanged on their new home. Fiona’s feeling down as she didn’t get the dream job AND her other half just left her. And compulsive dieter Kerry’s just tried a new low in carbs, low in fat, low in sugar (low in joy) lunch …

So you stop to congratulate, commiserate, advise and support them.

The combination of which, creates A LOT of added pressure and stress for ourselves.

But according to recent research carried out by Pew Research Centre those who participate in social media regularly are not more stressed than those who do not.

Their findings went on to explain:

  1. Overall, frequent internet and social media users do not have higher levels of stress. In fact, for women, the opposite is true for at least some digital technologies. Holding other factors constant, women who use Twitter, email and cellphone picture sharing report lower levels of stress.
  2. At the same time, the data show there are circumstances under which the social use of digital technology increases awareness of stressful events in the lives of others. Especially for women, this greater awareness is tied to higher levels of stress and it has been called “the cost of caring.” Stress is not associated with the frequency of people’s technology use, or even how many friends users have on social media platforms. But there is one way that people’s use of digital technology can be linked to stress: Those users who feel more stress are those whose use of digital tech is tied to higher levels of awareness of stressful events in others’ lives. This finding about “the cost of caring” adds to the evidence that stress is contagious.

Here’s an interesting chart they created showing the link between technology and the awareness of stressful events in other people’s lives:

Pew Research Centre Social Media Findings

And there we get to the crux of it, which is why women often feel more stressed than their male counterparts, stressful events are often shared via social media channels.

So indirectly, we feel more stressed.

As per my example of Amy, Kate, Leanne, Fiona and Kerry above (all fictitious by the way), whilst most social media users share their joy and good news, many use it to share their disappointment too. To get support, advice and encouragement from their friends, family and peers.

But all this does, for us women, is get us feeling emotional about who it’s happening too. It could be a close friend, family member, acquaintance, or someone we don’t even know across the other side of the world.

We’re more likely to get emotionally tied in to whatever disappointment or atrocity has, or is happening, than men.

For our friends and family, we want to be there to offer help and support. For world events, we want to know if there’s anything we can do to help from afar.

That’s what increases our stress.

Not the social media usage per sé. Of course the argument could be that if we weren’t on social media, we wouldn’t necessarily find out as much.

Or would we?

Close friends and family – you’ll find out about their disappointments or problems through another channel – phone call, email, text.

World events – television, newspapers, radio.

So is social media really the culprit of the stress in our lives?

As Pew Research Centre pointed out, probably not. It simply makes ‘news’ more accessible.

Does this mean we should reduce our social media activity?

If you go on the research findings, then no.

Carry on as normal, but be disciplined. If you’re using it for work purposes, stick to work and ignore your personal accounts until after work hours.

Use a time tracker, so you know how much time you’re spending on it each day.

Have an objective, so there’s a purpose behind your activity – it could be to connect with 10 new people within your industry, get involved in a relevant discussion and add value, competitor research, etc.

Then measure the results so you know if your strategy is working or not.

But for me I have changed the way I use social media. Although perhaps it was more of a subconscious decision than anything else, and currently I’m using as a bit of an experiment.

I’ve reduced the time I spend on social media sites – both professionally and personally.

I figure that anything serious in my friends or families lives, I’ll hear about it. And all the insignificant stuff that goes on, I’m better off not hearing about anyway.

(I’ve never been one for sharing what I had for lunch, why I’m fed up with the weather or what funny thing my dog did this morning, and I still can’t understand why others think we would want to know that about their lives).

As for work, I do still use it for networking and staying on top of industry news. But I limit my usage – not per day, but per week.

Do I feel less stressed? Probably not – in that way, the findings are pretty accurate. But I do feel a lot more focused.

How about you – do you think social media increases your stress levels, reduces them or has no impact on them whatsoever?