For any small business owner who’s ever struggled to juggle five different social media accounts and reply to followers’ posts in a timely fashion, answering “Yes!” might seem like a no-brainer. However, the Pew Research Center decided to find out in a more scientific fashion by polling over 1,800 adult Internet users on their perceived stress levels—the degrees to which they felt their lives were, “overloaded, unpredictable and uncontrollable.” The results were surprising.
Overall, the study found that frequent social media users did not have higher levels of stress than the general population and showed that women generally tended to have slightly higher stress levels than men.
The effect of social media on stress levels varied between men and women. The study found no statistically significant differences in stress levels between men who used social media, and men who did not. But among women, Twitter use and photo sharing were actually linked with lower stress. In fact, women who used Twitter multiple times per day and shared at least two digital pictures per day scored 21 percent lower on perceived stress, than women who didn’t do these things.
However, the report confirmed that there are some ways in which social media does contribute to greater stress. Both male and female social media users were more likely than non-users to be aware of stressful events (such as illness, death, divorce or job loss) in the lives of their friends and families. Generally, women who were more aware of these negative events were more likely to report greater stress.
The study dubbed this, “the cost of caring”- the idea that stress related to concern for others can have negative effects on one’s own physical and mental health. It didn’t matter how many friends a user might have on social media, or how often they might use it—just that they learned about stressful events in others’ lives, and subsequently experienced what the study called, “contagious” stress.
Complicating things even more, the study found that while social media can cause stress by letting users know about others’ problems, for women, it simultaneously functions as a stress reliever, as for them, using social media to communicate with others seemed to be a way to relieve stress. The study suggested that sharing both positive and negative feelings via social media offered a coping mechanism that enabled women to distract themselves from stress.
Clearly, there’s still much to be learned about how social media is affecting our lives. In the meantime, it might be comforting to know that the next time you’re feeling stressed out by social media, you may be able to calm down by…using social media.