Understanding Social Media Anxiety Disorder

by Prachee last updated -

Social media anxiety disorder is the latest, but not an entirely unforeseen consequence of the unchecked mushrooming of social media platforms’ usage. It refers to the rise in anxiety and other related mental conditions such as depression, or their aggravation in people who are already dealing with it.

Everyone experiences worry or anxiety in varying degrees, in some or the other form. This restlessness, worry, obsession over things big and small, is anxiety. When these manifestations get out of hand and start altering your life in an unhealthy manner, it can be categorized as ‘anxiety disorder’. This disorder assumes various forms, and Social Media Anxiety Disorder is one of them. [1]

What is Social Media Anxiety Disorder?

Social Media Anxiety Disorder, or SMAD, can be defined as the anxiety caused due to a temporary inability to be on social media.  It can also be characterized by restlessness caused due to wanting to constantly be online without any fundamental need or requirement to do so. Other emotional impacts that SMAD can cause include lack of sleep, obsessing over virtual presence, disregard for real-life activities or socializing. In some cases, it could also lead to depression. But one of the biggest emotional reason for this disorder is something that is commonly termed as FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), where the person feels like they are missing out on something if they are not actively online. Apart from this, the individual may also suffer from shoulder and neck pain, back troubles, a disturbed sleep cycle, eye problems, among others. [2]

Teenagers and young people using cellphones

Global epidemic Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Rise of Social Media Anxiety

The use of social media platforms is now a fundamental part of almost everyone’s lives, from teenagers to senior citizens. Multiple platforms are available for various purposes, and demographics such as young adults deal with the pressure of being present on as many of them as possible or having to put themselves at the risk of FOMO. While it is speculated that youngsters are moving away from Facebook towards other options, it continues to remain popular with around 69% of Americans having a profile. According to these 2019 statistics, close on its heels are Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. [3] [4]

It is easy to look at them as avenues for socializing and even organizing your social circles as per your preferences. But the after-effects of having to invest efforts in actively maintaining a virtual social life are substantial. One of these after-effects being noticed now is Social Media Anxiety Disorder.

Symptoms of Social Media Anxiety Disorder

Social Media Anxiety Disorder can affect anyone and is not limited to a certain section of users or for certain platforms alone. Keep an eye out for the following symptoms to spot if someone is affected by SMAD:

  • Unable to organize their day
  • Unable to prioritize important tasks over social media
  • Reducing sleeping hours for social media use
  • Skipping face-to-face conversations in favor of social media interactions
  • Lying about time spent on social media, or hiding social media use from close ones
  • Not taking interest in other activities, or outrightly avoiding them
  • Getting irritable when confronted about social media usage discussed
  • Placing heavy importance on social media interactions

Causes of Social Media Anxiety Disorder

A 2017 paper published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, amongst several other such studies, associates social media-induced anxiety and depression to the time spent on these platforms. It also recommends that social media usage should be considered as a factor by therapists when recommending treatments for anxiety. [5]

It is also suggested that people prone to anxiety, especially social anxiety, are more inclined to use social media to replace real-life conversations. While this might help them build social connections without having to venture out and thus avoid dealing with anxiety-inducing situations, it also deepens their dependency on virtual connections. This, in turn, leads to weakened confidence when tackling social situations, as well as poorer well-being according to the results of a study published in the Personality and Individual Differences journal. [6]

How to Deal with Social Media Anxiety Disorder

We live in a world which has already been altered by social media. For most of us, it is not the best idea to completely quit social media. But if you think you are at the risk of developing social media anxiety or are already afflicted, here are a few options you should consider:

  • Try to organize your day by prioritizing your tasks. Make sure social media use has limited time allotted in your day and curb this usage closer to bedtime and avoid it immediately after waking up as well.
  • Have your friends and family help you by being accountable to them. Be honest to them about your social media usage and stick to your schedule.
  • Use social media to benefit you. Seek out groups, activities, and people that interest you, which could translate into real-life connections.
  • Prioritize sleep and physical well-being over social media. Make time for activities that interest you.
  • Observe no-social media times and zones.
  • Go on a ‘digital detox’. You can either delete all social media apps from your phones and tablets or deactivate your accounts if you are experiencing extreme anxiety.
  • Do not hesitate to consult a therapist. Seek consultation about your situation.

How to Prevent Social Media Anxiety Disorder?

While it is easy to replace all human interactions in your life with social media, it will only worsen your anxiety in the long run. Placing more value on all necessary tasks and activities and keeping social media use to a minimum is the key to a healthy balance, without having to compromise on any aspect of a fulfilling life.

Social Media Anxiety Disorder is simply anxiety about the use of social media platforms, which is also enhanced by the aggressive use of it. It is important to be aware that social media representations can often be unrealistic, leading us to set expectations and aims for our own lives which are impossible to fulfill. It also helps if you can keep closer to reality on social media, even when updating others about your own lives. Social media is arguably an important part of our social presence, but your online personas cannot replace the real you.

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About the Author

Prachee is a content writer for Organic Facts and is responsible for writing on the latest wellness trends. A former Journalism & Media teacher, she prides herself on being able to seamlessly dabble between health, science, and technology. She has completed her Masters in Communication Studies from the University of Pune, India as well as an online course on “Introduction to Food and Health” from Stanford University, US. Prachee fancies herself to be a poet and a cook when the rare lightning of inspiration strikes.

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