Is It Time for a Social Media Diet?
by Lisa DiFalco
Are you one of the many not only watching news on TV and traditional media channels but also checking on recent events in your Facebook feed? Have you noticed an increase in anxiety, stress, and issues getting to sleep as you come to terms with the prevailing news stories of the moment? You are not alone. It appears that a good number of people are experiencing higher levels of stress that could be related to a steady diet of media. Medical News Today highlights studies linking Facebook use to anxiety and feelings of inadequacy, as well as making people feel “miserable.” Social psychiatrist, Ethan Cross of the University of Michigan, said:
“On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. But rather than enhance well-being, we found that Facebook use predicts the opposite result- it undermines it.”
For those experiencing this change to their mental health and daily mental equilibrium, realize the impact of an excessive amount of social media information. The New York Times recently reported on the issue as it relates to negative news and mental health. Learn more about the problem and what can be done about too much social media information.
What Is the Problem with Social Media News?
Are daily political stories clogging up your news feed? It was found that the typical American spends 7.6 hours every month using social media. In addition, 40 percent of Facebook users go on Facebook multiple times daily, and 63 percent of users in the U.S. log on daily. People consume content and vent emotions online. Many users of social media platforms are experiencing a significant level of fatigue and choosing to reduce their consumption of social media. Christian Livermore, an American writer, said:
“At a certain point, there’s a misery quotient that results from immersing one’s self in the news, in the almost forensic detail of the suffering, and I have to ask myself, ‘How does this affect my life?’”
People are seeing a difference in themselves and their colleagues. Those that need to know of the latest developments can find themselves emotionally drained, angry and more. Leslie-Jean Thornton, journalism professor at Arizona State University, shared:
“As journalism professors, there’s a need and a desire to stay on top of things—so much so that it becomes somewhat addictive for some of us. It’s hard to step away, even for a few hours, but yet the constant wash of uncertainties is emotionally draining and physically harmful—teeth damaged from being clenched in anger or frustration, skyrocketing blood pressure, heart palpitations.”
Individuals who may be sensitive to emotionally-charged news can experience issues that can impact on anxieties and stress. Researchers uncovered that individuals that are more socially insecure and anxious have a higher likelihood of using Facebook. Graham C.L. Davey, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Sussex, wrote:
“These are the people with an intolerance of uncertainty, and are probably already anxious individuals, and are exactly the ones for whom negative news has a negative psychological impact on their own personal anxieties and worries.”
Indulging in a diet of social media stories that are inflammatory in nature may be causing people to feel additional stress and trigger an exacerbation of symptoms of current mental health concerns.
What Are Suggestions to Handling Too Much Negative Social Media?
It may not be feasible or possible to cut out all news from social media platforms and traditional media outlets. Some have found ways to deal with the stress from negative news. There are those that find that positive news, such as that from Positive News, a quarterly print magazine and website, offers an alternative news source that “focuses on progress and possibility.” This magazine has seen a significant surge in website visitors and subscriptions. During the 12 weeks after the election, website visitors increased 93 percent and subscriptions are up 77 percent.
Getting upset after reading story after story of sensationalized media stories can make it difficult to get to sleep. Clinical psychologist, Curtis W. Reisinger, suggests to not watch or read the news prior to bedtime. Sleep can be easily disrupted as an individual responds to the stories.
Nir Eyal, writer of a recent blog post, “How to Stay Informed Without Losing Your Mind,” has changed some personal habits. He no longer uses Facebook and Twitter apps on his phone and uses the News Feed Eradicator for Facebook. He checks the platforms from his desktop and reads a daily newspaper to reduce his exposure to “the incomplete, incremental, second-rate stuff often published online.”
Overuse of social media can have a negative impact on children and adults. Dr. Shannon M. Rauch of Benedictine University, suggests that parents created guidelines for their adolescent children. She shared:
“I think parents should be aware that their adolescent children are living at a time where they are constantly ‘on’ and connected. I would encourage any parent to explore ways to encourage or even mandate ‘off’ time, not just away from social media sites, but away from the devices. That is probably good advice for all of us.”
What Is the Best Course of Action to Take?
Social media status updates, news, and posts do not necessary need to negatively impact a person’s well-being. Each person is in control of what they choose to post and see online. An individual that is consuming content that is causing them to become needlessly upset, interrupting their sleep patterns, and increasing their stress levels can decide to reduce their exposure. This is one way to see whether or not the time spent viewing certain types of content should be adjusted or substituted with other forms of news or online engagement. Understand the methods and resources available to respond to social media overload.