I love #TBT images as much as the next person—mostly because they make me cringe and laugh at the same time! They are usually images that are just old enough to present an opportunity to laugh at ourselves without feeling too badly about it. Contrast #TBT pictures with the more perfect images that are more likely to be posted on a regular day, and those feelings of stress can start to mount.
In fact, a recent Pew Research Center survey of 1,801 adults explores whether the use of social media, mobile phones, and the internet is associated with higher levels of stress. In the survey, participants were asked about the extent to which they felt their lives were stressful, using an established scale of stress called the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), and the results were assessed for how stress correlated with the use of various social communication tools and platforms (email, text, Twitter, Facebook, etc.).
A couple of things really jumped out at me as I read the findings of this study on the Pew Research site. The trouble is that the results present a seemingly circular argument. Let me paraphrase the results: “use of social media is not directly correlated to stress levels, but use of social media is correlated to levels of awareness of major negative events in the lives of people close to the user, and as it turns out, awareness of those negative events is correlated to stress level.”
I read the results and thought to myself, “So let me get this straight. If I use social media, I will be more aware of negative events in the lives of my acquaintances, and I will therefore have a higher stress level, BUT use of social media doesn’t have a causal role in my level of stress. However, it does stand to reason that if I didn’t use social media, my awareness of these negative events would be lower and, therefore, my stress level would be lower.” Either way folks, social media is a key player here.
Let’s dig deeper into the data and discuss another finding that, in retrospect, could have been anticipated. Of the women surveyed, their awareness of the following negative events (in this order) caused increased levels of stress:
- If someone close to them experienced the death of a child, partner, or spouse, they scored 14% higher on their measure of stress.
- If someone close had been hospitalized or experienced a serious accident or injury, they reported 5% higher stress.
- If an acquaintance had been accused of or arrested for a crime, they scored 11% higher on the stress measure.
- If an acquaintance experienced a demotion or cut in pay, women reported 9% higher stress in their own lives.
However, for men, of the events that Pew Research explored, only two predicted stress. Holding other factors constant, of those surveyed, men who were aware that:
- Someone close to them had been accused of or arrested for a crime scored 15% higher on the measure of stress.
- An acquaintance had experienced a demotion or pay cut at work reported 12% higher stress.
Not only are the crime and work-related issues more important to men, and cause a greater increase in stress in men, the more personal issues like death, hospitalization, and serious injury don’t even rank in their responses! Okay folks, the men are using broadly the same tools (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and seeing broadly the same information (death, hospitalization, and serious injury are surely widely shared events), but they don’t even rank when it comes to increased levels of stress. The focus on punishment and pay is clearly an interesting result that needs more exploration!
However, most disconcerting, is that the study did not address what I consider to be the single biggest cause of stress when using social media: the constant barrage of everything good in everyone else’s life! Your best friend’s amazing vacation on a beach in Aruba; your brother’s accomplishment of reaching the 1,000 mile point on his hike of the Appalachian Trail; your cousin’s startlingly beautiful children winning their division championships in softball; the once-in-a-lifetime concert your friends attended but you missed due to that critical business trip, etc. The amount of stress that these images and comments cause is huge. In the past, you only had to keep up with the Joneses you could see, like your next door neighbors who just got a new pool, or your kid’s school friends whose team won the championship, and those with whom you spoke occasionally on the phone. In fact, a recent social media survey done by Dove found that “82 percent of women feel the beauty standards set by social media are unrealistic.”
Now, because of social media, the scope and variety of other people’s awesome experiences and excellent accomplishments is wider and deeper than ever, and everyone chips in to encourage the lucky poster. “Great job, girls!” “Beautiful beach, Betty!” “Gorgeous sunset, Sally!” “Fabulous accomplishment, Frank!” You get the idea.
The average person must be thinking, “What can I possibly post to beat that? My life is average and dull compared to my friends. What will they think if I post my pictures of my kids camping in the backyard? That isn’t sexy or fascinating enough to post. Or, I wish we could afford to go on a cool vacation so we can feel the Facebook love.” Talk about stress! We can all live without that kind of stress, so please quit posting only your most awesome pictures, and focus a bit more on reality. We will all be a bit less stressed!
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