A woman feeling anxious

Are you suffering from social media anxiety? Here’s how to tell (and what to do about it)

Posted by for Life

While 40% of us admit that we feel more anxious after spending time on social media, most people wouldn’t know where to start when it comes to building a healthy relationship with the platforms we use every day. Here, an expert explains exactly what social media anxiety looks like – and what we can do about it.

By now, most of us are aware of the negative impact that social media can have on our mental health. Whether it’s giving us a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) or damaging our self-esteem, the time we spend scrolling is often detrimental to our emotional wellbeing – especially when Stylist research has revealed that 40% of women feel more anxious after spending time on social media, and 33% follow influencers on social media even though they make them feel worse about themselves.

But on the other side of the social media debate lies one big issue – it’s inescapable. In our modern, technology-driven lives, social media is more than just a place to post selfies and document what we’re having to eat that day (although all of that is great) – it’s a platform to document and shout about our successes and career achievements, communicate with friends and family members, and run everything from businesses to political movements. The advice that we should put down our phones and complete a “digital detox” is a great idea every once in a while, but on a day-to-day basis, it’s simply unrealistic. 

Instead, the answer may lie in the relationship we have with social media and our phones. We can acknowledge that some social media usage is inevitable while still building a healthy relationship with the devices we know can have such a detrimental impact.

So how can we build that relationship in order to reduce the amount of social media anxiety we’re feeling? And how can we tell when our anxiety is becoming a problem? We asked Chloe Brotheridge, a hypnotherapist, coach at calmer-you.com and author of The Anxiety Solution and Brave New Girl for her advice.

How does social media make us anxious?

One of the biggest problems when it comes to identifying – and confronting – social media anxiety is that platforms such as Instagram and Facebook can cause us to feel anxious in a number of different ways.

“Social media can provoke anxiety in a number of ways; through comparison, FOMO and not switching off among others,” Brotheridge explains. 

A woman using social media
There are lots of different ways that social media can cause anxiety.

“It can lead to us feeling as though we are not good enough because we see a constant stream of other people’s life highlights. We can feel unsatisfied with what we’re doing because there is always someone else doing something more exciting or interesting. 

“And we are glued to our phones, checking them first thing in the morning and last thing at night, meaning there can be no chance of escaping or truly switching of.”

What can we do about it?

According to Brotheridge, there are two ways we can deal with social media anxiety – by setting boundaries and engaging with content that actually benefits our mental health.

“Boundaries are important,” she stresses. “Unfollow or mute people who trigger negative feelings in you, and try to limit the amount of time you spend on social media (on iPhones you can use ‘Screen time’ to do this).”

She also suggests enforcing a weekly detox period: “Choose a day of the week, such as a Sunday, to leave your phone at home or delete social media apps, so you can have a proper break.

“I think it’s important to switch off and have breaks from social media and follow accounts that have a positive impact on us,” she adds. “Fill your feed with positive mental health messages, cute dogs or body positive accounts – whatever makes you feel good.”

Engaging with social media in an active way – as opposed to endlessly scrolling in a passive manner – is also another great way to reduce its impact on your mental health.

As Jo Love, a mental health advocate and director of the Speakers Collective, previously told Stylist: “When it comes to social media there is a growing body of evidence to show it is ultimately how we use social media, not how much time we spend on it, that has the greatest bearing on how it makes us feel.” 

“Mindlessly scrolling has been shown to lower our mood as we get trapped in a cycle of ‘compare and despair’. However, it’s been found that contributing, sharing, and interacting can have the opposite effect.”    

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For far too long, the representation of women by both mainstream and social media has failed to reflect who we see in the mirror, and its impact on our mental health is worrying. Stylist’s Love Women initiative promises to change that. As well as the launch of our Love Women series, we’ve partnered with Dove, whose latest project (in conjunction with photo library Getty Images) aims to increase the supply of diverse pictures of women – which we will be using going forward.

Our editor-in-chief Lisa Smosarski has also made five pledges to Stylist readers.

1. We will ensure the women you see on our pages represent all women – inclusive of ethnicity, body shape, sexuality, age and disability. When we create content and ideas, we will ensure that all women are represented at the table. We commit to featuring one fashion or beauty photoshoot a month that uses real, diverse women.

2. We will ensure that we never sell an impossible dream. We believe in aspiration, but not in selling a lie. We will work with influencers, celebrities and other partners to encourage them to reveal their truths, too.

3. We will celebrate the so-called flaws of women to prove the normality in all of our bodies. We will run videos, photoshoots and honest accounts of our bodies and how they behave.

4. We will hold regular huddles with our advertisers and brand partners to challenge the way they portray and reflect women in their branding and advertising. We will call out and challenge brands, media and people who refuse to represent women with respect and truth. We will call on the government to support our goals

5. Through insight and anecdote, we will teach everyone about the issues facing women, what needs to be done and how we can all work together to resolve this self-esteem crisis.

Find out more about Stylist’s Love Women initiative here.

Images: Getty

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.

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