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What Is Social Media Anxiety Disorder?

By Roy Krebs

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Social media is just as much a blessing as it is a curse.

Sure, being connected to everyone in the world is a luxury previous generations have never known, but it's also an impossibly addictive pastime that can keep us distracted for hours on end.

Social media can both boost us up and sap us of our motivation. In doing this, it can actually lead to (or accelerate) disorders like anxiety.

Have you ever heard of Social Media Anxiety Disorder? If you’re curious to learn more, keep reading.  

Related: 4 Effective Techniques To Get Rid of Anxiety

Social Media Anxiety Disorder: A Primer

If you’re reading this, you’re likely one of the estimated 2.5 billion people in the world that uses social media. If you’ve ever found yourself feeling reliant on it for validation, you may have experienced some level of Social Media Anxiety Disorder (SMAD).

The reason that we are so attracted to social media is likely biological: in an evolutionary sense, we know that socializing with others is not only good for us, it’s essential for survival. However, we often mistake “online” socializing for real-life community-building -- each of which is entirely separate.

SMAD usually leads to feelings of inadequacy, depression, embarrassment, and stress.

These negative feelings are typically manifested through symptoms such as:

  • Sleep disruptions that result from “checking” social media

  • Feeling an irrationally strong attachment to smartphones and other devices, mainly for the sole purpose of accessing social media channels.

  • Interrupting face-to-face social interactions to announce that you’ve received a notification from social media
  • The need to interrupt important work or social events just to check your notifications

More and more these distractions are robbing us of our ability to focus, and urge us to compulsively evaluate our social media footprint.

Related: Discover What Your Phone Reveals About You

Social Media Anxiety and Dopamine  

Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, Ph.D. International Psychology, points out that the behavior of social media addicts is quite similar to those who engage in other more conventional addictive behaviors.

Compulsive gamblers for instance, find their highs when they win, and sink into their lows when they’ve gone too long without getting a payout. A social media user will feel “high” when somebody shares or likes their post, but might experience a “low” if they post something that receives no response.

“In other words,” Dr. Bais says, “an endless feedback loop is generated where one needs to post more and garner more likes in order to feel just as good as they did initially.”  

Related: Could You Have A Dopamine Imbalance?

How social media anxiety affects mood and motivation

The mesolimbic reward pathway is a part of your brain that stimulates dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of reward and satisfaction. Typically, this pathway will be activated when someone experiences pleasure: sex, great food, and strenuous exercise can all activate this pathway.

When someone abuses a substance or a process that they enjoy, the mesolimbic pathway actually undergoes physical changes which make it less sensitive to natural pleasures.

But just like with other addictions, this dopamine spike diminishes over time, which keeps us chasing the metaphorical dragon, always looking for the next immediate rush.

Related: 5 Research-Backed Methods To Instantly Boost Your Mood

How to Overcome Social Media Anxiety Disorder

So many people use social media that very few stop to consider the potentially dangerous ramifications of becoming dependant on it.

If you think that you’re at risk of developing SMAD, consider these steps to help you lessen your dependency:  

  • Wait a while to respond or comment on social media. Engaging in positive discussion can be great, but try not to just comment or argue all the time.

  • Step away from the computer. Whether you’re exercising, meditating or just cooking a nice meal, taking longer and longer breaks can help you remember that the most important things in life do not revolve around the computer.
  • Schedule specific times for social media. If you can commit to only checking your social during certain windows, you’ll find that it turns into a fun “break” instead of being something that you “need” to do. The more you do this, the less you become dependent.

  • Practice relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques can be as simple as counting your breath to maintain a feeling of calm. This is a great way to catch yourself before you send any aggressive or regrettable messages.

  • Make a point of seeing people face-to-face. This is the best way to remind yourself that the real joys of interacting with people come from being with them without the screen. It will also be a reminder of just how ineffective social media can be for true bonding.

Related: How To Be Happy

You’re not Alone

Social media anxiety disorder may not be the most well-documented psychological problem, but it’s clear that it has the potential to disrupt our day-to-day lives, sometimes with negative consequences.

And given that about ⅓ of the world’s population uses social media in some format, social media anxiety or addiction does have the potential to become one of the most prevalent problems in the world.

Do you believe you have a problem with social media? If so, know that you’re not alone. There are plenty of people in the same situation. The most important thing is that you find a local therapist or rehabilitation facility that offers treatment for your social media anxiety disorder.  

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