New Research Shows Social Media Stress Can Lead to Social Media Addiction

Social Media Stress and Compulsive Use of Social Networking Sites

Social networking sites (SNS) such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter allow people to be more connected than ever before; however, it’s also causing people to experience more stress than ever before. Known as “technostress,” this phenomenon is a grouping of negative emotional reactions as a result of a “social overload” from social media interactions and content. According to a new study performed by Lancaster University and the University of Bamberg, social media users are actually becoming more and more addicted to social networking sites despite the stress it causes in their daily lives.

Research into the habits of 444 Facebook users revealed that rather than turning off their smartphones or closing the app, users would switch between activities such as chatting to friends, scanning news feeds, and posting updates as each activity began to cause them stress. For example, if someone saw a social media post about underprivileged and starving children in Africa that elicited a sad emotional response, he or she would then turn to a game or chat with a friend on the same app to “get away” from the stress that initial post caused. By doing this, users are not escaping the cause of their stress, they’re actually increasing the stress by continuing use of the social media medium on which it originated. This then leads to an increased likelihood of social media addiction, as these users are spending a greater period of time of the app by using the various elements of the platform.

While it might seem counter-intuitive, social media users are continuing to use the same platforms that are causing them stress rather than switching off from them, creating a blurring between the stress caused and compulsive use.

- Professor Monideepa Tarafdar, Professor of Information Systems and Co-Director of the Center for Technological Futures at Lancaster University Management School

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Assistant Professor Christian Maier, of the University of Bamberg, who collected data from the Facebook users for the study, attributes this to the wide range of activities that social networking sites offer users: “Because SNS offer such a wide range of features, users can find they act both as stressors and as a distraction from that stress. Even when users are stressed from SNS use, they are using the same platforms to cope with that stress, diverting themselves through other activities on the SNS, and ultimately building compulsive and excessive behavior. As a result, they embed themselves in the social network environment rather than getting away from it, and an addiction is formed.”

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The Importance of Alternative Coping Mechanisms for Technostress

The research team looked at various forms of technostress caused by using social media, such as users feeling that social networking sites were invading their personal life, adapting their social media use to conform to that of their friends, experiencing excessive social demands and too much social information, and facing constant changes and updates to social networking platforms.

The team then utilized and examined two separate ways of coping with the stress caused by social media. The first allowed users to engage in different activities within the same app that was causing them stress, which ultimately contributed to more stress and longer time spent on social media in general. This method was more prevalent among those social media users who used the sites more regularly. The second coping mechanism included users creating a diversion by partaking in activities outside of social media, such as putting the phone down and talking to friends or family about the issues they were experiencing. Unsurprisingly, this method had more overall positive outcomes with users feeling significantly less stressed and spending less time on social media overall.

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According to co-author professor Sven Laumer, “We found that those users who had a greater social media habit needed less effort to find another aspect of the platforms, and were thus more likely to stay within the SNS rather than switch off when they needed to divert themselves. The stronger the user’s SNS habit, the higher the likelihood they would keep using it as a means of diversion as a coping behavior in response to stressors, and possibly develop addiction to the SNS.”

Professor Monideepa Tarafdar added: “The idea of using the same environment that is causing the stress as means of coping with that stress is novel. It is an interesting phenomenon that seems distinctive to technostress from social media.”

Researchers are hoping the study will inspire social media users to unplug and turn off their phones when experiencing technostress, and in turn, reduce codependency on social networking sites.

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