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Social media: Stress conduit rather than factor

While much discussion has revolved around the negative effects of an increased dependency on social media, a 2015 Pew study found that frequent technology and social media use doesn’t always increase stress.

At least, not for women. In fact, women who use Twitter, email and share cellphone pictures reported 21 percent less stress than their less-connected counterparts.

“With technology and social media, there are no clear inherent effects, but rather it has to do with how the user chooses to interact (with technology and social media),” said social psychology doctoral candidate Mai-Ly Steers.

Psychology department director Arturo Hernandez said he agrees with this theory.

“The most important factor – at least for women – is knowing that someone else may be going through a stressful event,” Hernandez said. “Almost like stress by empathy.”

The Pew study used the term “cost of caring” for participants who suffered stress by empathy.

“Technology doesn’t really create effects; it’s how the users choose to use technology,” Steers said.

Steers and associate professor of psychology Linda Acitelli conducted a two-part investigation titled “How Facebook Usage is Linked to Depressive Symptoms,” associating the increased use of Facebook and the user’s level of depression, focusing on gender differences.

The initial survey found a stronger effect on men because of their tendency to compare themselves with others. In the second investigation, a 14-day diary section where students recorded their feelings, no gender differences in depression symptoms were found.

“Stress levels would be related to anxiety levels,” Steers said. “Overwhelming levels of stress could lead to depressive symptoms.”

Business finance senior Trevor Wiedeman said the procrastination encouraged by social media was more stressful than social media alone.

“I do believe these networks… (make you) less productive,” Wiedeman said.

Wiedeman got rid of his social media presence in 2012, deleting all platforms except Snapchat, which he uses around once a week, to “move and progress with life without worrying about anyone or feeling you have to post anything, and allowing (himself) to be (physically) present.”

“Getting rid of the social networks trimmed my acquaintance circle, but I have a solid core group of friends (who)… (are) just a text or call away,” Wiedeman said.

Hotel and restaurant management sophomore Sydney Brown is active on more than five social media platforms, including a secondary Twitter account and said juggling networks hasn’t increased her stress.

“They’re just another form of entertainment,” Brown said. “If anything, reading the blogs and amusing posts help to keep me level.”

Brown understood the cost of caring principle when her friend was suffering from depression, and used social media as a means of expression.

“She would constantly post her feelings on Twitter, and I always knew to keep her in my prayers,” Brown said. “She’s now living a much happier life, and shows photos of her and her fiancé often.”

While social media has an increasing influence in how society functions, at the core, a medium is only as powerful as the interactions that people have through them.

“The relation between well-being and social media is complex,” Acitelli said. “It is not all positive or all negative. On one hand it provides a way to connect with others, but, as with all relationships, it can also be a source of stress.”

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