It’s all down to stress levels
By Jenny Cook
Thanks to social media, the world is quite literally at our fingertips – with millions of users across the planet just a click, like or comment away. However, a new study suggests that sites like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram might not be very beneficial to our health, affecting our physical wellbeing in some surprising ways.
According to the research, people with a higher number of Facebook ‘friends’ are more likely to have poorer health and, specifically, face an increased risk of developing upper respiratory infections – conditions affecting the sinuses, throat, airways or lungs. Here, we take a closer look into the science behind this unexpected link.
Scientists at Regis University analysed Facebook user behaviour for a possible explanation as to the relationship between social media use, stress and health. They recruited a small sample of ten college students, who were asked to complete an online questionnaire about their Facebook use and health, before being tracked over the course of ten weeks. The report reads:
“Subjects who reported that Facebook provoked anxiety [and/or] stress demonstrated a significantly higher number of upper respiratory infections (URI) than those not reporting Facebook-induced anxiety [and/or] stress, and having more Facebook friends was associated with increased anxiety [and/or] stress and the number of URI.”
“Users who demonstrated anxiety regarding their Facebook use were more likely to demonstrate a pattern of increased number of log-ins to Facebook per day and these anxiety-linked behaviour patterns were associated with poorer health.”
These findings remained true even when other influential aspects, such as physical activity levels, sleep and social support were taken into consideration. However, the study is not without limitations, and no concrete link between Facebook and colds can be made, as lead author Jay P. Campisi points out.
“[We] only examined college-aged Facebook users and, therefore, we do not know if these effects are similar in other populations… For example, do grandparents who are using Facebook to view pictures of their grandchildren feel the same anxiety/stress that college students might have?”
Take a break
Previous research has shown Facebook to increase anxiety levels, as the constant updates and newsfeeds increase feelings of inadequacy and stress. In addition, it was found that two-thirds of users have difficulty sleeping as a direct result of the negative impact of social media sites.
It is well-known that exposure to chronic stress can suppress immune function, in turn increasing the possibility of infection – as seen with URIs in the above study. It can also cause ‘flare-ups’ of pre-existing conditions, and is generally bad news for your mental health, which is why it’s important to step back from your screen from time to time. Campisi said:
“If you’re looking to feel less lonely or feel happier or have better health, probably staring at a phone or computer screen is not the way to go.”
Echoing this is Hilda Burke, integrative psychotherapist, couples counsellor and life coach. Speaking to NetDoctor earlier this year, she said:
“Social media serves up a plethora of ways to compare our lot with that of our ‘friends’ or people we follow. One of the biggest risks to our wellbeing is comparing ourselves to others. Whether it’s waist size, home, job, relationship, level of core strength, it’s a corrosive yet powerful drive for us to want to measure ourselves (sometimes literally!) against others. While this drive is somewhat an innate one in humans, social media seems to have exacerbated it for many.”
“It’s good to have a regular break of routine no matter what that involves – a new route to work, a different position in your exercise class. It wakes up the brain! Similarly, with our digital devices, if we use them frequently all day, every day then it’s healthy simply not to do that once in a while. Constantly checking social media is like continually looking over our shoulder. It distracts us from what lays in front us – the things that we have power to change, to do. By focusing more on what we are doing we can make better choices.”
The study was published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour.