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How To Tell If Social Media Is Giving You Anxiety

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13/06/2017 2:42 PM AEST | Updated 13/06/2017 2:46 PM AEST

With around half of the Australian population logging into Facebook on a daily basis (yes, that's 12.2 million of us), it's safe to say social media plays a large role in many of our everyday lives.

Of course, while there are numerous benefits to social media use, what you get out of it corresponds rather directly to how you choose to use it. And for some, social media has ceased being a fun pastime and has become a source of great anxiety.

"What you're dealing with is when people are almost fearful of being on social media," Amanda Lambros, Clinical Fellow in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Curtin University tells HuffPost Australia.

"Their bodies display symptoms of anxiety when they go to check Facebook or Twitter or anything like that. Even opening the application causes that level of anxiety.

"Social media can become extremely addictive in our lives, and also can be damaging depending on how you use it. It's one of those things that has the power to benefit you, or have really negative effect, depending on how it's used."

While 'social media anxiety' isn't an established clinical term, social media in itself has been recognised by many mental health consultants as an 'anxiety-provoking factor', both when users are on and off the site.

"People who use social media often do report that at certain times when using social media, they have a psychological reaction," Dr Bridianne O'Dea, research fellow at the Black Dog Institute tells HuffPost Australia.

"Some things they might experience when they are using it directly in that point of time, so they might see something and this could trigger a reaction, or alternatively when they're not using it. So their feelings are around having not checked it or being very conscious of what's happening on social media when they're not on the site."

On one hand you want to avoid it, but on the other hand you still need to get on and see what's happening.Amanda Lambros

"We see people who get addicted to the likes or reading the comments," Lambros says. "They are opening [an application] up and are already anticipating that something is going to happen or has happened since they last logged on.

"They may experience sweaty palms or generally not feeling well, or get a weird tingling feeling in their gut. There can be a redness on the chest which creeps up your neck and onto your cheeks.

"There's a feeling of wanting to avoid it at all costs. Or, more accurately, on one hand you want to avoid it, but on the other hand you still need to get on and see what's happening."

Thomas Barwick via Getty Images
Is social media affecting your mood?

Or the signs might be less physically obvious, but still affect your overall mood.

"One thing you can do, and it's a basic thing, is to see how you feel before you go on social media and how you feel after," O'Dea suggests.

"That can be a really good way to check in and see if you are feeling like the stuff you are seeing or being exposed to on social media is making you feel worse about yourself or the world or your network.

"If you're finding that it is -- and usually you might track it across a number of different instances -- you might want to ask yourself some questions. 'What do I think about social media that is making me feel this way? Is it the content I am exposed to? Is it looking at certain people's posts, or news, or is it what's in my feed?'

"One of the steps you can take is limiting your feed. So if you identify there are certain posts that make you upset or make you worry, you can choose to limit the posts. And that's always a good strategy."

The pull of the connection is so much stronger than being able to disconnect.

Both Lambros and O'Dea state taking a break from social media altogether can also be beneficial, while noting in reality, it can prove extremely difficult to do.

"If it's causing you so much discomfort, you could try to avoid it," Lambros says. "Though saying that and doing it is totally different things. The pull of the connection is so much stronger than being able to disconnect."

Rather than going offline completely, O'Dea suggests looking at ways to limit your social media interaction.

"Some people have reported they take the apps off their phone, and have found that helpful," she said. "So they are still part of Facebook and can still check it while they are at their desktop, but they can't check it when they are on their phone. That can be a way to limit your use and monitor your use."

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Removing the apps from your phone can help limit your social media interaction.

Finally, if you feel like social media is affecting your life negatively in more way than one, the best solution could be to seek professional advice.

"There might be times where you find yourself really thinking about the content you have seen and really comparing yourself to it and making negative self comparisons," O'Dea says. "When that starts to happen and it starts to be prolonged, so you find yourself doing it on more than one occasion, that can potentially lead to detrimental impacts on your mental health.

"The minute you understand it's impacting an area of your life -- so if you're not able to go to work, not able to socialise -- my advice would be to go and speak to someone about it," adds Lambros.

"It's better to seek help earlier rather than later. And if you find yourself feeling embarrassed and thinking, 'this is just too stupid to talk about so I just won't mention it,' then in reality that's probably the best time to get help."

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