The Emotional Toll of Social Networking

Remember the days when "you've got mail" was a novelty? Since then, online communication has proliferated thanks to social networking sites, such as Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube.

Some mental health experts believe social networking can increase stress and anxiety, and they've have even coined names to describe this phenomenon, such as Social Media Anxiety, Social Networking Anxiety, and Facebook Depression.

Psychologist Amy Wood describes Facebook depression as the sense of inadequacy we feel when we assess ourselves according to enticing images presented by others online, and come up short. She says we have idealistic assumptions that what's online is what's happening in real life.

Recently, the journal Pediatrics reported that using social media is among the most common activities of today's youth. In fact, 22 percent of teens log onto their favorite social media site 10 or more times each day. The study authors believe Facebook depression develops when teens spend a lot of intense time on social media sites. They may feel pressured to respond quickly to contacts, and they check frequently to see if others commented on their posts. Youth are also at risk for cyberbullying, which leads to depression, anxiety, isolation, and even suicide.

Ironically, a study of students found that Facebook anxiety is highest in those with the most number of friends. This is probably because they've invested the most in their site and feel pressured to post interesting content. Ten percent of students reported feeling anxious, and thirty percent said they felt guilty rejecting friend requests. Students are also anxious about not being present on social networking sites for fear they'll miss something or risk offending their friends. The study author compared Facebook to gambling, and said Facebook keeps users in a "neurotic limbo."

Many have challenged the Pediatrics report and the very idea of Facebook depression, citing insufficient research and lack of evidence of cause and effect. Critics believe Facebook depression is only a problem for a very small subset of the population and that overall, the benefits of social media outweigh the negatives. For example, Cornell University reports Facebook is positively associated with college students' self esteem because it allows them to put their best foot forward.

If you're concerned about your time on social networking sites, psychologist Wood suggests stepping away from the computer regularly and getting the full story about an issue before you jump to conclusions. Make sure you connect regularly in real life, not just online, and parents should stay involved in their children's lives and make sure they're also engaged in other activities.


BBC. "Facebook 'friends' cause stress, research finds." Web. 16 February 2011.

Schurgin O'Keeffe, Gwenn, Clarke-Pearson, Kathleen, and Council on Families. "Clinical Report--The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families." Pediatrics  published online 28 March 2011. Web.

Williams, Liz. "Social media anxiety." Muskegnews. Web. 9 April 2011.

Wood, Amy, Psy.D. "How to Prevent Facebook Depression." Blog. April 2011. outline goes here

Cornell University. "Facing the Facebook mirror can boost self-esteem." Press release. Web. 1 March 2011.

Magidls, Larry. "Is there really 'Facebook Depression'?" Podcast. Web. 29 March 2011.