Is social media destroying our lives or holding them together? The debate rages on, but Pew Research recently added some insight by examining how social media relates to stress for women and men.
In short, hearing about the stresses of our friends and family on social media – losing their job, or getting divorced – makes us more stressed, and women are more sensitive to that information than men.
Pew surveyed over 1,800 adults to see whether social media made them more aware of 12 stressors in their friends' lives, including hospitalization, a death in the family, divorce, and job loss. As you can tell by the chart, using social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram makes people more aware of these unfortunate events.
But the effect is not equal among men and women. As it turns out, men on social media are aware of 7% fewer bad events in the lives of their friends and family. And on top of that, only two types of events – being accused or arrested of a crime, and facing a demotion or pay cut – actually affects men’s stress levels. In contrast, women are both more aware of stressful events shared on social media and stressed out by a wider range of them (perhaps due to greater empathy).
But the story isn’t all bad. In aggregate, using the Internet and social media doesn’t make us more stressed than non-users. Women who are fairly active – using Twitter several times a day, sending and receiving 25 emails, and sharing two photos from their phones – are actually 21% less stressed.
“Social sharing of both positive and negative events can be associated with emotional well-being and women tend to share their emotional experiences with a wider range of people than do men. Sharing . . . may provide women with a low-demand and easily accessible coping mechanism that is not experienced or taken advantage of by men,” Pew reports.
Social media may increase our stress levels sometimes, but its other benefits seem to balance that out. The problem isn't social media itself, but a particular thing that happens on it – seeing others' misfortune, which can happen in real life as well.
What's the takeaway? Think before you share your sorrows on the web, blasting stress to your distant acquaintances and friends alike. Maybe a phone call or a private message, to a single person, is the better option.