Last year in the UK, over 15 million work days were lost due to stress, anxiety and depression. When we think of illnesses, we often think of the flu or allergies. Rarely do we think about the profound impact that stress has on our mental health and overall well-being.
Stress levels are on the rise, due largely in part to more demanding lifestyles. Improvements in technology have allowed us to do more everyday, but that also means more is expected of us. Not surprisingly, that leads to a lot of pressure and if people don't find productive ways to unwind, it'll just keep piling up.
In an effort to study common practices and their influence on our stress levels, The Pew Research Center sponsored a study to better understand the impact of social media. However, while most thought social media use would contribute to higher stress, the study showed the opposite.
Social media moves at such a quick pace, passionate users may always feel they're out of touch, or behind on news, which could lead to stress. Also, social media users tend to only post the best things in their life. This causes an unfair representation. However, most of us don't consider that. We see the relationships, vacations and purchases of our friends and connections, and feel our lives don't measure up. Again, many thought these would be stress contributors.
And yet, this project refutes that. The study showed that when it came to men there was no relationship between the use of these technologies and their self-reported levels of stress. In the case of women who used social media, they actually reported lower stress levels. Keith Hampton, an associate professor of communications at Rutgers University who lead the study, had a number of suggestions for why this could be the case for women. Perhaps women gain positive support from using these social platforms, which helps counteract stress. Or it could be that sharing positive and negative events as they happen, and the ability to vent, may help manage stress levels.
The results of these studies could have some pretty important outcomes. For one, it emphasizes the importance of connections and voicing opinions, even in a digital environment. It also provides an additional method for managing stress when feeling overburdened. One specific application could be at work. The average working professional has 30 to 100 projects on their plate and is distracted upwards of 2 hours a day. As a result, it's difficult to find time at work to breath and relax in order to stay focused. There are a number of effective techniques to decrease stress at work, and social media could be another.
That isn't to suggest people should spend all their time on social sites while in the office. Afterall, you don't want to inject a distracter as a stress releaser. However, if employees can take a few minutes at lunch or throughout the day to just quickly log in, it could prove beneficial.
In order to facilitate this, some organizations may need to remove blocks on their networks that were originally established to keep employees off social platforms. Or perhaps this is another piece of evidence to support Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies. We already know the power of BYOD to improve the work environment, but maybe their association with social media could also help relieve stress. Personally owned devices are most likely outfitted with social media apps, allowing employees to quickly check updates if they pop-up.
In closing, it's important to point out that extreme usage of social media is still linked to higher stress levels. This study isn't a free pass to go out and get a social media addiction in order to help you relax at work. Also, this is just one report, others may provide greater insights and help clarify the debate.