If your New Year’s resolution was to cut back on screen time, you might want to rethink it. Contrary to what we’ve been hearing for years, scrolling through your Twitter feed, sending personal emails, and texting photos back and forth may actually be good for your health, finds a new study from Rutgers University and the Pew Research Center.
Researchers surveyed 1,801 adults, comparing their social media and technology use to their stress levels using the Perceived Stress Scale, a 10-question survey to assess generalized stress in daily life. And what they found surprised them: Frequent Internet and social media users did not have higher levels of stress than those who use technology less frequently. In fact, women who regularly used Twitter, email, and text messaging showed stress levels 21% lower than less-connected ladies.
Because previous research has blamed social media for everything from narcissism to low self-esteem, “we assumed we’d find that these technologies were somehow related to more stress, but that’s really not the case,” says Keith Hampton, PhD, lead study author and associate professor of communication at Rutgers University.
So what’s the connection between technology and stress relief? The simple act of sharing daily events may lower stress levels, since texting photos or sending a tweet is a low-cost, time-efficient way of updating those around you. Technology also adds a level of connectedness to everyday life, suggests Hampton. Users feel like they have a better support system in addition to feeling more equipped to manage all of their demands, like maintaining a work-life balance.
But, as always, there’s a catch: While social media and technology can reduce a woman’s internal stress, it can actually increase the stress she feels from outside sources—what researchers call “social stress.” That’s the type of stuff you don’t have control over—like your friend’s divorce announcement or your cousin’s recent move—that can add to your own anxiety levels. “When you’re aware of these unfortunate things happening in other people’s lives, there’s a cost—the cost of caring,” says Hampton.
However, the further removed women got from bad news—like hearing about an old high school classmate’s money troubles—the better they started feeling about their own lives again. That’s because they’re reminded of how good they have it. As Hampton says, “It induces a feeling of reduced stress in you because you realize that things could be so much worse for you and people who are close to you.”
Overall, the positives seem to outweigh the negatives when it comes to social media use—at least for women. So go ahead and hit send on your latest cat photo group text—your health will thank you.
Copyright Amber Brenza at Prevention.com