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How Social Media Can Increase Stress at Work

Feeling stressed at work? You’re not alone. Over 65% of Americans cite work as a top source of stress. And when stress at work becomes too overwhelming, you’re at the dangerous risk for burnout and feelings of extreme exhaustion at work. Too much stress at work can destroy your career because it can kill your productivity, self-confidence, and may cause you to pull away from your job.

Interestingly, social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can play a crucial role in increasing stress at work. So how does social media factor into all of this?

Research shows that stressed workers tend to compare themselves against co-workers who have similar job responsibilities as them - mainly as a way to gauge whether the stress levels they’re experiencing at work are “normal”. Normalizing work stress can be a powerful coping mechanism because it can make people feel hopeful and less alone in their struggles and thus, more self-assured and capable of managing their stress.

But people won't feel this way when they see their peers on social media platforms, which tend to be default sources to safely seek out information since people are often reluctant to talk to co-workers about stress because they fear judgment, criticism, or office gossip.

In social media, the very same people you might think also experience workplace stress may idealize their experiences at work by highlighting the positives and downplaying the negatives. In fact, studies show that people tend to present themselves in a favorable way on their Facebook profiles. This can lead to unrealistic and distorted views of what “normal” stress should look like and how you think you’re faring out compared to others.

What’s more, since social media users can portray themselves as happier than they actually are, you may believe that you’re the only one struggling.

In one of my first jobs, I remember feeling extremely overwhelmed and exhausted by one of my work projects. I was stressed and a nervous wreck - and I wondered if my teammates felt the same way. But as a fresh hire, I didn’t dare tell my co-workers how I felt - I was worried that they would see me as incompetent or weak. So I naively opted to learn more about their work lives through their posts on Facebook. What did my teammates think of our new project? How did they feel about it? Were they stressed and overwhelmed like me too?

Most of the work-related posts and updates I saw were all positive – my teammates were happily promoting our project, proudly sharing their accomplishments, and raving about work. This made me feel even more stressed – I felt so alone and out-of-place! My confidence and sense of belongingness took a bit hit. Sometime later, I found out that my teammates were also stressed like me, but were also too afraid to show it!

So what can you do to battle the potentially detrimental effects that social media can have on workplace stress? Here are a few tips.

1. Actively remind yourself that people on social media often appear happier than they actually are. When browsing online profiles, especially those of co-workers, actively tell yourself that you’re likely seeing only the good parts of a person’s life. After all, not everyone will want to share their failures and weaknesses on Facebook, especially when it comes to their jobs and careers.

2. Curate your news feed to reduce stress-inducing stimuli. Sometimes, the posts that can cause us stress are predictable. Perhaps they’re the excessively positive posts of a specific person, or perhaps you’ve been following a co-worker’s online life a little too closely. Luckily, there are ways to reduce your chances of seeing these posts. By managing your news feed and notifications, you can train your social media to show you posts that you feel are more realistic and true-to-life.

3. Seek support from a mentor outside your organization. Studies show that social support can help reduce stress at work. Ideally, it is best to seek out support from your co-workers since they’re more likely to understand your situation. However, judgment, criticism, and office gossip from co-workers are real threats and are beyond your control. So reach out to someone outside your firm who has gone through a job similar to yours - and ask them for their advice on how to manage your stress at work.

Following the tips above can help you form more realistic views about stress and can help you alleviate it if it becomes too overwhelming for you. Effectively managing work stress can boost your productivity, self-confidence, and satisfaction with your job – and can lead to a happier and more satisfying work life.