MET:Social Media Anxiety Disorder

From UBC Wiki

Social Media Anxiety Disorder

Social Media Anxiety Disorder is a syndrome that relates to generalized Social Anxiety, and is acquired when the participation of social media affects the mental and physical well-being of an individual. Individuals who engage in social media discussion fear that interaction with people will bring feelings of self-consciousness,judgement, evaluation and inferiority. Often it leads to feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment and depression. In the US, Social Anxiety Disorder is the third largest psychological disorder, after alcoholism and depression at 13-14 % of the population. As an emerging trend in a technologically depended society, SMAD (Social Media Anxiety for short) can include may of the symptoms apparent in Social Anxiety Disorder; some of these include:

  • Fear to speak in front of groups
  • Anxiousness, nervousness and discomfort in social situations (online)
  • Intense fear, racing heart, redness, excessive sweating
  • Trembling, swallowing with difficulty, and muscle twitching

Symptoms of Social Media Anxiety Disorder

There are many symptoms of this disorder, and may be identified with the some of the following characteristics:

  • Being with a group of friends and interrupting the conversation to inform them that someone has commented on their latest Facebook page
  • Excusing yourself in a social situation with family or friends to check what has been happening on Twitter
  • Checking your Facebook or Twitter account while concentration or insistently being distracted for fear that individuals may be commenting on your Facebook or Twitter account
  • Randomly adding strangers to your Facebook or Twitter accounts
  • Spending 8 or more hours a day on a social networking site
  • Feeling a sense of attachment to your phone or computer, as if nothing else matters more
  • Built up anxiety when comments are not made and pictures are not posted/tagged correctly
  • Checking the number of followers on Twitter and constantly finding opportunities to increase these numbers

The symptoms of SMAD are variable, but all involve an social obsession to maintaining a reputation or online persona, while ensuring that popularity and communication between parties is consistently active at all time; at a certain level this behavior is acceptable and healthy, but when it begins to interfere with daily functioning in face-to-face social activity, intervention is required.

Social Media Anxiety related effects on health and well-being

Anxiety increases as individuals begin to engage in unhealthy activity online; usually the social networking sites are not responsible for the anxiety buildup directly, but indirectly when individuals who are prone to anxious situation may start directing their focus to the online world. Some of these individuals may exhibit the following triggers:

  • Clingy behaviour always seeking to please people
  • Extreme loneliness (but often causing more isolation when individuals turn to these sites)
  • Mistaking the virtual world for the real world
  • Low self-esteem
  • Body image issues
  • Dysfunctional families

As individuals turn to social media networking sites to fulfill their needs, they mistakenly assume that their problems will be resolved. Unfortunately, the networking sites cause these vulnerable individuals to compare their lives in contrast with other friends, and inadvertently fall victim. As a result, this comparison causes blows to self-esteem, negative effects on the individual's life, flame wars, hate crimes, increase in blood pressure, and missing out on life's important moments.

Social Media Anxiety Disorder can result in OCD, and chronic depression; according to Clinical psychologist Seema Hingorrany – SMAD is a “SMAD starts when a person is obsessively hooked to the internet and his or her moods and thoughts are dependent on the responses they get from the virtual world. The anxiety builds up to such an extent that the behaviour pattern becomes totally maladaptive."


Some false coping mechanisms that only perpetuate the problem include:

  • Forcing yourself to feel "fake" or pretentious online
  • Creating a false impression or falsifying information such as adding awards, or qualifications
  • Creating a completely false persona

Associated stress from societal expectations

Social Media Anxiety Disorder can be difficult to treat, especially with additional stress factors created by society and the expectations it has for online communication. As society moves into a 21st century model for communication, more emphasis on social media networking is placed as a model of success in life. Organizations promote the use of social media for networking in order to secure jobs, and establish a reputation in the professional community. Unfortunately, these organizations fail to perceive the negative repercussions. Organizations and recruiters indicate that youth should apply to jobs online, through the website, but 70-80 percent of all jobs are never posted online. As a results 90 percent of job hunters look for jobs online, but only 5 percent are successful at finding jobs offline. With thousands of resumes in the database, individuals are encouraged to apply through Facebook and Twitter and brand build online. Increased frustration results when individuals fail to feel the positive effects of online branding.

Other personal expectations that society places on individuals may cause additional stress, however the anxiety is related not to an addiction to maintain an online reputation, but an pressure from others to remain connected at all times to family and friends, who communicate via this method. Consequently, individuals who have limited technical knowledge feel anxious when using social media networks, and feel "forced" or "disconnected" if they abstain.

Other disorders that may results from Social Media Anxiety Disorder include: OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), and Chronic Depression.


Coping Mechanisms and Treatments

The treatment of Social Media Anxiety Disorder may be varied, however it may be treated effectively if individuals receive similar medical attention used in Social Anxiety Disorder. The main treatment involves cognitive-behavioural therapies including the following mechanisms:

  • Understanding and being aware of the problem
  • Commitment to cognitive behavioural treatment to fully carry it through
  • Practice and development of methods that become habitual and automatic
  • Participation in a social anxiety group to relate with others who have similar issues

Successful therapy for social media anxiety disorders involve dozens of cognitive methods, strategies, and concepts that will permit change within an individual brain. Neural associations are being made constantly, and beliefs and thoughts can be changed as a result of the cognitive process. Cognitive therapy involves a detailed assessment between patient and therapist. The aim of the session is to understand the disorder and patient's current beliefs, emotions and behaviours, and to identify the patient's core beliefs and assumptions. Pervasive and thought-provoking questions are often asked to elicit a response in the patient and determine the reasons for the behaviours. Although cognitive-behavioural techniques are the first course of action, pharmacotherapy is often suggested. The patients may be prescribed an SSRI (selective seratonin reuptake inhibitor) at a starting dosage of 2-4 weeks. This may be increased up to 12 weeks for a full response. If an SSRI fails to respond, MAOI or RIMA but in combination with cognitive therapies.

In addition, practicing the following will increase likeliness of healthy social media use. Consultant psychiatrist Dr. Milan Balakrishnan encourages the following when using social media networking sites:

  • Learning from someone who has used social media extensively
  • Be aware of security and privacy settings and protect personal information
  • Start communication gradually, and slowly increase from a few friends to a larger network
  • Understand the reasons to why a specific networking site is being used
  • Develop a profile slowly
  • Control use and ensure balance between personal and private life is effectively safeguarded

Social Media Anxiety Disorder Stop Motion Video

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>=edit



Do You Suffer From Social Media Anxiety?

Got Social Media Anxiety?

Social Media Anxiety Disorder

Baby Steps for Social Media Anxiety

How to combat Social Media Addiction

Signs of Social Media Addiction and Anxiety

Social Media Anxiety Health article - Yahoo Health

Social Media inverse article to combat Social Anxiety

How Businesses can cope with Social Media Anxiety in the workplace

Exploring Links between Depression and Social Media

Anxious Teenagers and Social Media problems - Globe Article

Tips on overcoming social media anxiety - Health zine article (written by field experts)


Veale, David. (2003) Advances in Psychiatric Treatment - Journal of Continuing Professional Development Accessed 2012

Spira, Julia. (2013). Do You Suffer from Social Media Anxiety Disorder? Huffington Post - Accessed 2013-02-15

Marmelejo, Nancy. (2013)Got Social Media Anxiety? Viva Visibility Blog - Accessed 2013-02-15

Henderson, J. Maureen (2012)3 Reasons You Should Quit Social Media in 2013 - Accessed 2013-02-15

Antao, Lisa (2013) Is Internet Making you anxious? - Accessed 2013-02-14

Bebinger, Martha (2012)Social Media Anxiety Disorder (SMAD): The Next New Medical Condition? Accessed 2013-02-15

Donnely, Laura (2012) Facebook and Twitter feed anxiety, study finds Accessed 2013-02-15

Paddock, Dr. Catherine (2012) Facebook Use Feeds Anxiety And Inadequacy Says Small Study Accessed 2013-02-15

Fitzgerald, Britney (2012) Social Media Is Causing Anxiety, Study Finds Accessed 2013-02-15

Baumann, Phil (2010) Health care and the Social (Media) Anxiety Syndrome - Do we need Baby Steps?

Riviera, Ryan (2012) Dealing with Social Media Anxiety Accessed 2013-02-15

D'Aconti, Anthony (2013) Social Media Anxiety Disorder - The Social Web and Self Esteem Accessed 2013-02-15

Marcotte, Kay (2013) A New Kind of Anxiety Disorder? Accessed 2013-02-15

Christopher, David (2013) Do you Suffer From Social (media) Anxiety Disorder (SMAD)? Accessed 2013-02-15

Veras, Andre B et al. Case report Psychotic symptoms in social anxiety disorder patients: report of three cases Accessed 2013-02-15

Jacobson, Jacob Social Networking Anxiety Disorder - What is this? Netorking Insight Accessed 2013-02-15

Stein, Dr. Murray B. et al. Paroxetine Treatment of Generalized Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder) The Journal of American Medical Association - Accessed 2013-02-15