Behavioral Science

Drained, stressed, and anxious: is it time for a social media break?

Written by Allie

Trying to start healthier habits this year? Now might be a good time to remind yourself–and your employees–to unplug from social media.

First, be honest, how many of these sound like you?

Do you:

  • often reach for your smartphone first thing in the morning, or late at night?
  • get more of your news from your newsfeed than a newspaper?
  • log in to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or another network almost every day?
  • have more than one social app on your phone?
  • find your confidence slipping looking at other people’s happy vacation photos or job promotions?
  • still find yourself looking for updates of former friends or exes (or worse, the dream job that slipped away)?
  • have trouble navigating political or cultural stress online?
  • get bummed out reading negative status updates?
  • feel isolated even though you have tons of online connections?
  • feel FOMO, pressure to keep updating, or to present a certain public persona?
  • find it hard to relax or fall asleep?

If you answered yes to any of these, chances are you’re like the billions of other people who use social media as part of everyday life and work.

While there is some evidence that connecting online can help you feel more supported and in tune with friends or family, it’s also proving to be a stress-inducing habit that’s hard to break.

When Social Media is Too Much

Social media has become so second nature that it’s hard to remember life without the immediacy and urgency of virtual interaction. The average person now spends two hours and fifteen minutes a day on social media — and those numbers have steadily increased worldwide in the last five years.

“While the little sips of information sent through social media may not seem like much, they can add up to a big gulp,” write the authors of a new Pew Research Center report on the subject.

It’s not clear that more use directly relates to more stress for all people, but the latest research shows that there is a complex but evident relationship between the two.

“There is a great deal of speculation that social media users feel extra pressure to participate and keep up on social media, to avoid the ‘fear of missing out’ in activities that others share and that they feel anxious after viewing the successful images that friends project on Facebook,” says report co-author Prof. Keith Hampton.

Tips for Employers

Your employees’ social media use might not seem like a big deal, but stress is. By some estimates, it costs employers $500 billion a year in lost productivity.

If you’re already encouraging your employees to exercise and take care of their health, great! But in tandem with a physical wellness program, you should also emphasize the importance of mental wellbeing, mindfulness, and healthy work-life balance. That includes stepping away from the screen once in a while.

We’re not saying you have to go analog. But being constantly connected can take a lot out of you. If your employees have to use social media in any capacity for their jobs, that can only add to the stress.

Workplace wellness strategies that also focus on reducing stress contribute to long-term employee happiness, worker retention and productivity, after all.

Even if you’re not in a digital industry, as an employer you’d be smart to provide your team with a few coping skills they can use to unplug and quiet the digital noise:

Set limits

Establish rules that work for you. Decide on a time limit per day or per week and stick to it. Or opt to avoid the internet entirely on weekends. Some apps, like Facebook, now allow you to set a daily limit to help curb excess use. When you need to control distractions, block the web or certain apps temporarily using software like Freedom ($2.50/month, freedomapp.us) or a browser extension such as StayFocused.

Try a “social media cleanse”

Some people start off the year with a fridge full of leafy greens and aspirations of cleaning out the closet. (Which we love!) You can also challenge yourself and your team to try a month without your social network of choice. Do it as a group challenge and you’ll be more likely to succeed. Even better if you incentivize it with a prize.

Curate your feed

You can’t block out all bad news, but you can choose to only subscribe to things that positively impact your day. Follow industry leaders who inspire you, or pages that make you think. Take some time to do a “closet clean out” of your social networks and pair it down to the people and brands you really want to hear from. (You don’t have to stay connected to that networking contact that drives up your blood pressure. Really.)

Disable notifications and delete the mobile apps

Even if it’s just for a little while. Remove the temptation to check your notifications once or…twenty times a day, and you’ll find it much easier to be intentional with how and when you log on.

Lead by example

If you want your employees to live with a healthy sense of work-life balance, you have to create an authentic company culture that supports it. Remind your company leaders about setting social media limits, sending late-night emails, or being always connected; the rest of your organization will benefit from the example.


Interested in more ways to reduce stress around the office? Read our blog post for four more suggestions:

Stress Awareness Month: How to Help Your Stressed Out Employees