FREE MENTAL HEALTH ASSESSMENT. start here

Does Social Media Cause Anxiety?

Kristin Hall

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 9/12/2022

If social media is the first thing you look at on your phone upon waking up, you’re not alone. About 72 percent of Americans are on at least one social media platform. But after looking at photos of parties, vacations and other moments, you might become more anxious. Does social media cause anxiety? Is social media anxiety a condition?

We’ll explore the relationship between social media and anxiety and whether social media causes anxiety.

What Is Anxiety?

First, an overview of anxiety before going into detail on the topic of social media causing anxiety.

Anxiety disorders are mental disorders that affect the way you think, feel and behave.

While anxiety in stressful situations is normal, people with anxiety disorders experience persistent and oftentimes severe anxiety that can occur in other situations.

Anxiety disorders are very common, affecting over 40 million American adults every year.

The most common types of anxiety disorders are:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can cause excessive or persistent feelings of anxiety or worry. GAD affects 6.8 million adults in the United States. People with generalized anxiety disorder may have excessive anxiety about their health, work, social interactions and daily life.

  • Social anxiety disorder. Also known as social phobia, social anxiety disorder can cause intense fear or anxiety of being judged, viewed negatively or rejected in social situations. Social anxiety disorder is very common, affecting 15 million U.S. adults. People with social anxiety disorder may experience sweating, trembling, racing heart, trouble making eye contact or being around people they don’t know and feeling self-conscious.

  • Panic disorder.Panic disorder can cause people to experience sudden, recurrent panic attacks, either randomly or after being exposed to a trigger. Panic attacks may involve a pounding or accelerated heartbeat, trembling, sweating, feelings of being out of control and other symptoms. Around 6 million people are affected by panic disorder and women are twice as likely as men to be affected.

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).OCD is a disorder where someone experiences uncontrollable, recurring thoughts and behaviors (obsessions and compulsions). People with OCD may check certain things, wash their hands, clean their home or perform other “rituals” repetitively to provide relief from obsessive thoughts. Like other anxiety disorders, OCD can interfere with a person’s social or professional life and affect their relationships.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When someone has been through a scary or dangerous event, they may develop this condition. They continue to experience trauma symptoms like nightmares, flashbacks and feelings of stress long after the event. Like many other anxiety disorders, women are more likely to be affected by PTSD than men.

Anxiety symptoms vary based on the type of anxiety disorder someone has. However, there are some common symptoms of anxiety such as:

  • Difficulty concentrating on anything other than current worries or concerns

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Feeling nervous and restless

  • Tiredness or feeling weak

  • Gastrointestinal issues, such as stomachaches, cramps, diarrhea and/or constipation

  • Rapid breathing (hyperventilation)

  • Sweating

  • Trembling

  • Avoiding people, objects or situations that may cause anxiety

Our overview of anxiety disorders explains more about what causes anxiety, who is at risk for developing anxiety and more.

Anxiety also has a high rate of comorbidity (experiencing two illnesses at the same time) with symptoms of depression.

online mental health assessment

your mental health journey starts here

Does Social Media Cause Anxiety?

How social media affects you depends on a variety of factors.

However, social media causing anxiety is a high probability.

A study of adolescents all under the age of 17 found that the teens who used social networking sites more overall as well as at night experienced lower self-esteem, poor sleep and higher levels of anxiety and depression.

If you’ve already been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder such as social anxiety disorder, symptoms could be worsened.

A 2018 study suggests that social media use could result in a fear of missing out (FOMO).

This fear of missing out on certain events or activities can lead to comparison and turn into social anxiety symptoms if you feel like you don’t fit in.

According to a 2020 study, longer use of social networking sites may also be associated with increased symptoms of social anxiety and may be more significant if you passively use the platform.

So if you only use social media to see what others post, you may be more likely to develop social anxiety symptoms.

Another small study on 75 Facebook users also found greater social anxiety symptoms were associated with spending more time on the social media site.

Research also suggests that once on social networking sites, other stressors that increase anxiety and depressive symptoms may occur.

For example, a study found that those with generalized anxiety disorder were more likely to make upward comparisons while on social media — comparing themselves unfavorably with others — which can make them even more anxious than before.

The amount of time spent using social networking sites can also affect anxiety levels.

A 2016 study found that more time spent using social media was significantly associated with greater symptoms of anxiety in young adults (ages 18 to 22).

Another survey of over 1,700 young adults aged 19 to 32 years found that social media use was frequently associated with elevated depression symptoms, which can co-exist with anxiety.

So, how does social media cause anxiety exactly?

How Anxiety and Social Media Are Connected

There are ways social networking sites influence how you think, feel and behave.

Rewarding social stimuli — positive recognition by our peers or messages from loved ones — releases dopamine, the body’s “feel good” hormone.

Social media can give us an unlimited amount of social stimuli, both positive and negative.

When we receive a “like”, positive comment or new followers on social media, we can also receive a boost of dopamine. However, when social networking sites don’t provide us with positive social stimuli, we’re not getting as much dopamine from one source.

Low levels of dopamine can cause low self-esteem, anxiety, social withdrawal and other symptoms.

But we don’t know whether or not we’ll get a dopamine boost when we check social media, prompting us to check more often.

Similar to a slot machine at a casino, social media uses a reward pattern designed to keep you as engaged as possible — the more often you try the slot machine or check social networking sites, the more likely you’ll get a reward.

Since these “rewards” are delivered to us randomly and checking social media is free, we check more often, a feature of our brain known as reward prediction error.

Unexpected rewards increase dopamine and become positive feedback signals associated with the behavior that came before it. For example, we receive a “like” on a photo and also receive a dopamine boost as well as a cue to check social media for more dopamine.

If we don’t receive the “like”, dopamine activity drops and weakens the positive association we had with the activity of checking social media.

As social networking sites have changed over the years, there are more ways to receive positive social stimuli and dopamine boosts. And therefore, more ways social media causes anxiety.

Treating Social Media Anxiety

Although social media may exacerbate anxiety symptoms, treating anxiety disorders is still very possible.

Most anxiety disorders improve over time when properly treated. A typical treatment may involve medication, psychotherapy and lifestyle changes, such as stress management techniques and the use of anxiety prevention habits.

Limit Social Media

Lifestyle changes are one way to treat anxiety symptoms so limiting the amount of time spent on social networking sites could help improve your symptoms.

If social media consumption is a normal part of your day, taking a step back could benefit your mental health, especially if you’re feeling more anxious after looking at Facebook or Instagram.

A small study involving 154 participants found that even taking a one-week break from social media could lead to significant improvements in anxiety, depression and overall well-being.

You don’t even have to go completely cold turkey. Simply setting a timer or installing an app to track how long you spend on certain social networking sites can help you cut back.

Psychotherapy

Many anxiety disorders can be treated through psychotherapy, or “talk therapy.” Two common forms of psychotherapy used to treat anxiety are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) involves learning different methods of thinking and reacting to sources of anxiety.

Exposure therapy involves being exposed to situations or objects which may trigger or worsen anxiety in a safe environment. It’s often combined with relaxation techniques to reduce stress and allow people to overcome their underlying fears.

Therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment for anxiety. A mental health professional will work with you to provide the most suitable and effective option for your symptoms and needs.

Skip Social Media First Thing

Using social networking sites first thing in the morning or right before bed could potentially set a negative tone for the rest of your day and disrupt your sleep.

Try leaving your phone in another room or a drawer when you go to bed and use an old-school alarm clock.

Instead of reaching for your phone first thing when you wake up or before going to sleep, start a morning or evening ritual that can get you ready for the day or relaxed before bed.

Anxiety Medication

Although medication doesn’t cure anxiety, it’s often used to help manage anxiety and keep anxiety symptoms under control. 

If you have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, your healthcare provider may recommend using one or several medications.

Some examples of medications used to treat anxiety disorders include:

You can learn more medications for anxiety in our complete guide.

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxing has been proven to help with anxiety.

Try yoga, meditation or visualization techniques to relax, especially when you’re feeling overly stressed, anxious or worried about something.

psych meds online

psychiatrist-backed care, all from your couch

Controlling Social Media Anxiety

While it may be everywhere, social media anxiety doesn’t have to be a condition you struggle with.

You can seek help from a mental health professional to talk about the effects social media has on you.

21 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Demographics of Social Media Users and Adoption in the United States. (2021, April 7). Pew Research Center. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/social-media/
  2. Anxiety Disorders. (n.d.). NAMI. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders
  3. NIMH » Social Anxiety Disorder. (n.d.). NIMH. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/social-anxiety-disorder
  4. NIMH » Panic Disorder. (n.d.). NIMH. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/panic-disorder
  5. NIMH » Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (n.d.). NIMH. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd
  6. Salcedo, B. (2018, January 19). The Comorbidity of Anxiety and Depression. NAMI. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/January-2018/The-Comorbidity-of-Anxiety-and-Depression
  7. Woods, H. C., & Scott, H. (2016, June 10). #Sleepyteens: Social media use in adolescence is associated with poor sleep quality, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. ScienceDirect. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0140197116300343?via%3Dihub
  8. Bonnette A, Robinson A, Dailey S, et al. (2019). Upward Social Comparisons and Posting Under the Influence: Investigating Social Media Behaviors of US Adults with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Digital Collections at Texas State University. Retrieved from https://digital.library.txstate.edu/handle/10877/8730
  9. Vannucci, A., Flannery, K. M., & Ohannessian, C. M. (2016, October 3). Social media use and anxiety in emerging adults. ScienceDirect. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165032716309442
  10. Shaw, A. M., Timpano, K. R., Tran, T. B., & Joormann, J. (2015). Correlates of Facebook usage patterns: The relationship between passive Facebook use, social anxiety symptoms, and brooding. Computers in Human Behavior, 48, 575–580. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0747563215000825
  11. Erliksson, O. J., Lindner, P., & Mörtberg, E. (2020, July 26). Measuring associations between social anxiety and use of different types of social media using the Swedish Social Anxiety Scale for Social Media Users: A psychometric evaluation and cross-sectional study. Wiley Online Library. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/sjop.12673
  12. Franchina, V., Vanden Abeele, M., van Rooij, A. J., Lo Coco, G., & De Marez, L. (2018). Fear of Missing Out as a Predictor of Problematic Social Media Use and Phubbing Behavior among Flemish Adolescents. International journal of environmental research and public health, 15(10), 2319. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5904786/#R20
  13. Lin, L. Y., Sidani, J. E., Shensa, A., Radovic, A., Miller, E., Colditz, J. B., Hoffman, B. L., Giles, L. M., & Primack, B. A. (2016). ASSOCIATION BETWEEN SOCIAL MEDIA USE AND DEPRESSION AMONG U.S. YOUNG ADULTS. Depression and anxiety, 33(4), 323–331. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4853817/
  14. Krach, S., Paulus, F. M., Bodden, M., & Kircher, T. (2010). The rewarding nature of social interactions. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience, 4, 22. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2889690/
  15. Dopamine Deficiency: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment. (2022, March 23). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/22588-dopamine-deficiency
  16. McLeod, S. (n.d.). What Is Operant Conditioning and How Does It Work? Simply Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html
  17. Schultz W. (2016). Dopamine reward prediction error coding. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 18(1), 23–32. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4826767/
  18. Anxiety Disorders: Types, Causes, Symptoms & Treatments. (2020, December 17). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9536-anxiety-disorders#management-and-treatment
  19. Lambert, J., Barnstable, G., Minter, E., Cooper, J., & McEwan, D. (2022, May 10). Taking a One-Week Break from Social Media Improves Well-Being, Depression, and Anxiety: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Publishers. Retrieved from https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/cyber.2021.0324
  20. What Is Exposure Therapy? (n.d.). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/exposure-therapy
  21. Manzoni, G. M., Pagnini, F., Castelnuovo, G., & Molinari, E. (2008). Relaxation training for anxiety: a ten-years systematic review with meta-analysis. BMC psychiatry, 8, 41. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2427027/

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Care for your mind,
care for your self

Start your mental wellness journey today.