Obsession with social media fuels anxiety in teenage girls

A study published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health suggests that obsessive social media usage is casing teen age girl to exhibit high levels of stress and anxiety.  Yet the anxiety of boys does not demonstrate a similar relationship with their social media usage.

The study of nearly 10,000 British schoolchildren aged 13-16 found that girls who checked social media multiple times a day had a 38 per cent greater risk of suffering psychological distress; it recommends that parents encourage teenagers to leave their phones downstairs when they go to bed and to get plenty of physical exercise.

The causes seem to be related both to the exposure to anxiety inducing content such as comparisons or exposure  to cyberbullying – even if it is to others – and that the time spent on social media reduces the time spent on more positive or support activities including sleeping.

The Times quoted Russell Viner, the lead researcher from the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health: “Our results suggest that social media itself doesn’t cause harm, but that frequent use may disrupt activities that have a positive impact on mental health such as sleeping and exercising, while increasing exposure of young people to harmful content, particularly the negative experience of cyberbullying.”

Dasha Nicholls from Imperial College London, who co-authored the report, adds: “The clear sex differences we discovered could simply be attributed to girls accessing social media more frequently than boys, or to the fact that girls had higher levels of anxiety to begin with. Cyberbullying may be more prevalent among girls, or it may be more closely associated with stress in girls than in boys.”

Now all this makes sense to me – from my own experience as a parent it seems that the use of social media by girls is much more tied up with their self-representation, self-image and self-worth; while teenage boys seems to communicate “superficial drivel” – a bit like the way that guys, in a new social situation, will chat about their car journey or football rather than their current hopes and worries.

Yet these result chime with the results shown in the UK Adult Psychiatric Morbidity shows that 26 % of young women, aged between 16 and 18, have a common mental health disorder (depression, generalised anxiety, phobias or obsessions etc) compared with only 9% of men.

Now it could be that young women face different challenges to young men or it could be that something in the way we bring girls up means that they develop less resilience than boys – but I think this report on the impacts of social media usage on the lives of young girls is real food for thought.

Burnout – it’s official

A 2018 study found that 40% of U.S. adult workers were so “burnt-out” at their jobs that they considered quitting.

So now The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recognised the growing issue of corporate burnout as a medical condition, meaning that as of 2020, it will officially be identified in the International Classification of Diseases. (See here )

The WHO identifies “burnout” specifically as a “workplace issue”:  officially described as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”:

“It is characterised by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy. Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

“The new WHO classification means that workers experiencing burnout will be able to receive a medical diagnosis. Along with mental illness, workers have historically felt discouraged from discussing such issues within the workplace; yet now, due to the classification, workers may well feel emboldened to open up about the issue, therefore preventing a culture of taboo.

Key symptoms of burnout include fatigue; increased anxiety; Lack of motivation; lack of self-care and the emergence of severe health issues: typically symptoms may start with back pain, migraines and eye-strain or feeling like you’re drowning in your workload and have led to strokes and even heart attacks for some business professionals who refused to seek help.

Recent research conducted by CEO Magazine found that  70% of polled CEOs were in a severely unhealthy fitness condition, whilst 100% claimed to be suffering from some sort of stress ailment including headaches, asthma, ulcers and backaches.

I guess this WHO recognition is the start to ensuring that employers and health services focus on the phenomenon of burnout; and that those suffering from burnout are supported by their employers in the same way as those with any other health issues.

Now I expect we all have friends and family who have suddenly suffered from  “adrenal breakdown” or from the symptoms listed above – and the onset of such symptoms can often come as a shock… and be bewildering for the sufferer.  Yet a previous post shows  (here) that many people significantly over estimate their current level of resilience and so a “burnout episode” can strike from “out of the blue”.  Worse,  I have watched friends in high performing jobs start to suffer from such symptoms and then compound the situation by adding anxiety as they start to experience self-doubt and wonder how that can continue to earn at their current rate given how they feel… what will be the impact on their lifestyle and loved ones.  For many, it may be the first time that that have to admit to themselves, let alone anyone else, that they are not invincible.

The way out for those effected is often to rethink their approach to their work… and to their lives. Yet for most of us who have yet to experience burnout is it not too late to think about our priorities (…our ego), our work life balance and to take care of our wellbeing and resilience.

The Rezl Toolbox includes a tutorial and a guided mediation to help those experiencing symptoms of pressure and stress.  Please get in contact if you would like to try it.