Anxiety Disorders

Symptoms relating to anxiety often overlap with depression, especially in youths; just like depression, anxious manifestations may result from a set of internal and external circumstances. In social media, where the relational component is strong, anxiety can derive from a perception of being connected inappropriately, from negative online peer-comparison, or from reduced emotion-regulation abilities, as online interaction can be used as a surrogate for offiine physical interaction (81). Targeted Facebook features, such as seeking online approval and support through the number of “likes,” or only retaining the visibility of posts and pictures that received lots of positive feedback on one’s profile, can promote or elicit non-adaptive behaviors (i.e., excessive social comparison and rumination) and increase anxiety-related traits, such as socially prescribed perfectionism, aggravating pre-existing symptoms in youths diagnosed with an anxiety disorder (82). Facebook can also be used by teenagers as a pastime when feeling bored: a 3-year study found that usage of Facebook in order to alleviate boredom at stage 1 (17 years old) was correlated with increased levels of anxiety at a following stage (19 years old), indicating that the anxiety might be a secondary product of the problematic use of social media developed over the two time-points (61). This could reflect the fact that a 3-year window frame can encompass different stages of a teenager’s life, especially when approaching emerging adulthood. As the high school period is over, fewer amounts of structured time, coupled with less monitoring behavior by parents and teachers and greater accessibility to smartphones or other electronic devices, can result in an increase in problematic usage of social media and, as a consequence, underlying anxiety- related mechanisms (61). The type and the reiteration of a set of behaviors that Facebook users could engage in (e.g., posting a photo/comment/status update, “liking” behavior, or using the instant message) can be linked with levels of general anxiety. This might be explained by the need to keep worries related to that driving the person to frequently check a previous posting behavior (46). With regards to Instagram, which is more focused on visual contents, one study reported a direct association between Instagram usage with general anxiety in boys, while in girls this link was mediated by body image dissatisfaction, leading to different adverse outcomes in the two groups (58). This difference between genders suggests that females might be more prone to engage in social comparison, especially when it involves physical appearance. This might be because their perception of their ideal body image as being thin is affected by their excessive exposure to attractive celebrity and peer images on Instagram. Moreover, it underlines once again the importance of considering the possible concurrent mechanisms that contribute to the development of psychological issues.

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