Twitter seems like nothing more than an incredibly stressful time-suck: do you really need to be one of the many voices offering political opinions in real time (#SOTU)? And hey Twitterverse, why not just watch your shows instead of sending out commentary (#TGIT) every five seconds? But surprisingly, "micro-blogging" may be a must-have part of a social media strategy that can actually lower stress, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
Ladies who logged on to Twitter several times throughout the day, sent or received 25 emails, and texted a friend two photos a day scored 21% lower on a stress scale than those who didn’t use these technologies at all, Pew researchers found. They reached their findings after surveying a nationally representative sample of 1,801 adults on their social media habits, and then giving them a research-backed questionnaire (called the Perceived Stress Scale) to assess how often their lives felt overloaded, unpredictable, and uncontrollable in the 30 days prior.
After analyzing the stress levels of men and women separately, they found that overall, women are more stressed than men (not a surprise). But interestingly, the researchers also found that these three technologies—Twitter, e-mail and photo sharing—helped reduce stress in women who used them, compared to women who skipped them. Meanwhile, men experienced the same amount of stress whether they used social media or not.
The researchers aren’t sure what's behind these nuanced findings: What is it about these specific communication tools? And why aren't men helped by them in the same way? But they suspect that the answers lie in the therapeutic nature of sharing about personal events—something women who tweet are more likely to do.
“Existing studies have found that social sharing of both positive and negative events can be associated with emotional well-being, and that women tend to share their emotional experience with a wider range of people than do men,” Pew experts wrote in the report. “Sharing through email, sending text messages of pictures of events shortly after they happen and expressing oneself through the small snippets of activity allowed by Twitter may provide women with a low-demand and easily accessible coping mechanism that is not experienced or taken advantage of by men.”
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As great as sharing is for your mental health, the researchers also note that reading other people's posts can majorly stress you out. Hearing about things like injuries, arrests, or deaths increased anxiety by 5 to 14% among women, with similar findings for men. The catchy name for this phenomenon? "The cost of caring."
So, go ahead: Tweet, Snapchat, and email to your heart’s content. Just be careful about getting too wrapped up in other people's drama or the scary things happening in the news.