How to reduce anxiety associated with social media addiction

This article was co-authored by Chloe Carmichael, PhD. Chloe Carmichael, PhD is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who runs a private practice in New York City. With over a decade of psychological consulting experience, Dr. Chloe specializes in relationship issues, stress management, self esteem, and career coaching. She has also instructed undergraduate courses at Long Island University and has served as adjunct faculty at the City University of New York. Dr. Chloe completed her PhD in Clinical Psychology at Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York and her clinical training at Lenox Hill Hospital and Kings County Hospital. She is accredited by the American Psychological Association and is the author of “Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety” and “Dr. Chloe’s 10 Commandments of Dating.”

There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

This article has been viewed 11,193 times.

Social media can be a great platform for keeping in touch with friends and networking with potential professional collaborators. For individuals with social media addiction, though, any social media account can be a source of great anxiety. Feeling like your life is boring or inadequate and fearing that you’re missing out on something exciting are common experiences for individuals with social media addiction. [1] X Research source If you have social media addiction, you can break out of your online cycle by combating the symptoms of your anxiety and reducing or altogether eliminating your social media usage.

This article was co-authored by Chloe Carmichael, PhD. Chloe Carmichael, PhD is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who runs a private practice in New York City. With over a decade of psychological consulting experience, Dr. Chloe specializes in relationship issues, stress management, self esteem, and career coaching. She has also instructed undergraduate courses at Long Island University and has served as adjunct faculty at the City University of New York. Dr. Chloe completed her PhD in Clinical Psychology at Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York and her clinical training at Lenox Hill Hospital and Kings County Hospital. She is accredited by the American Psychological Association and is the author of “Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety” and “Dr. Chloe’s 10 Commandments of Dating.”

There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

This article has been viewed 11,193 times.

Social media can be a great platform for keeping in touch with friends and networking with potential professional collaborators. For individuals with social media addiction, though, any social media account can be a source of great anxiety. Feeling like your life is boring or inadequate and fearing that you’re missing out on something exciting are common experiences for individuals with social media addiction. [1] X Research source If you have social media addiction, you can break out of your online cycle by combating the symptoms of your anxiety and reducing or altogether eliminating your social media usage.

How to reduce anxiety associated with social media addiction

The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a behavior that becomes compulsive or continues despite negative consequences. In 2017, 43% of Americans reported checking social media constantly, and 20% said social media is a source of stress.

In addition, interacting with social media can trigger a dopamine response in the brain, similar to that triggered by drug or alcohol use. That response can leave you wanting more and feeling addicted. Here’s how to fight it.

How to break social media addiction

In 2018, people with internet access worldwide spent an average of 144 minutes on social media every day. Yet research indicates that limiting social media use to 30 minutes a day is optimal for mental health.

Abstinence is often recommended for treating drug or alcohol addiction, but for social media addiction, the ideal psychological outcome is controlled use of the internet. It’s not necessary to give up social media entirely, but it is important to have strategies for setting limits.

Lin Sternlicht, a licensed mental health counselor at Family Addiction Specialist, recommends that people who are concerned about social media addiction take the following steps:

  • Go on a social media cleanse: Challenge yourself to go a certain time without checking social media, whether it’s for a few hours or an entire week. One 2019 study found that some students who went for five days without social media experienced a “sense of serenity,” although others were afraid of missing out.
  • Delete apps, or disable notifications from social media: Most people check into social media mindlessly, so put a small barrier in the way by turning off notifications. If you don’t see a social media icon or alert every time you pick up your phone, you’re less likely to spend time there.
  • Set limits and stick to them. Most phones and tablets allow you to see the time you’ve spent on certain apps. Set a limit for your time spent on social media and stick to it, or use an app that blocks social media after you’ve hit your limit. For teens, the American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends that social media use not interfere with activities like family meals, exercise, or “unplugged downtime.”
  • Dedicate time to hobbies or activites. A hobby or new activity can help curb your desire to check in to social media. “The idea here is to fill up your free time with things that you enjoy that are good for you,” Sternlicht says. “Naturally you will find less time to be on social media and more time to be present in life, and hopefully even socialize in person instead of through a screen.”

Accountability is more important than abstinence

Going on a digital detox — or totally abstaining from social media for a certain period of time — can be effective for some people, but not others, says Neha Chaudhary, MD, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

“For some, it may break a cycle that has started to feel toxic or have negative effects,” she says. “For others, stopping altogether may lead to craving its use and not being able to sustain the break, or might keep someone from accessing the beneficial parts of social media, like a way to stay connected and reach out for support.”

Rather than relying on a total detox, Chaudhary recommends setting limits and recruiting some of your friends and family to join you.

“Accountability plays a big role in trying to make any change,” she says. “Maybe decide with a friend that you want to both reduce use, or tell your family member your goals so that they can check in with you about it. Whatever it is, find a way to have someone help keep you on track — breaking habits alone can be difficult.”

In severe cases, someone who is worried about social media addiction should also consider seeking professional help from a therapist or mental health specialist.

Objective: This study investigated the types of daily life stressors associated with social media use in adolescents with problematic Internet/smartphone use in a city in Korea.

Methods: Data from 2,997 Internet and smartphone users who participated in a survey about the actual use of smart digital media in Korea were included. The measurement tools included questionnaires on Internet and smartphone usage patterns and types of daily life stressors as well as the Internet Gaming Use-Elicited Symptom Screen and a smartphone addiction scale. The subjects were divided into a problematic Internet/smartphone use group and a control group. We compared the types of daily life stressors associated with social media use for each group.

Results: All types of daily life stressors were more prevalent in the problematic Internet use group than in the control group. In the problematic Internet/smartphone use group, the types of daily life stressors that were positively associated with social media use were sibling rivalry and physical health. In the control group, social media use was negatively associated with daily life stressors related to appearance and heterosexual relationships.

Conclusion: There is a need to provide personalized stress management related to social media use for adolescents with problematic Internet/smartphone use.

Keywords: Internet; Problematic use; Smartphone; Social media; Stressor.

How to reduce anxiety associated with social media addiction

Being an online celebrity comes with the potential risk of anxiety and other mental health issues.

Once upon a time a person had to possess some degree of talent in singing, dancing, acting, writing, etc. But today’s online culture has created a peculiar kind of VIP and attendant social strata in which ability and drive hold less sway than savvy marketing and self-promotion.

YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms have made it possible for average Joes and Janes to achieve visibility through memes, viral videos, and blogs 1 . Indeed, the long hours and resources that go into developing and honing talent have become less important than simply opening up and displaying one’s day-to-day life, continuously offering commentary on one’s own daily interactions. The more intimate, outrageous, and sentimental moments are key to gaining followers and racking up those all-important “likes.”

Fame and Self-Branding

Popular culture has long been enamored of stories of the young hopeful arriving in Hollywood fresh off a Greyhound bus, sipping a drink at a drugstore soda fountain, and the fickle hand of fate stepping in and quickly rocketing her to stardom. It might not be surprising, then, that individuals who fantasize about fame for its own sake show increased social media use (posting photos and updates, responding to posts) and are more likely to center their social media habits around celebrities and celebrity culture, such as following and “friending” media figures 2 .

This careful branding of identity as a consumable good has given rise to the micro-celebrity, who cultivates an online persona in hopes of establishing oneself as an important media figure. Performers in more traditional forms of media draw clear lines between their public faces and private lives, but micro-celebrity shifts ownership of identity from the bearer to the perceiver, collapsing the roles between viewer and viewed in a perpetual game of “Who am I? Who do you think I am?”

Downsides of Online Success

While micro-celebrity can indeed bring about the desired results of fame and influence, any perceived misstep can bring about a swift fall from favor, often through various forms of online harassment and sabotage known as trolling 3 .

For many young people, deep in the processes of defining themselves within a celebrity-obsessed culture, the pull of social networking as a centerpiece of identity formation is irresistible. A recent study indicates that over the past few decades, young adults have become more focused on the self, leading to unrealistic ambitions and an orientation toward material wealth — all individualistic values that resonate with the value of fame.

YouTube and other social media sites are central to many adolescents’ self-presentation and self-promotion strategies 4 , or how they attempt to create a desired impression of themselves to others. Aside from the pitfalls of creating a successfully strong online identity, a recent study suggests that increased social media use is also associated with depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbance 5 .

It is a fundamental human motivation to form and maintain positive impressions of the self for others, but the presence of social anxiety can distort processes of self-presentation, particularly when social media sites (such as Facebook) become an anxiety sufferer’s main conduit for engaging with the world. Individuals who perceive themselves as deficient in social skills tend to develop a preference for online social interaction over face to-face exchanges to minimize social risks associated with self-presentation. Whether these social deficiencies are real or imagined, these individuals tend to invest a disproportionate amount of attention, time, and effort in online socializing 6 .

Moreover, because social media emphasizes photographs and videos over the written word, heavy use of such sites can create an unhealthy concentration on the body and how it’s perceived by others. This can lead to self-objectification (or choosing to evaluate oneself based on appearance) and anxiety over one’s body and appearance. In turn, this opens the door to eating disorders, depression, sexual dysfunction 7 , and various other mental and physical health problems.

Studies also indicate that when girls and women portray themselves on social networking sites, they are strongly evaluated based on their physical appearance. This leads to an expectation of comments focused solely on physical attractiveness and subsequent enhancing how of one’s body and looks are presented online 8 .

The Offline Authentic Self

To those who can recall the slower days of pre-internet life, all of this might lead to the question, “How did we get here?” Stars were once larger-than-life figures, untouchable save for a lucky hour or two seated before a screen or stage, not the attention-hungry ordinary person relentlessly broadcasting every little thought and musing in 140 characters.

As economic forces necessitate two incomes for many families to survive, children may grow up spending less time with their parents. This may lessen invaluable nurturing time and make a child feel unsure of their place in the world — and vulnerable to platforms that make them feel important and special.

If we receive nurturing and healthy mirroring and attention to our authentic self from babyhood on, we develop an inner sense of self that is strong and knows how to duplicate the connectedness we experienced as children with healthy parents 9 . On the other hand, it’s been argued that the phenomenon of helicopter parenting has created a generation of self-anointed rock stars who their knowledge of branding to monetize their specialness to become an industry of one 10 .

Findings have shown that maintaining a mindful nonjudgmental stance may help decrease self-objectification and egocentrism. In a recent study, mindfulness induced during yoga classes was associated with significant decreases in self-objectification and improvements in mood and enjoyment 11 . Also, the anxiety-provoking believe of standing out in the eyes of others often is an entirely misplaced conviction. Studies have demonstrated that brief mindfulness-based meditation may help reduce perceptions of personal salience or prominence while seeing ourselves as others during mental imagery 12 .

How to reduce anxiety associated with social media addiction"Facebook addiction" refers to excessive, compulsive use of the site with the aim of altering mood, despite any negative consequences.

Social networking sites (SNS) like Facebook offer the obvious advantage of frequent and convenient interpersonal communication. More than a billion people are reported to log in daily to Facebook, the most popular SNS in the world and the one that has been most studied. Roughly half of those aged 18 to 24 years check the site upon awakening. While many people use Facebook without issue, a growing body of research suggests that some users can develop addictive behavior involving this SNS.

Though it is not a formal diagnosis, researchers have used the term “Facebook addiction” to refer to excessive, compulsive use of the site with the aim of altering mood, despite any negative consequences. Excessive use alone does not denote addiction without compulsivity. For example, some individuals spend large amounts of time on Facebook as part of their jobs but are not compelled to overuse the site on a personal basis. “Like many behavioral addictions, it is a combination of salience and loss of control, though there are certain differentiators,” said Frederick Muench, PhD, a clinical psychologist and director of digital health interventions in the department of psychiatry at Northwell Health in New York City. “In particular, social insecurity – fear of missing out, feeling others have better lives than oneself – appears to be uniquely associated with Facebook addiction,” he told Psychiatry Advisor.

A 2015 study Dr Muench coauthored found no link between Facebook addiction and positive offline relationships, which suggests that the feelings associated with social relationships may be more influential than the presence or absence of positive relationships. 2 “This is different from other types of addiction, Dr Muench said. “For example, whereas pathologic gambling may be driven by reward and deficits in monetary loss sensitivity, trouble controlling SNS use may be driven in part by the desire to gratify social insecurity and comparison, among other factors, even when positive relationships already exist.”

Other research has identified specific traits connected with a higher propensity for Facebook addiction. A review published in 2014 in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions found it to be linked with being male and a heavy user of the site, as well as certain psychological factors. 3 “Basically, the main conclusion of the article was that Facebook users with low psychosocial wellbeing – such as those who are lonely, anxious, or depressed – can be at risk of developing symptoms that are suggestive of Facebook addiction,” said study coauthor Tracii Ryan, PhD, a research fellow at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. This often occurs as a result of habitual use of the site for the purpose of alleviating negative moods.

Compulsive Facebook use can have negative consequences, including relationship problems, disrupted sleep, impaired academic performance, and feelings of envy, according to a variety of findings. 1 One study, for example, found that regular users are more likely to perceive life as being unfair and to believe that others have better lives than theirs; other research observed an association between compulsive use and relationship dissatisfaction. 4,5

The way in which the site is used may be a key factor in whether it is healthy or not, adds Dr Muench. Passive use – also known as “lurking” – has been found to be more dysfunctional than active use such as posting or interacting with other users. A 2013 study showed that greater Facebook use led to a decline in wellbeing over time, although not in users who interacted directly with other users on the site. 6

While there is no standard cutoff to indicate addictive Facebook behavior, Dr Muench says use may be problematic if an individual:

  • Uses it more than intended
  • Spends time on the site that used to be spent on other activities
  • Does not find it rewarding but continues to engage in excessive use
  • Feels social envy when using the site
  • Experiences consequences in relationships as a result of Facebook use

Dr Muench suggests that clinicians pay particular attention to these indicators when assessing for compulsive Facebook use, as well as aspects like lurking, fear of missing out, and envy associated with use. “The problem is there are rarely terrible consequences, but rather it sucks the life out of an individual slowly, so clinicians miss it,” he notes. He recommends that if clinicians have concerns regarding a patient’s Facebook use, they should consider advising a 1-week break, then eventually a 1-month break, from all social media. Findings have shown that such a break leads to increases in life satisfaction and positive emotions. 7

“If Facebook use does seem to be causing significant problems in an individual’s life, it would be worthwhile trying to get to the root of the issue,” adds Dr Ryan. “It is possible that it may be linked to social loneliness, social anxiety, or depressive episodes.”

Dr Ryan says that much of the current research on the topic is based on other addictive behaviors such as compulsive gambling and internet addiction, and “to improve the validity of Facebook addiction, it is important for researchers to continue researching whether it involves unique symptoms, or whether it affects different people in different ways.” Conducting further studies in Facebook-addicted individuals would be particularly useful.

Dr Muench points to the need for more analytical data, as many studies in this area to date have been based on self-report, and that additional research on interventions is also needed. “The early research suggests taking a break is helpful, as is changing how one uses social networking sites,” he says. “The more I get involved in this and other research, the more I become a Luddite about social media in particular.

Are you aware of the negative effects of social media? Studies suggest a link between time spent using social media and loneliness

How often do you feel lonely? If you’d say that you experience loneliness sometimes or even always, you are not alone. According to a new survey of 20,000 Americans sponsored by The Cigna Health Insurance Company, loneliness is at epidemic proportions. 1 And if you suffer from mental illness, odds are that feeling lonely and disconnected from others is a factor in your depression and/or anxiety. But how can you feel disconnected from others when you are constantly able to be connected through social media? The answer is complicated.

In the recent survey sponsored by The Cigna Health Insurance Company, 46% of respondents reported sometimes or always feeling alone. How big of a role does social media play on these high loneliness figures? That depends on how you interact with the Internet. Studies suggest that using Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and similar social media apps to keep in touch with friends and forge off-line connections can add vitality and communion to your life. But if you are spending hours every day using social media mainly as a substitute for real connection, your feelings of loneliness and inadequacy will likely worsen.

We’ve all been in a public place, waiting for a friend to arrive or simply dining, traveling, or sitting alone, and opened an app to avoid “awkward” eye contact with those around us. And it is common for social anxiety sufferers to open social media apps to temporarily feel some connection to others. But when they unplug, the feeling of connection dissipates. Furthermore, frequently viewing curated snapshots of other people’s lives might leave social media users feeling as if everyone else has a better life, is smarter, funnier, more interesting, has more friends, etc.. The impulse to believe this illogical notion can be even stronger for social media users with low self-esteem. The online world might begin to feel like a minefield of potential triggers: from the comparison trap outlined above to obsessively checking if someone has “liked” their post or wished them a happy birthday.

Demographically it seems young adults with heavy use of social media platforms–two hours a day have twice the change of experiencing social anxiety, according to a 2017 study. The study’s researchers also found that participants who are online most frequently–defined as 50 or more visits a week–have three times the odds of perceived social isolation as those who went online less than nine times a week. And it isn’t just young adults affected by the social media-loneliness conundrum. It can be adults, stuck in their routines and feeling unable to discover new ways to find and foster friendships offline.

Worried you may be suffering from Internet Addiction Disorder?

Take our 2-minute Internet addiction quiz to see if you may benefit from further diagnosis and treatment.

My patient *Janette, age 35, was painfully shy, even as a child. Initially, she saw social media as a way to experience an involvement in people’s lives since she found it difficult to make friends in face-to-face situations. Over the course of several months, her social media use spiraled to over 60 hours a week. “At first, I felt this was really helping me feel less lonely, but after a while the more time I spent scrolling the more miserable and rejected I felt. A part of me knew Facebook friends weren’t really rejecting me when they posted photos of parties they hadn’t invited me too because we’d never met or knew one another only casually. But I just felt worse and worse.”

Rather than helping her feel like she had a community, social media accentuated her lonely state. It re-triggered old hurts, such as when, growing up, her mother had sometimes remarked, “What did I do to be stuck with such a boring child?”

My advice to Janette in one of our therapy sessions: “The solution to healing the awful way you were taught to feel about yourself is not to keep casting about for others’ approval, but to look inward, work on exorcising your mother’s voice and at building ego—your sense of self-worth.”

I gave her an assignment: to disconnect. Or to at least set a strict boundary, such as going on social media for just one hour a day. Understandably, Janette found it very difficult to break her social media habit. It had become, in many ways, more of an addiction than a habit. So we added a complementary assignment: to become more engaged in the real world.

She gathered her courage and volunteered for a local environmental group which allowed her to meet like-minded people. It can be easy to conflate being “social” with going to parties and get-togethers, hanging out at bars or music shows, but those activities aren’t the only way to make friends. Doing things that you actually enjoy and look forward to not only eases anxiety surrounding social events but allows you to meet like-minded people. Having things in common makes it easier to find things to chat about, especially when you’re shy. So Janette nurtured her other outside interests: hiking and a Sunday movie-going group. It took a couple months until Janette started getting her social media addiction under control.

Still weaning oneself of an entrenched habit is difficult, especially when said ‘habit’ is in our pocket, purse or on our wrists (Et tu Apple Watch?). Janette started small: signing off for 24 hours, then when she logged back on giving herself specific goals–for instance, checking the updates of 3 to 4 people she really knew, such as a relative or fellow volunteer, versus the dozens and dozens she’d usually scroll. She wasn’t ready to deactivate her Facebook profile, but she did leave the many private groups she had joined. She also deleted apps and downloaded software to temporarily block websites she couldn’t resist on her own.

In therapy, Janette no longer runs from facing the inner demons, but works with me to look them in the eye and thus eventually de-fang them of their power. Janette needs the blocking app less and less often, especially since she had a brainstorm on how to meet people with similar interests. Last month she started an offline support group for people who spend too much time on the Internet.

*Editor’s note: The name and identifying details have been changed.

  1. Cigna. ‘Research Puts Spotlight on the Impact of Loneliness in the U.S. and Potential Root Cause.’ Accessed 5/14/18. Available at: https://www.multivu.com/players/English/8294451-cigna-us-loneliness-survey/

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How to reduce anxiety associated with social media addiction

5 Things Never to Say to Someone With Mental Illness, and What You Can Say Instead

As adults witness the rising tides of teenaged anxiety, it’s tough not to notice a common thread that runs through the epidemic — something that past generations never dealt with. Clutched in the hand of nearly every teen is a smartphone, buzzing and beeping and blinking with social media notifications.

Parents, all too often, just want to grab their teen’s phone and stuff it in a drawer. But is social media and the omnipresence of digital interactions really the cause of all this anxiety?

The short answer is: It’s complicated.

Recent studies have noted a significant uptick in depression and suicidal thoughts over the past several years for teens, especially those who spend multiple hours a day using screens, and especially girls. But many of the pressures teenagers feel from social media are actually consistent with developmentally normal concerns around social standing and self-expression. Social media can certainly exacerbate these anxieties, but for parents to truly help their children cope, they should avoid making a blanket condemnation. Instead, parents should tailor their approach to the individual, learning where a particular child’s stressors lie and how that child can best gain control of this alluring, powerful way to connect with peers.

Many of the pressures teenagers feel from social media are actually consistent with developmentally normal concerns around social standing and self-expression.

A Link Between Social Media and Mental Health Concerns

Many experts have described a rise in sleeplessness, loneliness, worry, and dependence among teenagers — a rise that coincides with the release of the first iPhone 10 years ago. One study found that 48 percent of teens who spend five hours per day on an electronic device have at least one suicide risk factor, compared to 33 percent of teens who spend two hours a day on an electronic device. We’ve all heard anecdotes, too, of teens being reduced to tears from the constant communication and comparisons that social media invites.

Through likes and follows, teens are “getting actual data on how much people like them and their appearance,” says Lindsey Giller, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute who specializes in youth and young adults with mood disorders. “And you’re not having any break from that technology.” She’s seen teens with anxiety, poor self-esteem, insecurity, and sadness attributed, at least in part, to constant social media use.

Teenage Challenges and Stressors, Exacerbated

But the connection between anxiety and social media might not be simple, or purely negative. Correlation does not equal causation; it may be that depression and anxiety lead to more social media use, for example, rather than the other way around. There could also be an unknown third variable — for instance, academic pressures or economic concerns — connecting them, or teens could simply be more likely to admit to mental health concerns now than they were in previous generations.

It’s also important to remember that teens experience social media in a wide range of ways. The ability to raise awareness, connect with people across the world, and share moments of beauty can be empowering and uplifting for some. And many teens understand that the images they see are curated snapshots, not real-life indicators, and are less likely to let those posts make them feel insecure about their own lives.

Above all, says researcher Emily Weinstein, who studies teens and their social media habits, parents need to keep in mind that it’s probably not just social media that’s making their teens anxious — it’s the normal social stressors that these platforms facilitate, albeit at a different size and scale.

How to reduce anxiety associated with social media addiction

Playing video games and having an avatar can be beneficial for those with SAD but it can also turn into addictive Internet Gaming Disorder.

A large body of literature is examining the strong relationship between social anxiety disorder (SAD) and addictive behaviors of using cannabis and alcohol. 1, 2 Generally speaking, the research shows that individuals who have SAD are significantly more likely to develop problematic substance use than those without SAD. 3 But what about other addictive behaviors? What about, say…video games?

Video Games and Addictive Behavior

Previous studies on the effects of video games, particularly massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPG), have shown that MMORPGs can enhance an individual’s self-esteem and ability to connect with others. 4, 5 Such benefits likely stem from creating a customizable avatar and a social structure within the game to communicate with other players. This fosters connecting with other players as a character from a safe virtual space.

However, while playing such video games in moderation can be beneficial, overuse can be problematic and harmful. In fact, growing evidence indicates that it is possible to become addicted to playing video games. Internet gaming disorder (IGD) 6 is like other addictive behaviors, and it can be diagnosed in individuals who have at least five of the following nine criteria:

    1. Preoccupation with playing video games
    2. Tolerance for the growing amount of time needed to play games
    3. Withdrawal symptoms when not playing video games
    4. Inability to cut back or quit playing video games
    5. Loss of interest in other activities or hobbies
    6. Continued playing video games despite negative personal consequences
    7. Hiding or lying about the amount of time spent playing
    8. Playing to escape or find relieve from negative emotions or stressors
    9. Conflicts with other people as a result of playing video games

    Video Games and SAD

    To examine the relationship between SAD and IGD, researchers at Arizona State University and the California School of Professional Psychology conducted a study of 394 individuals who play MMORPGs. 7 The participants assessed their symptoms for IGD and SAD, as well as how strongly they identified with their avatar.

    The results indicated that greater levels of SAD are associated with greater levels of IGD, and that the relationship between the disorders may be explained by how strongly the participants identified with their avatars. In short, greater levels of SAD were related to stronger identification with an avatar, which was related to greater levels of IGD.

    According to the study authors, individuals with SAD may experience less anxiety when they interact with others through their avatar, which leads to greater identification with the avatar and increased video game playing.

    Does SAD Lead to IGD?

    Not necessarily. Because the study was cross-sectional—meaning it examined many people at one time—it’s not clear if greater levels of one variable (having SAD) led to another (stronger identification with an avatar or an increase in playing). But the results do indicate that they are at least related.

    If you experience social anxiety and you also play video games, it may be helpful to monitor your reasons for playing. Are they your primary source of social support and interaction? Or are they truly just entertaining games? Understanding the factors behind what could become problematic video game playing may just help you prevent the onset of IGD.