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Social media stress: It’s real, but you can avoid it

Camille Preston, founder of
AIM LeadershipCamille Preston, founder of
AIM Leadership
Camille Preston, founder of AIM LeadershipCourtesy of Camille Preston

My husband and I can read the exact same post on Facebook and come away with completely different feelings. When I see a simple post, “Moving back to AZ,” I will connect dots. I will realize the relationship must not have worked out, wonder how she is doing given her past excitement and consider the implications for her business. My husband will think, “Wow, she’s moving back to Arizona.”

I am certain that we are not alone. Here’s why that matters.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Internet Project found that women who frequently use social media, mobile phones and email have less stress than women who use these technologies less often. However, and this is a big caveat, the survey did find that women who are frequent users of social media are more aware of the stressful events in people’s lives, and as a result, they were more likely to be stressed. “Stress is contagious,” the researchers noted.

So, the use of social media won’t make you stressed – but reading your cousin’s post about her divorce or your friend’s tweet about her layoff might. This is not the case for men.

As an executive coach, I’ve seen this emotional gender gap at work over and over again. While women take the broad approach and absorb everything in their path, men tend to focus in on the details. Women tend to want to be empathetic, connected leaders – which is generally a good thing – except when they overconnect.

I advise my clients to to be more agile in virtual collaborations and more effective with technology (so you can do what you love, from the places you love with people you enjoy). But this means being careful and proactive about your use of social media in order to reduce stress. Here are three tips:

1. Be selective about the people you follow. Be intentional about who gets your attention. Set better boundaries (literally – use those Facebook settings!) Limit the information you absorb from people who complain constantly or make you feel worse.

2. Limit what you read. A friend’s son is very ill? That’s heart-breaking and you can and should show compassion, but you don’t need to read every single update about his condition. Limit what you read so you can limit what you absorb.

3. Remember that emotions are contagious. Actively seek out connections with upbeat people. Soak in positive emotions. Focus on the profound, powerful benefits of being connected to inspiring, caring individuals.

Social media can be a wonderful way to feel connected and calm. But it’s a little like being at a party – if you choose to spend your time hearing only sad stories from sad people, you’ll leave depressed and stressed. That’s the cost of caring.

Camille Preston is a speaker, executive coach, and the author of The Rewired Resolution.