In both offline and online communities, we put ourselves at risk to anxiety inducing situations. Recently, physicians have been placing a lot of attention on social media as a trigger for anxiety. Take a look at these common online occurrences, and see how these social media platforms induce Social Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Some of these situations may sound too familiar to you.

Social Media and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)


It's Friday night and you're at home. Today was slow, so you decided to leave the office early. Settled in your pajamas, you unlock your screen and open up Facebook. What's this? “John Brown and 7 others are at Local Pub." It looks like all of your coworkers decided to get drinks after work. Must have been a spontaneous decision, and since you had already gone home, there was no point in inviting you. However, you can't shake the feeling of loneliness and sadness. Then with a frown on your face, you like the post, type “tfti," and post it. And from then on, you've stopped leaving the office early for fear of missing out on post-work festivities.

With the ability for users to upload pictures and videos, check in to locations, and tag friends in posts, Facebook might be the biggest online cause of SAD. The fear of missing out, or FOMO, refers to the social anxiety we get when we feel disconnected from social experiences. On Facebook, you can easily scroll through the feed and be updated on where your friends are, who they're with, and what are they doing—without you.


Reddit loves cats. So in theory, if you post a picture of a tired kitten on r/aww, you'll surely break 1,000 karma. But right after you post, your cat picture is downvoted to -38, and people fill your inbox with comments saying that they've already seen this a million times. You're left with negative karma, a reputation of being unoriginal, and a growing fear of sharing ever again.

Those who Reddit are susceptible to SAD because of online rejection and judgment from strangers. Unlike most platforms, Reddit is a more anonymous form of social media that focuses on forum style posts. Each post is public and all users can “upvote" and “downvote" posts. This means that complete strangers can like or dislike whatever you contribute. Sometimes, posts will be downvoted into negative numbers. And since Reddit users tend to stay anonymous, people are more inclined to dish out harsh judgment for the sake of humor. Those who cannot take jokes with a grain of salt should stay away.


You snap a picture of yourself, slap on the Walden filter, type “#selfie," and share it. Hours pass, and no one has liked your picture. You second-guess how good you think you look, and instantly feel unattractive.

Are you Instafamous? Accounts that attract the most traffic seem to be amateur models. After looking at accounts with more than 100,000 followers, you can't help but feel insecure about the popularity of your pictures. Instagram may be increasing the number of those with SAD with its popularity-based community. Photos left unliked give users a sense of, “Why doesn't anyone like my pictures?" or “No one seems interested in me." Users obsessing over selfies may also suffer from Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

Social Media and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)


You've just created a Pinterest. The homepage opens up and overwhelms your visual senses with crisp photos of cute outfits, delectable desserts, and impressive DIY projects. Before you know it, you're scrolling up and down, pinning left and right. But then you realize that you've pinned a picture of a lilac gradient garden onto your Homemade Recipes Board. Fury fills you as you go to edit your board and restore order.

Pinterest addicts show signs of OCD. Pinterest allows users to post pictures on virtual boards. These boards generally have themes like “hobbies" or “food." Collecting photos and meticulously organizing them onto boards reflect obsessive behaviors. A main symptom of OCD is obsession. A common obsession is the necessity to have things in a particular order. On Pinterest, addicts tend to obsess over the quality of their pins and organization of their boards.


Wake up. Tweet, “Good morning #twitterverse!" Brush teeth. Tweet, “Bye morning breath." Cook breakfast. Tweet, “Why am I trying? Just another meal for one." Read Justin Bieber's latest tweet. Tweet, “@justinbieber Go back to Canada!"

In 140 characters or less, you can tweet whatever's on your mind. The phenomenon of live-tweeting has led to people obsessively posting about every single facet of their lives, but excessive Twitter use can easily dip into OCD territory. Users seem to find relief when they tweet, get retweeted, or gain new followers. People also use Twitter to keep up with news and celebrities. Many celebrities and companies use Twitter as an outreach to their fan base. This means you can directly complain to Taco Bell about your soggy CrunchWrap Supreme or stay up-to-date with the mundane lives of your favorite celebrities. Come up for air in between tweets to avoid the pitfalls of Twitter-induced OCD.

Social Media and General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)


Upon opening up LinkedIn, a red flag tells you that two people viewed your profile this week. Who, exactly? Because you don't have premium, you can only see one of the two: the hiring manager of a big start-up. But you haven't been on LinkedIn in months. When you look at your profile, to your horror, you notice a typo, a Yahoo email address, and only four lonely connections. The hiring manager probably didn't want to connect with you because of your lack of professionalism. After frantically fixing and optimizing your profile, you retreat to your room to cry out of embarrassment.

For many, LinkedIn has successfully connected them to important people in the business world and served as a portal to new jobs. Unique to LinkedIn, users can see who has viewed their profile. Knowing which powerful CEO looks at your profile can cause constant worry about the quality of your account, as well as the connections you've made so far. This continuous fear is a symptom of GAD. Your LinkedIn profile may determine the success of your career, and that's why it's making you anxious.

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Michele Rosenthal
Katherine K. Dahlsgaard, Ph.D.
Eugene G. Lipov, M.D.
Maisha M. Syeda, MSc.
Herman R. Lukow II, Ph.D.


Date of original publication:

Updated: October 23, 2015