The downsides of social media are well-documented – from unhealthy comparisons with the people you follow, to spending far too much time staring at a screen. But new research reveals that social media can actually help people who feel lonely…
Sometimes, I look at the posts I put out on Instagram and think: how will I feel about this in 10 years’ time? Also, how will my kids feel about photos floating around the web of me breastfeeding or baring my recently post-birth belly? I like to think that we’ll all be ok with it, but there’s no way of knowing for sure.
However, what I do know is that at the time of posting these revealing (both physically and emotionally) posts, it felt right. I knew that I couldn’t be the only mother who wasn’t comfortable about her post-birth body, or was having problems with getting her baby to latch on and feed. And so I hoped others would feel less alone, if I shared my story.
But according to new research, these mini stories that we tell on social media are helping not just those who read them and can relate, but also the person posting. Apparently, ‘microblogging’ – sharing tiny tales on social media – makes us feel better because it is a less daunting way of sharing what we’re going through than a face-to-face conversation.
The research by Eva C Buechal Buechel and Jonah Berger, entitled Microblogging and the Value of Undirected Communication, reveals that people crave social interaction when they feel sad, stressed or troubled. But fear of how friends or family might respond puts them off opening up. That’s when social media can help: upload your post, and wait for the support to flow in. Anyone who’s too busy to respond simply won’t.
The people most likely to use microblogging as a way of sharing difficult emotions are those with social anxiety, the authors found. ‘The undirected nature of microblogs is key for socially anxious people, allowing them a new way to reach out to friends when they might not feel comfortable doing so otherwise,’ explains Berger.
This makes sense. An extrovert, who is comfortable opening up to anyone, will continue to share their feelings in ‘real life’. But for those of us who tend to hold back on the difficult emotions when talking to friends, it feels so much easier to share a short post, detailing whatever the struggle might be, online.
So, the next time you’re feeling blue and don’t have anyone to call, or feel worried that no one will be in the headspace to hear about your challenges – take to Instagram. Write a post, which will give you the opportunity to order your thoughts, and then wait for the responses. You’ll feel boosted, and so will your followers – knowing your life isn’t as perfect as the Instagram squares may sometimes suggest…
What do you reckon: is social media a good forum for sharing the personal stuff?