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Can Social Networking Sites Like Facebook Cause Stress?


After an 18-year-old man experienced asthma attacks triggered by seeing pictures of his ex-girlfriend on Facebook after she erased him from her page, some people are asking, Can social networking sites cause undue stress?

Social networks are just one of many stresses in life

Lead author Dr. Gennaro D’Amato of the Department of Respiratory Diseases at High Specialty Hospital A Cardarelli in Italy noted that “This case indicates that Facebook, and social networks in general, could be a new source of psychological stress, representing a triggering factor for exacerbations in depressed asthmatic individuals.” D’Amato also explained that other possible contributing elements such as environmental and infectious factors were eliminated with a thorough history and physical exam of the teenager.

Peter Kinderman, professor of clinical psychology at University of Liverpool, brought the case, which was reported in the UK Telegraph, into perspective by explaining how people become stressed by a wide variety of everyday events and circumstances that can be as ordinary as watching the news or someone slamming a door.

“So what are we going to do,” Kinderman asked, “avoid all the varied aspects of modern life? Social networks and gritty documentaries are important to people and unless you’re going to live in a bubble some things will stress people out.” He also pointed out that this case simply was an illustration of what people already know—that stress can trigger asthma attacks—and that individuals should not overreact nor stop doing things they enjoy.

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Use of social networking sites like Facebook has been analyzed in other studies. In the December 21, 2009 issue of Telegraph, for example, an article noted that social networking sites were being blamed for the rising number of divorces, with one law firm claiming that nearly 20 percent of divorce petitions cited Facebook. It seems that partners are engaging in inappropriate sexual chats online, as well as flaunting indiscretions on social networking sites.

A study published in CyberPsychology & Behavior reported that college students who spend time on Facebook and other social sites are fostering jealousy. As students search social networking sites for information about a partner’s behavior, their findings can fuel jealousy.

Another form of stress related to social networking sites is cyberbullying. A recent study found that cyberbullying is linked to a number of mental health problems, with cyberbullies reporting emotional problems, concentration and behavior difficulties, problems getting along with others, and not feeling safe while at school, all factors associated with stress.

As Jon Ayres, professor of environmental and respiratory medicine at University of Birmingham noted, “The issue of psychological stress triggering asthma is as old as the hills. I guess that Facebook simply provides another way in which susceptible people can be exposed to stressful situations.” The bottom line: if you know social networking sites cause you stress, then you can choose to avoid them.

Muise A et al. Cyberpsychol Behav 2009 Aug; 12(4): 441-44
UK Telegraph, November 19, 2010