What is Social Media Anxiety Disorder?

social media anxiety
credit: Paul Hanaoka

It’s official: Social Media Anxiety Disorder (SMAD) is a legitimate issue in the therapy community.

In case you’ve somehow avoided social media or you’re a total shut-in, let us explain. It’s not just FOMO or jealousy, this is a whole other beast. SMAD happens when social media affects your self-worth, your confidence, and your mood, leading to lasting issues with self-esteem, depression, and stress. It’s what happens when you’re constantly comparing yourself to everyone else when everyone else seemingly has the perfect life.

As therapist Rachel Kazez explained to Teen Vogue,

“It’s risky to compare your insides to someone else’s outsides. On social media, people post the best version of themselves. If you compare that to yourself, you are comparing it to your whole self — flaws, fears, and all.”

And while it’s not an official DSM diagnosis, many therapists have already identified symptoms in their patients.

Mallory Grimste, LCSW, said,

“I have had girls sitting on my couch in tears because they followed their parents’ rule of turning their phone in during homework time only to return to 20 panicky messages from peers that sometimes turn really nasty. Part of my work with these girls is helping them learn to prepare their friends for this healthy boundary-setting and also learn not to be responsible for someone else’s anxiety.”

At her recent NYFW show, designer Hillary Taymour tried to use her show to address the issue, and even went so far as to call technology a “destructive force.”

While folks first started addressing the issue back in 2013, it didn’t seem like the disorder gained much traction. Many shrugged it off but new studies are showing it can be even more harmful than first thought. A study conducted by Florida State University found a substantial correlation between Facebook usage and eating disorders. Another study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh found that social media usage often led to issues sleeping.

At this point, there’s still a lot that is unknown about SMAD, including how to overcome it. Obviously decreased usage helps, but whether that’s enough to reverse the effects is still inconclusive.

Lena Finkel
Lena Finkel is the founder and editor of Femestella and The Feminist Health Source. She started Femestella in 2016 and soon realized the need for reliable and judgmental-free health articles. In 2022, she launched The Feminist Health Source as a sister site that hopes to help people of all genders, sexualities, body types, abilities, and more get the health information they need. When she's not busy working on Femestella and The Feminist Health Source, you can usually find her binge-watching the latest Netflix series and snuggling with her Tuxedo cat.