Is social media creating generations of social recluses? What happened to playing kickball, board games, and tag? For those of you who are over 35 years old, you probably have vivid memories of running around outside with friends, laughing and shouting. However, those of you who are part of the “millennials” generation are probably asking yourselves, “What the heck is kickball?” Well, I’ll tell you…Once upon a time, before the iPhone, social media, or even the internet, kids used to interact face-to-face by talking, playing, and laughing. I mean, actually laughing… out loud. Not typing “LOL” or texting a laughing emoji. Through this in-person interaction, young people developed certain skills such as reading non-verbal cues, engaging in spontaneous and reciprocal conversation, identifying facial emotion, etc. They learned how to entertain themselves using creativity and imagination, rather than be passively entertained by a device.

Unfortunately, a lack of social skills is not the worst potential effect of our social media obsession. Social Media Anxiety Disorder (SMAD) is a diagnostic term now being used among mental health care professionals to describe a severe form of anxiety related specifically to social media overuse. It is thought to be a type of social anxiety. While there is no formal diagnosis of this disorder in the DSM-5, its clinical presentation is becoming more prevalent among younger populations. Researchers have begun developing psychologically sound questionnaires that distinguish between healthy and unhealthy social media use. There has even been an abundance of studies conducted that show the harmful effects of social media on mental health.

So, what exactly is Social Media Anxiety Disorder? Most people with social media accounts do not become anxious or stressed when they’re unable to constantly check their notifications throughout the day. However, for some, it is an addiction. Those who have SMAD can experience severe anxiety if they are away from their social media accounts for just a few minutes. They may forgo social events with friends and family just so they can remain active online. Developing emotional attachments with their online buddies, whom they’ve never actually met, is also a possible sign of SMAD. Additional signs and symptoms of SMAD include:

  • Spending over six hours a day on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram
  • Having an overwhelming need to share things with others on social media sites
  • Loss of interest in other activities
  • Neglecting work or school to comment on Facebook or Twitter account
  • Interrupting conversations to check your social media accounts
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you are unable to access social media
  • Unsuccessful past attempts to reduce your use of social media

Research has shown that anxiety is not the only mental health issue that can result from obsessive social media use. Depression, impulse control disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, paranoia, and suicidality have also been found to be among the possible impairments related to SMAD. In short, while technology has made our lives more convenient and entertaining, it has also created a new wave of problems regarding early social development and emotional wellbeing. So instead of texting your friend about your day, or posting a status update on Facebook, meet up for lunch and have an actual conversation.