Los Angeles Times - - SATURDAY - BY LISA MULC­AHY health@la­times.com

If you’re like most of the world, you make time for fol­low­ing friends on so­cial me­dia. In fact, 71% of adults who go on­line use Face­book and 23% use Twit­ter, ac­cord­ing to the Pew Re­search Cen­ter. That isn’t a bad thing at all. Pos­i­tive post­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion can be a real boost to your con­fi­dence and sense of con­nec­tion to oth­ers.

It can be sur­pris­ingly easy, though, to un­con­sciously slip into less health­ful be­hav­ior on so­cial me­dia, and that can lead to anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion.

Want to beat that “Face­book funk”? New re­search has iden­ti­fied which habits can lead to trou­ble and how to change your so­cial me­dia per­spec­tive to im­prove your mood and out­look.

Don’t be­lieve all their hype

A study by the Uni­ver­sity of Hous­ton found that buy­ing into the de­tails of other peo­ple’s post­ings on Face­book can lead to symptoms of de­pres­sion. If you’re look­ing at your col­lege room­mate’s wildly ro­man­tic hon­ey­moon pho­tos, for in­stance, it’s nat­u­ral to feel in­ad­e­quate if you’re still sin­gle. Re­searchers found that this is a very com­mon form of dis­torted think­ing, be­cause study sub­jects who felt this way didn’t take into ac­count that they were look­ing at a “high­light reel.”

“This can be an un­healthy per­cep­tion be­cause, of course, peo­ple present them­selves in the best pos­si­ble light with what­ever mes­sage they are send­ing out on Face­book,” says study coau­thor Mai-Ly Nguyen Steers, a teach­ing fel­low at the uni­ver­sity.

The more time you spend on Face­book, the more th­ese false per­cep­tions can be­come ce­mented. (Those who par­tic­i­pated in the study spent about 30 to 60 min­utes a day on Face­book.) To get a more re­al­is­tic view of a friend’s ex­pe­ri­ences, Steers stresses it is im­por­tant to spend time to­gether in real life, not just vir­tu­ally.

“Face­book feels like we’re con­nect­ing, but it’s not go­ing to truly connect us the way sit­ting with friends and laugh­ing and en­joy­ing our­selves will.”

Feel­ing en­vi­ous? Stop lurk­ing

Do you feel a stab of jeal­ousy ev­ery time you read on so­cial me­dia about your cousin’s gor­geous new home or your boss’ ex­cit­ing Euro­pean va­ca­tion?

“Sur­veil­lance” of those you know in or­der to get an in­side glimpse of their ma­te­rial suc­cess is a po­ten­tially de­struc­tive be­hav­ior, ac­cord­ing to re­searchers at the Uni­ver­sity of Mis­souri in Columbia. Mea­sur­ing mon­e­tary or life­style achieve­ments of some­one you know can lead to neg­a­tive feel­ings that per­son will not be aware you have and can eas­ily lead you to cre­ate ten­sion in a re­la­tion­ship where there was none. The more of­ten you visit a par­tic­u­lar per­son’s Face­book page, the more en­vi­ous, and even­tu­ally de­pressed, you may end up feel­ing too.

“Most peo­ple who suf­fer from Face­book envy and de­pres­sion tend to lurk quite a lot, and that rep­e­ti­tion re­in­forces those bad feel­ings and im­pres­sions,” says study co-au­thor Mar­garet E. Duffy, chair of the strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions fac­ulty at the Mis­souri School of Jour­nal­ism.

“If you’re con­stantly check­ing up on peo­ple and not feel­ing great about it, ask your­self, ‘What am I ac­com­plish­ing by do­ing this?’ ” Duffy says.

Also, fig­ure out what fac­tors in your life are caus­ing stress and mak­ing you sad, and there­fore sus­cep­ti­ble to envy. “If you find your­self mind­lessly lurk­ing, ask your­self how you’re feel­ing. Is it pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive? If it’s neg­a­tive, make a goal to use Face­book only in a way that makes you feel good,” Duffy ad­vises.

Don’t tweet your ev­ery thought

A sec­ond study by the Uni­ver­sity of Mis­souri found that peo­ple who send Twit­ter mes­sages of­ten — about any­thing and ev­ery­thing they’re do­ing — ex­pe­ri­ence more strife in their mar­riages and ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships than those who don’t tweet about their lives in de­tail.

This is most likely be­cause over-shar­ing your life with oth­ers on Twit­ter, di­rect-mes­sag­ing and post­ing images can cre­ate re­la­tion­ship con­flict. Not only are you po­ten­tially de­vel­op­ing bonds with new peo­ple, but also that bond­ing may deepen and lead to in­fi­delity and sub­se­quently di­vorce, ac­cord­ing to the study’s au­thor, doc­toral stu­dent Rus­sell Clay­ton. Twit­ter-re­lated con­flict doesn’t just af­fect bored, long-mar­ried cou- ples, ei­ther. Clay­ton found that cou­ples who had been to­gether for both short and long du­ra­tions could be neg­a­tively af­fected.

An­other study by re­searchers at Bos­ton Uni­ver­sity and Pon­tif­i­cal Catholic Uni­ver­sity of Chile in San­ti­ago found that heavy so­cial me­dia users are 32% more likely to think about leav­ing their spouses.

Could this be be­cause th­ese heavy users have found more in­ter­est­ing po­ten­tial part­ners/ re­la­tion­ships on­line, or might it be be­cause heavy so­cial me­dia use shuts a spouse out and cre­ates mar­i­tal strife in it­self? “Prob­a­bly it’s both,” says study co-au­thor Se­bastián Valen­zuela, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in the School of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Pon­tif­i­cal. “For some peo­ple, so­cial me­dia may cre­ate new op­por­tu­ni­ties for end­ing an un­sat­is­fy­ing re­la­tion­ship and find­ing a new one. For oth­ers, it may well be that heavy so­cial me­dia use trans­lates into an ad­dic­tive be­hav­ior and, with it, all the neg­a­tive con­se­quences an ad­dic­tion has on mar­ried cou­ples.”

Lim­it­ing your time on Twit­ter could stop th­ese re­la­tion­ship is­sues from wors­en­ing — or, bet­ter yet, from hap­pen­ing in the first place.

Il­lus­tra­tions by Anas­ta­sia Vasi­lakis For The Times

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