It depends on what stresses us.

A Pew survey released this year found that social media do not increase stress across the board. And for some groups, may lower it. An obvious example of reduced stress is a woman working alone at night in security, who has an iPod and a personal alarm, and whose desk is monitored by CCTV.

But as Pew reports,

… there is one way that people’s use of digital technology can be linked to stress: Those users who feel more stress are those whose use of digital tech is tied to higher levels of awareness of stressful events in others’ lives.

Sometimes, a social media user’s awareness of events in others’ lives includes knowledge about undesirable events, a friend or family member getting fired or losing someone close to them. Learning of such events in the life of a friend or family member can result in higher feelings of stress.

Are there remedies? Yes, and social media can actually help, if properly managed. For example, if someone has received an unwelcome diagnosis, social media can help us stay in touch and support others.

But, let’s face it, some stress depends principally on how involved we choose to be. What if the stress involves a friend’s endless audition for  failed Woody Allen screenplays?

Well… we are not trapped in the doomed scripts. Neither is the friend.

Unless, the truth is, we all really get off on the stress and do not want to move on. Then we must ask, am I doing any good getting all stressed out due to endless updates about this problem on social media, with no resolution in sight?

There is nothing wrong with asking a friend to demonstrate a commitment to resolve the issue by seeking a wider, more directed circle of help. And absent that commitment, after several tries, just moving on.

But in many cases, the problem is not a failed romance movie, and we cannot just walk out on it (serious illness, disabled child, sick spouse, lost job, failing parent, etc.). We can only help if we absorb some of the stress, rather than multiply it. 

Constant bulletins and updates about a deteriorating situation (and sometimes, conflicts around it) can be stressful and useless. But, used creatively, social media can be very helpful indeed (one example here).

One can use the cell/smartphone to contact aged siblings who can no longer visit. Play a grand-nephew’s winning piano recital. Or bring the tablet, to show photos of an event a person cannot personally attend. In many cases, it is wise to print out the photos as well, with names in large type.

I have also found it helpful, when dealing with a person with impaired memory, to keep key photos printed out in frames or in clear plastic document holders. That way, any family member, friend, caregiver, or volunteer can simply hand them over during a conversation.

One should, of course, stay in contact with caregivers, by whaever medium, to support them—but not to relay or create concerns about the care recipient, unless a likely acceptable solution is proposed. (If such matters cannot be resolved at the caregiver’s level, they should be referred higher up.)

The vid below offers some touching examples of people who probably would benefit from the constant contact social media provides if it is intentionally organized so as to benefit them. As opposed to more stress they don’t need.

Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...