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Your Facebook Friends Could Be Making You Sick

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Social media makes it easy for us to be connected 24/7 from the palms of our hands. Sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram allow us to scroll through our feeds to comment, like, and post content. Now, a recent study published in Computers in Human Behavior found people with more Facebook friends suffer from poorer health, and in particular, more upper respiratory infections.

Facebook user behavior helped researchers at Regis University explain the link between Facebook use, stress and health. Social media use was not linked to poorer health, nor was the total time spent on Facebook associated with infections.

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However, the number of Facebook friends influenced the likelihood of infections along with participants who reported Facebook-induced anxiety.

“Users who demonstrated anxiety regarding their Facebook use were more likely to demonstrate a pattern of increased number of log-ins to Facebook/day and these anxiety-linked behavior patterns were associated with poorer health,” wrote the researchers, in their paper.

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Moreover, anxious Facebook users included those who spent more time analyzing why someone did not immediately respond to a comment they left; used Facebook to avoid face-to-face interactions; and were more likely to question whether a commentor was serious or joking.

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Previous research has found Facebook increases people’s anxiety levels by making them feel inadequate and inducing excess worry and stress. Researchers believe this is because social media sites provide constant updates, which motivates many people to obsessively check their status and newsfeed on their smartphones. Moreover, two-thirds of users had difficulty sleeping due to anxiety and other negative emotions after using the social media sites.

Exposure to chronic stress can suppress immune function, therefore, increasing the possibility of infection. Social media-induced anxiety and worry can lead to chronic stress, which could lead to developing health problems, like upper respiratory infections following virus exposure. Anxiety could also spur a flare-up of an existing allergic or autoimmune condition. A study published in Clinical and Experimental Allergy found periods of chronic stress can result in an increased incidence of herpes virus reactivation, which offers proof that stress suppresses the immune components that keep viral infections in check.