You may want to think twice before you accept that Facebook friend request! According to a new report from the University of Edinburgh, the more friends you have on Facebook, the more stressed you're likely to be about having them.
In a survey of more than 300 Facebook users, researchers found that large social networks lead to anxiety and, unsurprisingly, being "friends" with employers and parents leads to the greatest jump in stress. The study authors say that having a ton of friends increases the likelihood that you'll do or say something that will offend somebody, which can cause you to worry every time you post something.
Although you may not realize it, you tend to behave slightly differently in "real life" depending on who you may be with, the study authors say. For example, you may swear or drink a lot with your best friend or boyfriend, but you probably don't do that around your boss or grandma.
Before the advent of social networks, life was more easily compartmentalized: You saw your boss at work, your roommate at home, and your mother-in-law during the holidays. Now all your friends are "living" in the same digital space, if you will, and there's a higher chance your worlds will collide, meaning that all the careful boundaries you construct in real life can fall apart on the Internet. (After all, do you think your boss wants to see those photos of you downing shots on vacation in Thailand? Do you want her to see them?)
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But that's not reason to delete your Facebook account. These tips from Tara Marshall, Ph.D., psychology lecturer at Brunel University in London, will help you manage your account—and your stress levels.
1. Use the privacy functions on Facebook. Only about a third of users use them to their advantage, and they can go a long way in ensuring that your various social circles don't ever overlap. "If you're not going to be diligent about using the privacy settings, it might be better if you're not Facebook friends with your boss, especially since people have been fired for posting inappropriate content on Facebook," Marshall says. "If you don't want your parents or family members seeing a different side of you, don't 'friend' them."
2. Remember that it's not a popularity contest. You don't need to accept every friend request, Marshall reminds. "If you've only met someone once or twice or you've never met him or her, it's okay to decline."
3. Pare down your list of friends. Similar to the point above, Marshall suggests taking a look at your friends and "defriending" those you only consider acquaintances.
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4. Cap your number of Facebook friends at 150. "It seems as though the crucial stress factor is the number of social circles one has on Facebook, so theoretically having 500 friends in one social circle would be less stressful than having fewer friends that belonged to overlapping circles," Marshall says. A theory called Dunbar's Number suggests that, due to the limits of human processing cognitive capacity, we can only maintain ongoing social relationships with about 150 people, so use that as a guideline for how many friends you maintain, she says.
5. If all else fails, take a break. We know, we know—even going a day without checking Facebook makes us break out into a cold sweat. But if you find yourself constantly stressed, a short break could do you good. Why not power down your laptop, log out of your Facebook mobile app, and catch up with a friend in person?