Though there is a seemingly ever-expanding body of research that suggests screen time is linked to stress in our hyperconnected world, a new Pew Study finds that the digital technology has an indirect relationship with the stress in our lives. And for women, digital technology may even relieve it.

Pew asked more than 1,000 adults to rate their stress levels using the industry-established Perceived Stress Scale and found that “overall, frequent internet and social media users do not have higher levels of stress.” Women, who were found to report higher stress levels than men did, actually registered lowered levels of stress than women who didn’t use digital technology.

“It could be that there is something valuable about social sharing, and that it actually helps them manage their stress in a low-demand way,” said the report’s chief author Keith Hampton, an associate professor at Rutgers University.

But the value of social sharing also spreads news of stressful events — something Pew refers to as a “cost of caring”:

Stress is not associated with the frequency of people’s technology use, or even how many friends users have on social media platforms. But 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. This finding about “the cost of caring” adds to the evidence that stress is contagious.

When the bad news hits Facebook or Twitter, women are more likely to be affected negatively by it. Pew notes:

-Women are more aware of stressful events in the lives of their closest friends and family.

-Social media use is related to even higher levels of awareness of the stressful events that unfold in the lives of people they know.

-Awareness of stressful events in others’ lives is a significant contributor to people’s own stress. It is the only factor that we found that is common to both social media use and psychological stress. The number of undesirable events associated with stress is greater for women than for men.

“Stress is kind of contagious in that way,” reiterated Hampton to PBS. “There’s a circle of sharing and caring and stress.”

(Photo: epSos. de)