Using Facebook could make you feel physically ill and women are particularly vulnerable, according to scientists.
Constantly comparing yourself to others, or social comparison, leads to sleep problems, weight change and muscle tension.
Researchers from the University of Surrey studied 165 Facebook users to guage the physical rather than mental health effects of long term use.
The study, published in the journal Heliyon, concluded that the constant comparison to others’ lives increased users’ perceptions of ill-health.
The 55 men and 110 women, with an average age of 31, were surveyed to identify levels of comparison with others, self-esteem rates, perceived physical health and life satisfaction.
The study, the first of its kind, showed that the participants who regularly compared themselves to others suffered low self-esteem.
Researchers found that participants who compared themselves to others on Facebook also had greater awareness of physical ailments, such as sleep problems, weight change and muscle tension.
Dr Bridget Dibb, senior lecturer in health psychology at the University of Surrey said: “Comparing ourselves to others is not a new concept, however, with the rise of social media it is becoming a part of our everyday lives.
“An entity like Facebook, with 2.27 billion active monthly users, has never existed before.
“The long term effect it has on individuals is unknown, but it is clear that comparison with others is associated with perceptions of ill-health.”
What wasn’t clear was whether people with ill health were comparing themselves more or those who compared themselves thought they had ill health.
Dr Dibb added: “In addition, it was discovered that females and those experiencing anxiety or depression also perceived more symptoms.
“Participants who were more satisfied with their lives and had high self-esteem rates were associated with fewer physical symptoms.
“Users need to be aware of how they feel when they use sites like Facebook and recognise the dangers of comparisons in this context.”
The researchers said: “Analysis showed physical symptoms were associated with gender, anxiety, depression, FB use and positively interpreted upward comparison.
“Those who agreed more with the positively interpreted social comparison statements and who engaged more with FB also perceived more physical symptoms.
“These results showed that the perception of symptoms still occurred despite the positive comparison.
“These results have implications for perceptions of well-being for general users of FB and for vulnerable populations where more social comparison may occur.”
Dr Dibb concluded: “Given the positive association between physical health, well-being and quality of life, there is a potential for long-term negative effects to result from social networking.
“Further investigation is needed to determine these long-term effects.”
By Ben Gelblum and Isabel Dobinson