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Can Tylenol Provide Relief For Social Media Anxiety?

Prior research shows Tylenol to be efficacious against social rejection and frustration.



Credit: Ambar del Moral / Mashable

Tylenol — since its introduction in the mid-1950s, it turned into a pivotal analgesic (painkiller) and antipyretic (fever-reducer) drug, shelved in the cabinets of millions in the US.

Newer research, however, has demonstrated a strong correlation between acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, and affectivity.

In a 2016 study, consisting of double-blind placebo-controlled trials, researchers found that acetaminophen lessened the severity of social rejection, frustration, and dissonance. The findings were published in Social Cognitive Affective Neuroscience.

The notion that acetaminophen’s effects extend widely into the affective domain, has led some researchers to speculate on its efficacy for social media anxiety, like fear of missing out (FOMO). But, can this conventional medication really provide relief from electronically-induced distress?

Tylenol vs Clinical Research

The conjecture of utilizing acetaminophen, with a mechanism of action not fully understood, for affective symptoms, can be traced back to 2015.

“Acetaminophen, an effective and popular over-the-counter pain reliever, has recently been shown to blunt individuals’ reactivity to a range of negative stimuli in addition to physical pain,” researchers concluded, in a study published in 2015.

The study found that participants who took acetaminophen reacted to unpleasant stimuli less negatively, compared to their placebo-controlled counterparts.

Earlier this year, in another study reported by NPR and Philly Voice, a team of researchers at the University of Kentucky discovered that acetaminophen may reduce distrust associated with fear of rejection, one of the hallmark symptoms of borderline personality disorder.

Researchers of that study experimented on rejection by purposely excluding participants from a virtual ball-tossing game. They also utilized brain imaging to observe activity in particular areas of the brain after consumption of acetaminophen.

It was found that acetaminophen decreased brain activity synonymous with processing social pain. Participants, who generally feel left out after exclusion, didn’t. Rather, the exclusion appeared to have not caused any changes in their affectivity, according to Nathan DeWall, the lead researcher of the study.

A Social Pain Drug?

Who knew, that such an instrumental drug for body aches, may also ease a mild case of social media anxiety.

While acetaminophen doesn’t unequivocally compare to psychopharmacological drugs for occurrences related to anxiety, distrust, or anhedonia. It does, however, offer a deeper understanding of Tylenol, an over-the-counter painkiller with limited comprehension of how it diminishes pain.

Aside from the inhibition of cyclooxygenase activity in the brain, responsible for treating aches and fever, acetaminophen’s complete mechanism of action is still poorly understood.

Given the new findings over the years, however, we could speculate on the drug’s beneficiary impact on FOMO, in particular, one of the most common manifestations of social media anxiety.

Perhaps Tylenol could ease the fear of being disconnected from social media, a trait of psychological dependence from compulsive internet usage. Or, maybe, it can help prevent escalation to more serious issues on social media, like suicidal behavior, which is reportedly on the rise among teenagers, according to NBC News.

Researchers shouldn’t be too quick to hang their coats, as more research may be needed to get a better understanding of the drug’s impact on human emotion.

Jose Florez is the founder and editor of Mental Daily. His work has appeared in Psychology Today, Glamour, HuffPost, among others. He is a mental health advocate, and currently studying psychology.

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