Social Media's Impact on Mental Health
As technology has evolved over the years, so have different forms of social media. Likewise, our brains have had to adapt to these technological advances. According to the Pew Research Center, seventy-two percent of Americans currently use social media. With such widespread use, especially with heightened dependence during the pandemic, it is clear that social media has had and will continue to have immense impact on mental health.
Social Media Uses
Along with being a visual communication tool during the pandemic, social media has always boosted a plethora of uses. For example, social media can be utilized to stay in touch with family and friends even from afar, network professionally, share ideas and views, express oneself creatively, spread awareness about important issues, and even find and share news resources. With so many uses, it is not difficult to understand the positive effects of social media use.
Social Media Pros
Social media pros are reflected in the sheer number of uses social media provides. Social media not only helps people to stay in touch even long distance, but it also allows for networking among small groups of people – whether that be professionally or personally. Particularly for marginalized groups who may not have many resources or connections to certain communities in immediate proximity, it can help provide much-needed support and allow these groups to organize even from afar. In addition, social media can help spread awareness about important issues, educate, inform, and allow for the exchanging of ideas and thoughts quickly and efficiently. In addition, social media allows for self-expression and creativity, which can also activate feel-good chemicals such as the reward center that releases dopamine. Nevertheless, this can lead to an urge to keep coming back for more and the development of social media addiction.
Social Media Cons
Just as there are a lot of benefits of social media use, there are also some downsides and consequences – especially with heavy social media use. In fact, heavy social media use is associated strongly with anxiety, depression, feelings of isolation and loneliness, and even physical ailments which illustrates the deep connection between our mind and bodies, particularly our guts. In addition to mental health conditions being exacerbated, it can disrupt sleep, lead to lower life satisfaction, and can become a maladaptive coping mechanism that can even lead to addiction. Even though social media likes and comments can fuel the release of feel-good chemicals, it can also create a dependence on them. For example, people may start searching for validation and prioritizing their social media profile and highlights over being present in their real-life connections. This focus on image can lead to self-doubt, self-hatred, feelings of imposter syndrome, and lowered self-esteem. In addition to developing a need for instant gratification, social media platforms can also be a breeding ground for false information, unfavorable social comparisons, and cyberbullying.
Teenager Social Media Usage
Because technology has advanced so rapidly, today’s teenagers are interacting online more than any other generation before them. Earlier use also means a greater impact on their brains, communication skills, and social relationships. In fact, students who use social media for more than two hours a day are more likely to report poor mental health versus occasional users as well as being three times more likely to develop symptoms of depression according to Medical News Today. Young girls in particular who use social media more than two hours a day have a higher risk of suicidality as adults and are more at risk for comparing themselves to unrealistic and altered images that can result in body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and low self-worth. Even still, teenagers who exceed more than three hours of daily social media consumption have overall higher rates of depression, anxiety, aggression, and antisocial behaviors. Technology has always been a way of connecting for young people; nevertheless, it is helpful if parents are able to not only assist their children in navigating how to interact with social media positively but also to help model what boundary-setting and having a healthy relationship with social media looks like. It is important to talk with your teens about the importance of face to face communication and real-life connections as well as how to navigate FOMO (fear of missing out), people acting differently online than how they do in real life, cyberbullying, and protecting one’s physical and mental health by being mindful of what they post online and how to keep themselves safe with who has access to their information through social media.
Signs Social Media is Negatively Impacting Mental Health
If you find your lifestyle, relationships, or values have changed negatively along with social media use, it may be beneficial to carefully examine your relationship with social media and how to create better habits. For example, if you notice social media is distracting from relationships, work, hobbies or anything else that is important in your life, take a step back to see what the root cause of your social media use might be. Are you using it to escape unpleasant emotions rather than dealing with them head on? Are you engaging in risky behaviors just for the sake of getting the perfect photo or more likes? Are you spending more time online than in your real-life relationships and comparing yourself unfavorably? If any of these are true, identify what a healthy relationship with social media might look like for you; everyone is different, but it’s important to be honest about how to integrate social media into your life in a way that doesn’t detract from it and allows time for self-care and community care. If you are experiencing cyberbullying, increased feelings of loneliness, or notice mental health conditions like anxiety and depression spiking, reach out to a mental health professional or trusted resource for support.
Social Media Boundaries
The best way to develop a healthier relationship with social media is to create boundaries around your usage. For example, limiting the time you allow yourself to use social media or certain apps to thirty minutes a day or taking periodic breaks to detox from social media can prove to be fruitful. You may even find it helpful to conduct your own experiments to help you identify what your personal limits are and when social media use starts to have a negative impact. Be honest about how it affects your life, how you feel when you use it, after you use it, and how you feel when you don’t use it. Focusing on real-life connections and activities can also help to take your mind off the urge to check social media platforms. When you are sleeping, keep your smartphone away from you. Turn off notifications and data connectivity when with loved ones, at work, and when driving. When you are using social media, you can hide likes on platforms like Instagram to distance yourself from external validation. You may also choose to unfollow people who don’t make you feel good about yourself. If you are experiencing cyberbullying, use blocking and reporting features to keep yourself safe and talk to a trusted adult if you are a minor. You may also opt to share experiences rather than selfies that focus on appearance and only use social media on the computer rather than on your phone. It’s important to acknowledge that perceptions of people online aren’t always accurate and can create unrealistic expectations and false comparisons. Be mindful of if what you say and do online aligns with who you are in real-life and if you still feel connected to your values when engaging with social media content. Social media can be a wonderful aspect of our lives as long as we maintain a relationship that adds meaning rather than stressors. If you would benefit from exploring your relationship with social media and taking steps towards adjusting your usage to better fit with your life, please contact Embrace Therapy today.
References: Sherrell, Z. (2021, September 15). Social Media and Mental Health: Depression and psychological effects. Medical News Today. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/social-media-and-mental-health
The social dilemma: Social media and your mental health. Here’s How Social Media Affects Your Mental Health | McLean Hospital. (2022, January 21). Retrieved February 26, 2022, from https://www.mcleanhospital.org/essential/it-or-not-social-medias-affecting-your-mental-health