How does social media affect mental health
In today’s world, your smartphone is an integral part of your life. If you are like most people, you probably can not imagine leaving the house without your phone. According to reports, we spend about 7 hours on the internet on a daily basis. Out of that, we spend about 2 hours and 30 minutes on social media. In a person with an average lifespan, that’s about 6 years of their total life.
From its inception in 1997, social media users have increased from merely a billion in 2015 to more than 4.5 billion in 2021. It is apparent that we love using social media. But what is it that makes social media so popular and almost addictive? And more importantly, is it harming us in any way? Let’s find out.
Why do we love social media so much?
As humans, we have an innate need to connect with others. Companionship and the feeling of belonging help us deal better with stress, anxiety, sadness and grief. Friendships fulfil our need for love bringing joy, happiness, and a sense of comfort to our lives. This eventually improves our self-worth and self-esteem.
Social media allows us to reconnect with our friends and family. It makes it easy for us to connect with people all across the world. During the tough times of the pandemic, it became an essential tool to connect people and aid social support.
However, connections on social media are not the same as real-world physical interactions. Seeing and talking to someone in-person triggers the release of hormones that make you feel happier, calmer and healthier. On the flip side, using social media for longer durations can instil a sense of loneliness and frustration causing anxiety and depression.
Social media is designed to make us hooked. Notifications for likes, comments and messages release, the feel-good hormone, dopamine in our brain. This makes us feel good and provides instant gratification. This reinforces us and makes us keep coming back for more.
Impact of social media on our mental health
Studies show that high use of social media may have a negative impact on mental health. If you spend an excessive amount of time on social media, you might be familiar with these negative experiences.
Feelings of inadequacy. Your social media feed is probably filled with pictures of people enjoying a holiday on a beach, getting married, buying a new car or celebrating a promotion. Although you might be aware that people only share the best highlights of their lives on social media, it might still cause feelings of insecurity and jealousy. This may leave you feeling dissatisfied with the way you look and the way your life is.
Fear of missing out (FOMO). Social media sites can make you feel like others have a lot more happening in their lives than you do. This might induce anxiety and dissatisfaction. FOMO can make you prioritise social media over other things in your life. You might feel the urge to respond to every notification, even when you might be in the middle of an important task, driving or sleeping. You might start ignoring real one-on-one relationships for your virtual engagement. Social media might affect every aspect of your life, be it personal, professional or social.
Attention and impulse control. The infinite scroll on most social media sites gives you a continuous and endless flow of information. It makes it difficult for us to put our phones down. This overstimulation of the brain affects our focus and attention span. “Doomscrolling” is a term commonly used to describe the phenomenon of scrolling mindlessly for a long time without any breaks. This increases feelings of anxiety and depression. Since most of us use social media on our phones, we have constant access to our social media. This creates impulse control issues.
Feelings of loneliness. You might be able to connect with long lost friends and family members who live overseas or stay updated with the lives of your ex-colleagues over social media. But studies show that spending excessive time on social media can increase feelings of loneliness and isolation in users. The study also found that reducing the amount of time spent on social media can improve well-being and happiness.
Depression and anxiety. We often turn to social media to cheer ourselves up when we’re stressed or upset and it helps us temporarily distract ourselves. But in the long run, it can make you feel worse instead of helping you feel better. Research shows that people who use social media excessively are three times more likely to have symptoms of depression. People often ignore their personal face to face relationships over their online social life which reduces social support to a great extent, leaving people vulnerable to mental health disorders.
Signs of unhealthy social media use
Although there isn’t any ideal time duration that might be considered healthy or unhealthy. But there are certain signs that you can look out for:
- Your social media use is affecting your personal relationships.
- You are having difficulty focusing at work due to the constant urge to check social media.
- You stay up late scrolling on social media for a long time. This might affect your sleep since the light from your screen might disrupt the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
- Rather than feeling happy or relaxed after using social media, you feel agitated, anxious or upset.
- You compare yourself or your life with what you see on social media. This might affect your body image and self-esteem.
- You use social media not solely for entertainment but to distract yourself from any difficult feelings you might be having. This might be a sign that you are using social media as an unhealthy coping mechanism.
How can you use social media in a healthy way?
If you notice that you are experiencing any of the signs mentioned above, then maybe it’s time to reassess your social media habits.
Here are a few things you can try:
- Limit the amount of time you spend on social media. Use an app to keep track of your screen time.
- Set no-phone zones or set a schedule when you don’t use your phone for a set period of time.
- Disable your notifications for social media. You can also try deleting the app from your phone and limiting usage to browsers on laptops.
- Keep your phone away at least 30 minutes before going to bed.
- Try substituting social media text conversations with face-to-face interactions.
- Cultivate new hobbies so that you are not solely dependent on social media for entertainment.
- Maintain a journal and note how you feel after using social media to keep track of how it is affecting your mental health.
If you feel that your mental health is still being affected negatively after moderating your social media usage, it’s important to speak to a mental health professional. Remember that in this age of technology, this is something that people commonly experience. You are not alone and there is help available for you.
We Are Social & Hootsuite. (2020, January). Digital 2020 Global Overview Report. Datareportal. https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2020-global-digital-overview
Sahakian, B. J., Langley, C., Shen, C., & Feng, J. (z.d.). Ukraine doomscrolling can harm your cognition as well as your mood – here’s what to do about it. The Conversation. Geraadpleegd op maart 2022, van https://theconversation.com/ukraine-doomscrolling-can-harm-your-cognition-as-well-as-your-mood-heres-what-to-do-about-it-178923
Karim, F., Oyewande, A., Abdalla, L. F., Chaudhry Ehsanullah, R., & Khan, S. (2020). Social Media Use and Its Connection to Mental Health: A Systematic Review. Cureus. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.8627