How to build a healthy relationship with social media
“I’m an addict. I just get lost in Facebook,” said Cynthia Newton, a young mother, when asked why she was unable to help her preteen daughter with her homework. Newton confessed she found it hard not to spend her time chatting and browsing Facebook — a popular social media site with 3 billion monthly users.
While this case may seem a bit extreme, it is not the only one related to the impact of social media addiction.
In a story by the Guardian a few years ago, a 12-year-old schoolgirl in the UK ended her life after she was “emotionally overwhelmed” and influenced by her intense use of social media. In another shocking incident, a 9-year-old girl in India who was popularly referred to as the ‘Insta queen’ on the social media app Instagram committed suicide after her parents asked her to study.
In 2023, 60% of the world’s population uses some form of social media. That’s an estimated 4.9 billion people. And that number is expected to increase to nearly 6 billion by 2027, according to Statista.
With over 200 million people across the world suffering from social media and Internet addiction of some sort, it is hardly surprising that an increasing number of experts are against the overuse of social media.
What’s more is that social media, known for enabling its users to validate posts of people in their social network with a “like” feature, is rapidly gaining public disapproval – with many individuals expressing their dislike for social media itself.
In fact, several school districts across America are now suing social media companies, alleging that the tech giants are responsible for the mental health crisis among youth.
So, are there any benefits to social media? Let’s take a look.
Advantages and disadvantages of social media
American computer scientist, tech guru, and futurist Jaron Lanier make a pretty convincing argument about the dangers of social media In his book titled ‘Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Account Right Now’.
However, social media does come with its fair set of advantages when used in moderation.
Some advantages of social media include:
· Increases social capital: Social capital refers to “the features of social organisation, such as trust, norms, and networks that can improve the efficiency of society by facilitating coordinated actions.” In other words, by participating in groups of shared beliefs and goals, individuals become part of a greater set of individuals that they can trust. Studies show that social media in the workplace can increase knowledge sharing among employees, thereby increasing social capital.
· Reduces social isolation: Researchers Frison and Eggermont found that individuals that are not passive but actively involved in online engagement with others on social media reported reduced loneliness. Another study revealed that social media connectedness was significantly associated with lower depression and anxiety and greater life satisfaction.
· Benefits of identity development: Social media sites and apps are often safer places than offline groups for people to meet people that identify with the same beliefs or needs. For example, studies show that gender minority groups such as lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender youth may particularly benefit from the use of social media that offer information, support, and feelings of meaningfulness.
Some disadvantages of social media include:
· Social media addiction: Research by the University of Albany found that excessive use of social media is not just highly addictive but also linked with substance abuse disorder. Studies show that the egocentric construction of social networking sites may be the reason behind the engagement in addictive behaviours. This plays a huge role in why social media causes people to use it in an excessive way.
· Phubbing: While social media can bring people closer, it can also pull them apart. For instance, many individuals offer attention to strangers on social media but ignore those with whom they share close ties. This act of ignoring others is called phubbing. Recent studies have found that phubbing behaviour has a negative influence on psychological well-being and satisfaction.
· Social comparison: Social comparison is “the process of thinking about information about one or more other people in relation to the self”. An online survey of 163 adults who used social media such as Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn found that survey participants experienced reduced positive feelings and felt worse about themselves after they viewed posts of people on social media that are “doing better in life”.
Hence, while social media may be addictive and can cause and exacerbate mental health issues, it can also serve as a great resource for families and friends to stay connected, raise awareness of important social issues, and provide people with digital communities in which they can learn from each other.
Moreover, during the Covid pandemic, while it wasn’t possible for people to meet in person, it was social media that helped people to stay connected to their peer groups.
Here are 10 tips on how to maintain a healthy relationship with social media:
1) Regulate social media time: Ironically, the key to reducing time spent on social media apps could be actually downloading apps that help you do that. Apps such as Forest and Daywise allow you to regulate your time on social media.
2) Avoid social comparison: Monitor and mute the type of posts that trigger you to compare yourself to others on social media. Practice gratitude for what you have and look for the positives in your own life that you can share with your followers.
3) Unfollow unhealthy accounts: Social media apps can be a double-edged sword. Using social media for your benefit may be tough, but it is not impossible. Identify and unfollow the accounts that drain you out of time, energy, and overall health.
4) Turn off notifications: When we get a social media notification on a topic of our interest or one that validates something we have posted, our brain releases dopamine, the neurotransmitter that makes us feel good. By turning off notifications, you can stop yourself from being lured into engaging with the app.
5) Take regular breaks: Go off social media completely from time to time. Keep your followers informed that you are on a break. This will help you enjoy your break and still pick off from where you left off when you decide to get back on social media.
6) Be intentional: It’s not enough to unfollow accounts that could disturb you emotionally and mentally. You also need to curate your feed by following accounts that are personally enriching and motivating.
7) Limit accessibility: Move your social media apps away from the home screen of your phone. You could also try hiding the social media apps in folders on your phone that are harder to see or access immediately.
8) Set boundaries: Limit who has access to you via social media by taking advantage of the social media site settings that restricts or limit direct contact with you. Setting boundaries on social media will help you focus only on selected contacts that you wish to engage in actively.
9) Look for a replacement: If you are unable to stop checking your smartphone, try to gradually slip away from social media by engaging in other online activity that is healthier in nature. For example, sign up for an online class, learn a new language, or research an interesting topic.
10) Seek professional help: While there’s no denying the importance of social media, a social media addiction can wreak havoc on your personal and professional life. Consult a certified mental health counsellor or therapist to help you to overcome psychological issues related to social media.
If you or someone you know needs help to build a healthy relationship with social media or treat social media-related issues such as social media addiction, reach out to a mental health professional. You can browse our directory of treatment centres across India here.
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