Previously, staying in touch with friends and loved ones meant sending letters and using landlines. If your friend moved away or changed their number, you wouldn’t be able to keep in touch. Now, with the help of cell phones and social media platforms, we can find and connect with old friends or make new acquaintances all from the comfort of our sofa. However, social media cannot meet the same needs as real-world connections.
Humans, like most mammals, are social creatures. We require contact with other people in real life to trigger hormones like oxytocin to make us feel happier and alleviate stress. These in-person contacts make us feel healthier and more positive too.
The strength of our social connections influences our mental wellness. A lack of strong ties can take a toll on our emotional and mental health. Spending too much time online, even in a format designed to bring you closer together, can make you feel more isolated and worsen anxiety and depression.
Social Media Isn’t All Bad
The rise of social media has helped our social connections in several ways:
- You can seek or provide emotional support during difficult times from a distance.
- If you are from a marginalized group, have social anxiety or limited independence, or live in a rural area, you can still find social connections.
- You can raise awareness or promote worthwhile causes.
- You can join new communities and network with others who share similar goals or interests.
- You can stay up to date with friends and family anywhere in the world.
How Social Media Can Be Harmful
- Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) and Isolation: Social media doesn’t show the whole story, so it can exacerbate feelings that others live better than you or have more fun. By comparison, your life may seem dull and drab. You may feel isolated from all the excitement portrayed in others’ pictures and videos.
- Inadequacy: Because everyone manipulates their posts for the best picture, social media can worsen insecurities. Feelings of dissatisfaction and envy are rising due to constant scrolling.
- Self-Absorption: Constantly taking, editing, and sharing selfies can create self-centeredness that becomes unhealthy, distancing you from meaningful connections.
- Cyberbullying: Social media has introduced the world to a whole new way to be bullied in an environment that is difficult to control. From offensive or abusive comments to spreading hurtful rumors, social media use can lead to enduring emotional scars
Unhealthy Social Media Use
Due to all the negative impacts of social media, it is no surprise that it can worsen mental illness. When you feel stressed, anxious, or depressed, you may turn to social media as a coping mechanism. It’s a quick fix to help you feel more connected to others.
However, it also increases those feelings of inadequacy, isolation, and FOMO, worsening the symptoms that drove you to social media in the first place. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle that negatively impacts your mental health. If you do experience worsening symptoms of depression or anxiety, speak to your mental health provider about treatment options, including brain stimulation for depression.
Signs It’s Hurting You
A 2018 study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania established a clear connection between social media and mental illness. It found that reducing participants’ social media viewing to 30 minutes or less per day significantly reduced their depression symptoms, anxiety levels, sleep problems, feelings of loneliness, and FOMO.
Unfortunately, there is no established amount of time considered healthy for every person to spend on social media. It varies between individuals. Here are some significant indicators that your social media use may be harmful:
- You are experiencing cyberbullying
- You are being distracted from work or school
- You are comparing yourself unfavorably to other posts
- You start to engage in dangerous activities to gain likes and followers
- You don’t have time for self-reflection and growth as a person
- You are having difficulty sleeping
- Anxiety or depression symptoms are worsening or are beginning
Practicing Safe Scrolling
While 30 minutes a day may not be a realistic goal for you, or you may not be seeing the negative impacts of social media use, these tips help you practice mindful social media use and prevent mental health declines.
- Turn your phone off at specified times during the day, especially when spending quality time with friends and family.
- Don’t bring your devices to bed.
- Disable social media notifications, so the alert may not distract you from what you need to be doing.
- Try to reduce the frequency of social media checks slowly. If you check it every 15 minutes, shoot for every 30 minutes tomorrow, every hour the next day, and so on.
- Use an app to track your daily social media usage.
- Before logging on, try to establish your motivation for going on social media at that moment.
While staying connected is essential, connections through social media are weaker than their real-life counterparts. An instant message cannot replace eye contact, a handshake, or a hug from someone important to you. Social media use comes with mental health risks that contribute to FOMO, loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Limit your daily scrolling, make in-person connections, and reap the mental health rewards.