Social media use has become a prevalent part of our lives, both on a personal and professional level. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram allow us to stay connected, engage in dialogue with others, and find entertainment.
But while social media has been linked to a plethora of positive aspects, such as increasing access to information, creating new ways of self-expression, and allowing users to connect with individuals, organizations, and events around the world, it has also presented some serious drawbacks with regards to our mental health.
This article seeks to discuss the potential harmful effects of social media on our mental health, focusing on the psychological consequences, the potential risks, and potential strategies for improving mental health and wellbeing on social media.
Psychological Consequences of Social Media on Mental Health
One of the primary ways in which social media can have a negative effect on mental health is through its promotion of certain ideals and values that can lead to a distorted view of reality.
Social media introduces us to an unrealistic, often exaggerated, version of life and beauty, where individuals seek to project their ideal self, and where the number of “likes” or comments are often seen as a validation of worth and attractiveness.
This can lead to unrealistic body image expectations, low self-esteem, and a preoccupation with physical appearance. As a result, individuals may begin to compare themselves to others, leading to feelings of envy, depression or anxiety.
In addition to creating and perpetuating unrealistic life and beauty standards, social media can also create feelings of loneliness. Much has been said about “online loneliness”, and while it is not always a direct result of social media use, it can be an unfortunate by-product.
The feeling of “missing out” or “being left behind” can be intensified as users scroll through their social media feeds, as they witness countless images and posts of events, achievements, and vacation spots that can evoke envy, guilt, or sadness.
Furthermore, social media may also increase stress levels. According to a study published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, heavy users of social media are more likely to experience feelings of stress and anxiety.
Additionally, researchers have noted that the constant influx of messages and notifications can lead to “alert fatigue,” impacting our attention span, our ability to stay focused, and leading to feelings of being overwhelmed.
Potential Risks of Social Media on Mental Health
The effects of social media on mental health are not only limited to how it influences our emotions. Research has also shown a correlation between social media use and an increased risk for various mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
For example, adolescents and young adults who use social media extensively have been found to be more vulnerable to depression. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that those who use multiple social media platforms are at a higher risk for depression and anxiety than those who use one or no platforms.
Other research has suggested a link between social media use and eating disorders, particularly among female adolescents.
As social media use becomes increasingly pervasive, so do many of the risks associated with it. In addition to the psychological consequences mentioned above, there is also the potential for cyberbullying, which has the potential to cause serious harm to an individual both emotionally and mentally. Other potential risks include the potential for addiction or overexposure to negative stimuli such as violence and hate speech.
Strategies for Improving Mental Health and Wellbeing on Social Media
To mitigate the potential risks of social media’s effects on mental health, it is important to be aware of how it can impact us, and to take steps to ensure our wellbeing.
The first step is to be mindful of our own usage. It is important to be aware of the amount of time spent on social media and the messages and images that are being consumed. Limiting the number of platforms used, and the amount of time spent on them, can help reduce the risk of overexposure to negative stimuli.
It is also important to be aware of our own emotions when using social media. If negative emotions are experienced, such as envy, anger, or sadness, it may be beneficial to take a break from social media or cut down on the amount of time spent on it.
Additionally, it is important to remember not to compare oneself to others; everyone experiences life in different ways and the pictures posted do not always reflect the truth.
Finally, it is important to practice self-care while using social media. Unfollow accounts that make you feel negative or increase your stress levels. Seek out accounts that make you feel positive and uplifted. Follow accounts or organizations that promote mental health and wellbeing.
Social media has become an integral part of life today, allowing us to stay connected with others, engage in dialogue, and find entertainment. However, it is important to be aware of the potential harms associated with its use, both psychologically and with regards to mental health disorders.
It is important to be mindful of our own usage, to practice self-care, and to engage with messages and images that are conducive to positive mental health. By doing so, we can ensure that social media remains an enjoyable part of our lives.
Steps to prevent social media from ruining your mental health
- Limit Social Media Usage: Set a limit on how much time you spend on social media platforms each day and stick to it.
- Change Your Habits: Pay attention to how you use social media and how it makes you feel. For example, if you tend to compare yourself to others, unfollow those accounts and focus on uplifting content.
- Connect Offline: Spend more time meeting people in person or having conversations with people by phone or video chat instead of relying solely on social media for communication and connection.
- Unplug from Technology: Take a break from all screens and technology regularly to give your mind a rest.
- Manage Your Mental Processes: Become aware of your thoughts and feelings when engaging with social media. Notice if you’re feeling jealous, inadequate or envious. Learn different ways to manage and process these emotions.
- Ask for Support: Reach out to supportive people in your life if you’re finding it difficult to manage your mental health on social media.