How Social Media Affects Your Mental Health
It’s rare to meet a person today who doesn’t use either Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp or similar apps. Some surveys show that almost 3 billion people use them every day. These applications are fun, useful, and informative. They help us connect with friends, stay in the loop with the latest updates, learn, share, and entertain ourselves. It seems as if we are never alone, as long as we have our smartphones or laptops with us.
However, research shows social media can affect your mental health, triggering feelings of loneliness, inadequacy, anxiety or depression. One study found that people who use social media excessively tend to experience frequent mood swings, neglect their personal life, and withdraw from real-life social interactions.
Recognising how and why you use social media and how you feel about it may help you balance your needs and stay mentally fit.
Social Media and Loneliness
We live in the age of social media and filtered reality. While you may feel like you are socialising with a lot of people while online, studies suggest that that social media use actually leads to feelings of social isolation. A recent study showed the epidemic of loneliness among young adults. The results indicate that young people 18-24 years old struggle with extreme loneliness and isolation. Namely, 49 percent of them say they sometimes or always feel alone while 43 percent feel their relationships are not meaningful.
A large number of friends or followers on social media doesn’t mean a richer social life. Research shows that it takes an actual social interaction, rather than a virtual one, to keep up our relationships.
It seems that the false impression of a connection that we get from social media increases our feelings of loneliness and isolation. While willing to share the intimate details of our lives online, we often forget how to have a meaningful conversation with a family member, friend at university or a colleague at work.
Social Media and Self-Esteem
There is an ongoing pressure to filter every aspect of your life, at the same time comparing your own with other people’s lives that often seem better, prettier, happier. A constant need to compare ourselves with others may lead to feelings of profound isolation, anxiety, dissatisfaction, and depression.
One study on 1,500 people found that 60 percent of people who use social media perceive its negative effects on their self-esteem, causing them to feel inadequate and imperfect. Also, the gap between how we present ourselves online and who we really are can cause feelings of depression, loneliness, irritation and low self-esteem.
Social Media and Anxiety and Depression
Media multitasking is associated with higher depression and social anxiety symptoms among university students, another study shows.
Also, a study published in Computers and Human Behavior found that people who use three or more social media platforms are three times as likely as people using up to two platforms to develop general anxiety symptoms such as feelings of apprehension, difficulties concentrating and sleep troubles. Additionally, the artificial lighting on your devices can inhibit the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that helps you fall asleep (check out our f.lux blog post for more information on reducing artificial blue light).
How to Balance Social Media
1. Take Breaks
To successfully balance the use of social media, you need to learn to take healthy breaks from it. Start by reflecting on how much time do you spend following someone, getting lost in the feed or looking at other people’s posts that bring you down. For example, you can practice taking a break from your phone 15 minutes in the morning when you start your day or right before bed.
Even if you don’t feel like you have the problem with the internet overuse, taking breaks from your devices can be healthy and positive. Our previous blog post on Forest can help with this.
2. Practice Mindfulness
Most social apps are designed to have an endless feed that keeps you scrolling down infinitely and mindlessly. So, try the opposite and learn mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a skill that empowers you to focus on the present without trying to interpret or self-judge. In other words, mindfulness allows you to notice what’s going on while you spend time on social media. For example, try reflecting on why you are on your phone or what motivates you to keep scrolling through the feed. For further reading on Mindfulness check our blog post here.
3. Set the Boundaries
It is important that you use social media responsibly and thoughtfully. In other words, pay attention to the ways in which you share your thoughts, feelings, posts, and photos online and be mindful of the content you share. Much like in the real world, we need to set healthy boundaries between ourselves and others on the internet as well.
These boundaries will help you feel safe and comfortable. For example, if you’re sharing your opinion about something that happened at university, be mindful of how do you feel about sharing it, who will see it, what kind of reactions it may bring about and how those would make you feel. The same goes for sharing your pictures and emotional states.
No one can deny that social media has brought numerous advantages to our lives. So, we can’t consider it generally a bad thing. However, research and everyday experience show us that social media has the power to affect our mental health and interpersonal relationships if we don’t find a healthy way to balance it.