Mental Health Matters-How Social Media Affects Mental Health

Mental Health Matters-How Social Media Affects Mental Health

Hannah Ossowski, Reporter

We all know that Mental Health is important, but what happens when we spend too much time on our phones specifically social media? As we get older our well being and mental health is the key to living a happy & healthy life. Multiple studies have found a strong link between heavy usage of social media and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts. Social media can also cause people to feel inadequate about their appearance and tastes.

While many of us enjoy staying connected to each other via social media, excessive use can cause all of the problems listed above and more! Here’s how to modify your social media habits and improve your mood:

The role social media plays in mental health

Human beings are social creatures. We need the companionship of others to thrive in life, and the strength of our connections has a huge impact on our physical and mental health. Being socially connected to others can ease stress, anxiety, and depression, boost self-worth, provide comfort in times of stress, prevent loneliness, and even add years to your life. On the flip side, lacking strong social connections can pose a serious risk to your mental and emotional health.

In today’s world, many of us rely on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram to find and connect with each other. While each has its benefits, it’s important to remember that social media can never be a replacement for real-world human connections. Humans require in-person contact with others to trigger the hormones in their brains that alleviate stress and make them feel happier, healthier, and more positive. Ironically for a technology that’s designed to bring people closer together, spending too much time engaging with social media can actually make you feel more lonely and isolated—and exacerbate mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

If you’re spending an excessive amount of time on social media and feelings of sadness, dissatisfaction, frustration, or loneliness are impacting your life, it may be time to re-examine your online habits and find a healthier balance.

The positive aspects of social media

While virtual interaction on social media doesn’t have the same psychological benefits as face-to-face contact, there are still many positive ways in which it can help you stay connected and support your well-being.

Social media enables you to:

  • Communicate and stay up to date with family and friends around the world.
  • Find new friends and communities; network with other people who share similar interests or ambitions.
  • Join or promote worthwhile causes; raise awareness on important issues.
  • Seek or offer emotional support during tough times.
  • Find vital social connection if you live in a remote area, for example, or have limited independence, social anxiety, or are part of a marginalized group.
  • Find an outlet for your creativity and self-expression.
  • Discover (with care) sources of valuable information and learning.

 

The negative aspects of social media

Since it’s a relatively new technology, there’s little research to establish the long-term consequences, good or bad, of social media use. However, multiple studies have found a strong link between heavy social media and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts.

Social media may promote negative experiences such as:

Inadequacy about your life or appearance: Even if you know that images you’re viewing on social media are manipulated, they can still make you feel insecure about how you look or what’s going on in your own life. Similarly, we’re all aware that other people tend to share just the highlights of their lives, rarely the low points that everyone experiences. But that doesn’t lessen those feelings of envy and dissatisfaction when you’re scrolling through a friend’s airbrushed photos of their tropical beach holiday or reading about their exciting new promotion at work.

Fear of missing out (or FOMO): While FOMO has been around far longer than social media, sites such as Facebook and Instagram are designed to exacerbate the feeling that others are having more fun or living better lives than you are. The idea that you’re missing out on the fun things going on around you can impact your self-esteem, trigger anxiety, and, most importantly, fuel even more social media use. FOMO can compel you to pick up your phone every few minutes to check for updates, or compulsively respond to every notification you recieve—even if that means taking risks while you’re driving, missing out on sleep at night, or prioritizing social media interaction over real world relationships.

Isolation: A study at the University of Pennsylvania found that high usage of Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram drastically increases the feelings of loneliness. Conversely, the study found that reducing social media usage can actually make you feel less lonely and isolated and improve your overall well-being.

Depression and anxiety: Human beings need face-to-face contact to be mentally healthy. Nothing reduces stress and boosts your mood faster or more effectively than eye-to-eye contact with someone who cares about you. The more you prioritize social media interaction over in-person relationships, the more you’re at risk for developing or exacerbating mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Cyber-bullying: About 10 percent of teens report being bullied on social media and many other users are subjected to offensive comments. Social media platforms such as Twitter can be hot-spots for spreading hurtful rumors, lies, and abuse that can leave lasting emotional scars.

Self-absorption: Sharing endless selfies and all your innermost thoughts on social media can create an unhealthy obsession with yourself and distance you from real-life connections.

What’s driving your social media use?

These days, most of us access social media via our smartphones or tablets. While this makes it very convenient to keep in touch, it also means that social media is always accessible. This round-the-clock, hyper connectivity can trigger impulse control problems, the constant alerts and notifications affecting your concentration and focus, disturbing your sleep, and making you a slave to your phone.

Social media platforms are designed to snare your attention, keep you online, and have you repeatedly checking your screen for updates. It’s how the companies make money. But, much like a gambling compulsion or an addiction to nicotine, alcohol, or drugs, social media use can create psychological cravings. When you receive a like, a share, or a favorable reaction to a post, it can trigger the release of dopamine in the brain, the same “reward” chemical that follows winning on a slot machine, taking a bite of chocolate, or lighting up a cigarette, for example. The more you’re rewarded, the more time you want to spend on social media, even if it becomes detrimental to other aspects of your life.

Other causes of unhealthy social media use

Many of us use social media as a “security blanket”. -Whenever we’re in a social situation and feel anxious, awkward, or lonely, we turn to our phones and log on to social media. Of course, interacting with social media only denies you the face-to-face interaction that can help to ease anxiety.

Your heavy social media use could be masking other underlying problems, such as stress, depression, or boredom. If you spend more time on social media when you’re feeling down, lonely, or bored, you may be using it as a way to distract yourself from unpleasant feelings or self-soothe your moods. While it can be difficult at first, allowing yourself to feel can open you up to finding healthier ways to manage your moods.

Social Media and Mental Health