The irony of social media is that instead of making you feel more socially connected, research indicates that increased social media use can deteriorate your mental health.
Studies found that participants who used social media for more than two hours a day had twice the odds for reporting perceived social isolation than their peers who spent less than 30 minutes on social media a day. In saying that, the average time spent on social media per day is 2 hours and 22 minutes. From checking Facebook while waiting for your coffee to posting photos on Instagram during dinner, social media is officially part of your daily life.
In the age of the iGeneration, respectively Generation Y, most of us especially those between the ages of 16 to 24 years are slowly becoming (if not already) social media addicts. Checking our phones so often (defined as every hour, every 15 minutes, or all the time) for messages and updates a new medical term has been created out of this constant connectivity: Phantom Vibration Syndrome, defined as perceived vibration from your phone that is in fact not vibrating. Unfortunately, young adults who are the most active social media users will experience this state of anxiety and obsession and therefore have a predominantly high risk for developing mental health issues.
Adolescence is a period of vulnerability for the development of depression and young people with mental health problems are at a higher risk of enduring poor mental health throughout their lives. Therefore, with the constant social media access available to the youth and adults alike, issues of online harassment, poor sleep, and low self-esteem such as poor body image have increased excessively.
Due to the ease of sharing images, ‘screen shotting’ conversations and breach of privacy through hacking, experiences of online harassment, as victim and/or perpetrator has significant impact on people’s mental health. Constantly being observed, with the underlying notion of being judged by social media ‘followers’ and network users, negative social comparisons cause the development of low self-esteem in conjunction with receiving relentless feedback. According to a recent study, 62% of people reported feeling inadequate and 60% reported feelings of jealousy from comparing themselves to other users. Further, the same study found that people who spent more time on social media reported having lower self-esteem than those who spent less time on the medium.
As past of the lure of social media, the majority of users tend to ‘edit’ and post only their most attractive pictures. Gone are the days of ‘rose coloured glasses’. Now we live in the era of rose coloured ‘filters’ – over used and undeniable in an effort to romanticise ones self and attempt to improve and influence others perceptions of ourselves. The abundance of manipulated images of idealised ‘beauty’ online is linked to individual perceptions of body image and self-esteem, which in turn are associated with poor mental health. For example: 31% of people relate their dissatisfaction of their own body image to that of those they see on social media and overall linked to depression and anxiety symptoms leading to a rise in self-harm and suicide in young people, mainly females.
Other related mental health issues are inherent through the physical effects of social media and the human brain. Screen exposure before you sleep and the consequential impact of this on melatonin production are mechanisms in causing a disruption in sleep quality and quantity. Sleep can also be affected by the high levels of anxiety and stress through constantly waking to incoming alerts and subconscious ‘fear of missing out’, resulting from negative outcomes such as compulsive behaviour, loneliness and narcissism.
Recent studies found that people with high levels of narcissism held high levels of social media activity, however they were also associated with lower levels of depression. Although, this seems to be a positive outcome, unfortunately, narcissism causes people to have an elaborate sense of self-importance, self-promotion, vanity and superficial relationships. These characteristics can be found subsequently through the masses of social media users as the platforms help satisfy individuals needs of self worth. To avoid ‘social media induced’ depression and anxiety, users should be aware that most people engage in a biased, ‘positive’ version of reality on social media and should therefore not use the mediums as tools of comparison.
So with these negative references we might ask, why do we use social media?
Well, the prime motivational reasons to use these media platforms are:
- A need to belong and;
- A need for self-presentation.
Recent neuropsychological research shows that the self-disclosure of those who engage on social media activates the intrinsic reward system of the brain, similarly to those of powerful primary rewards such as food and sex.
Undoubtedly, using social media can be beneficial as a source of social support, networking and acquiring worldwide knowledge, if used correctly.
How to make your social media platforms better for your mental health:
- Use the Deactivate button!
If you are part of the majority who spend more than an hour a day scrolling through their Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc. Then the Deactivate option on each of these outlets will help you to learn to have a break from constantly disconnecting from reality. (You can always reactivate later)
- ‘Unfollow’ those profiles that, in the words of Marie Kondo, “don’t bring you joy”.
The images and words you saturate your cognitive function with plays a grandiose factor in your mood and ultimately your mental health. Be sure that the accounts you follow and the profiles and people you interact with are encouraging positive outcomes to your life.
- Remember: Rose-coloured ‘filters’ are not real.
What you see on social media is not an accurate representation of reality. Remember, you are only seeing 1% of the users life that of which they choose to show you, filtered or unfiltered.
- Be kind.
It’s that simple. When you are sharing or posting content consider the people who ‘follow’ you. Before you post, ask yourself if this is useful to you and to those you on your social media platform.
- Turn off and switch on!
Instead of attempting to ‘capture’ those precious moments, why not just enjoy them? Put the phone down, shut your laptop and really spend some time with those you love. Be truly involved in creating those memories you can only revisit in your mind.