Mental Health and the Effects of Social Media
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I’ve noticed a lot of campaigns being pushed and promoted throughout the nation highlighting different things related to mental health. Many take steps to live a healthy lifestyle but still feel like they are struggling with mental health. Things like compulsive sex, recreational drug use, excessive spending, or disordered exercise patterns. There is a stigma that if you mental health problems mean that your “crazy” but that is far from the truth. It’s important to educate ourselves and others about habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses, or behaviors that could be signs of mental health problems themselves. There is however one thing that is consistently missing in most of these campaigns. Social media and how it affects our mental health. According to hundreds of studies social media is affecting us in numerous ways. You can’t talk about having a healthy mental health and not talk about the impact social media has on us. Some of the choices we make That’s what we expect from social media. We go there when we’re stressed-out or bored, then scroll through our various feeds looking for a momentary reprieve from the real world going on around us. That doesn’t sound too bad on the surface, but its side effects can be nothing short of dangerous. While social media definitely plays at least a somewhat beneficial role in helping maintain our psychological well being, the studies are becoming increasingly clear: these “social connections” actually increase our mental anxieties and stress. That all sounds crazy until you realize that there are billions of social network users worldwide, over 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute and 70 million photos are uploaded to Instagram every damn day. We look for connections through our phones but can’t find it. We are connected to hundred sometimes thousands of people but still feel alone.
We present these social platforms as extensions of ourselves, and in the process we use them for our own personal validation, to explore our fear of missing out, to compare ourselves to others, to feed our egos, etc. We love it, and the more popular it gets, the deeper into the rabbit hole we go. There’s a self-medication that is happening when one feels inadequate or unloved. Here are 5 ways Social Media affects our mental health.
Comparing our lives with others is mentally unhealthy
Part of the reason social media makes people feel socially isolated is the comparison factor. We fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others as we scroll through countless feeds and make judgments about how we measure up to what we see or read. A study looked at how we make comparisons to others posts, in “upward” or “downward” directions—that is, feeling that we’re either better or worse off than our friends. It turned out that both types of comparisons made people feel worse, which is surprising since, in real life, only upward comparisons (feeling another person has it better than you) makes people feel bad. But in the social network world, it seems that any kind of comparison is linked to depressive symptoms.
Does it really take an expert to tell us how that we are addicted to technology? For some, it truly is the convenience of being able to multi-task, keep track of things like meetings and important dates, and being able to shop without leaving your home. Then there are those who are addicted to the social media and show it if they lose their phones, can’t go hours without checking their social media or a day with posting something. Experts have not been in total agreement on whether internet addiction is a real thing, let alone social media addiction, but there’s some good evidence that both may exist. Studies have confirmed that people tend to undergo a kind of withdrawal: A study a few years ago from Swansea University found that people experienced the psychological symptoms of withdrawal when they stopped using (this went for all internet use, not just social media). The follow-up study found that when people stop using, they also undergo small but measurable physiological effects.
Signs of FOMO
Fear Of Missing Out(FOMO) has increased since social media came on the scene and it can take a negative toll on psychological health. Over the past few years, there’s been a lot of research on the way social media influences FOMO. Recent research suggests people who experience FOMO highly believe that social media is a part of their social development. Constant status updates and tweets of just about every move you make in your life show that to be true. Psychologist even suggests FOMO helps drive the success of social media platforms since we feel we need to use the technology to let us know what’s happening elsewhere. Some would argue that the feelings associated with FOMO help to strengthen connections with others, encouraging people to be more socially active with their friends.
More friends on social doesn’t mean you’re more social
This is one of the biggest misconceptions related to social media. It’s becoming more and more evident when you hear or see someone arguing and comment about the other persons lack of followers or likes. A couple of years ago, a study found that more friends on social media doesn’t necessarily mean you have a better social life—there seems to be a cap on the number of friends a person’s brain can handle, and it takes actual social interaction (not virtual) to keep up these friendships. So, feeling like you’re being social by being on Facebook doesn’t work. Since loneliness is linked to myriad health and mental health problems (including early death), getting real social support is important. Virtual friend time doesn’t have the therapeutic effect as time with real friends
I am not saying that there’s no benefit to social media. But the very thing that connects us is disconnecting us from social interaction and often times reality. But getting on social when you have some time to kill, or, worse, need an emotional lift, is not the move to make. Research has found that taking a break from social media actually helps boost psychological well-being.
It can lead to jealousy
Most people will admit that seeing other people’s lavish vacations, rocking name brand and dining at the finest restaurants is envy-inducing. It’s no secret that the comparison factor in social media leads to jealousy—Studies have certainly shown that social media use triggers feelings of jealousy. The authors of one study, looking at jealousy and other negative feelings while using Facebook, wrote that “This magnitude of envy incidents taking place on FB alone is astounding, providing evidence that FB offers a breeding ground for invidious feelings.” They add that it can become a vicious cycle: feeling jealous can make a person want to make his or her own life look better, and post jealousy-inducing posts of their own, in an endless circle of one-upping and feeling jealous. A study conducted last year by Kaspersky Lab showed that the more people use social media, the more jealous they become of their peers. According to the study, nearly 60 percent of participants said they viewed at least one friend as having a better life than them based solely on their social media presence, and almost half of them said they’ve been upset after viewing photos of a friend’s life event. A quarter of participants said they feel jealous if they see a friend like someone else’s post and not theirs. Once we set those bars for ourselves, we distort our self-images and self-worth until we realize we can’t live up to what we’ve created about ourselves on the Internet thereby it becomes a vicious cycle.
Taking care of your mental health isn’t something reserved for those suffering from mental illness; challenging experiences and emotions are a natural part of life for everybody. Although some of the above mentioned is still considered to be unknown or has been received One thing is for sure. There has been studies that have shown how sickness and disease have been linked to how one feels about themselves. We daily consume unhealthy things from social media that can have an effect on a person who is easily influenced. The more we engage the more we are influenced by the good and/or the bad. Be ok with unfollowing or blocking anyone and minimize the possibility of being easily influenced all in the name of protecting your peace. For those of you who use it for business purposes, it’ll be kind of hard for you decrease your usage or let go. Technology and media are not the problem, it’s how we use them…or how we allow it to use us. Taking a digital detox, getting outside, engaging in self-care and meditating are just a few of the ways you can reduce anxiety and depression and the chances of being addicted to social media. Some have said it’s not that serious. But if you were to ask Cardi B who is with child and who recently shut down her Instagram account, I’d say she knew her mental health was affecting her physical health. For you to start fixing the problem, you must first admit there is one. Is it that serious and it’s where we are in this digital age. Though social media can be a useful tool for social interaction, motivation, inspiration, knowledge and staying in touch with friends, there’s a dark side that we can’t overlook if we’re to take our wellbeing seriously.
Writer, Reginald Sherard