How Social Media Affects Your Mental Health (& What You Can Do)
Social media is making us more connected than ever, but at what cost?
Human beings are social creatures. We need the companionships of others to thrive and develop throughout our lives. Being socially connected to others can help ease stress, boost confidence and self-worth, prevent loneliness, and even add years to your life. On the other hand, lacking social connection can negatively affect your mental and emotional health.
Social media, it would seem, should improve these social connections that bring value to our lives. With Instagram, Snapchat, Tiktok, Facebook, and more, we can not only share about our own lives but know about the lives of strangers around the world.
Unfortunately, however, this is not always the case. Let’s take a look at how social media impacts your mental health, how to know when you have a problem, and what you can do to use social media in a way that is healthy for you.
How social media impacts your mental health
The comparison trap
While it’s exciting to peek into the lives of others online, it’s easy to feel inadequate about your life or appearance in comparison to theirs. Although we are aware of how easy it is to portray a more idealistic reality online, we often end up comparing our messy, imperfect reality to the edited, curated snippets that others post.
The fear of missing out (FOMO)
The fear of missing out existed long before social media, but platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat only magnify the issue. The feeling of missing out or being excluded can impact self-esteem, trigger anxiety, or even cause you to use your phone more often.
A study at the University of Pennsylvania found that social media increases rather than decreases feelings of loneliness. The groups that used social media less had better mental health outcomes. (Note that the groups didn’t have to give it up entirely, they only had to use it less.)
Depression and anxiety
Nothing reduces stress quicker than face-to-face contact with someone that cares about you. Prioritizing social media over in-person connections can risk developing depression and anxiety or exacerbate existing mental health conditions. A 2018 British study tied social media use to decreased, disrupted, and delayed sleep, which is associated with depression, memory loss, and poor academic performance.
How to know when you have a problem with social media
Like anything, there are healthy and unhealthy habits when it comes to social media. But how do you know when your relationship with social media has become a problem? Dr. Lara Fielding, a behavioral psychologist, says that it all comes down to three things: frequency, function, and escapism.
First, how often do you use social media? Do you feel the need to check it every few minutes? Does checking social media cause feelings of anxiety? While there’s no magic number of minutes to spend on social media, it may be an issue when it prevents you from functioning.
Function refers to your purpose when using social media. According to Dr. Fielding, your intention behind social media can significantly impact your experience. Do you log on to check your email or chat with a friend? Or do you do it to feel safe, validated, or “in the know?”
Finally, social media becomes an issue when used to escape from life rather than connect to it. If you are experiencing discomfort or hardship, it is crucial to be able to sit with those feelings, and social media can prevent you from doing so.