Likes, Comments and the Mental Health Costs of Social Media Usage
Updated: Sep 16, 2022
I think it’s fair to say that social media is a large part of many people’s lives. In fact, research has shown that social media users typically spend 2 hours and 27 minutes on social media each day! That said, social media has power and it has presence. Therefore, it can easily impact our mental health as many of us naturally gravitate towards checking our social media every day, maybe even multiple times a day!
When you think about it, we’re social creatures living in a digital era, so our attraction to social media makes sense. Throw in a pandemic that limits human connection and it’s no wonder why social media usage has increased. Social media does serve a purpose and it can be wonderful in many ways. It allows us to stay connected with others far away. It provides opportunities to learn by accessing information, news, and connecting with others. It gives us a platform to advocate, market businesses or products, and network with others. It also provides many people with a great creative outlet to express themselves.
The Negative Impacts of Social Media
Although social media can be great, the use of social media can come with many downsides and consequences. Research has shown that some of the most common downsides include:
Lowered self-esteem – With social media, it’s easy to compare ourselves and our lives to others. Often, these comparisons can lead to jealousy or make us feel bad about ourselves. The truth is that what we’re seeing on our news feed is not always reality. Posts offer a glimpse into others’ world, usually displaying their best moments. Naturally, seeing these posts can lead us to reflect on our lives, making us feel less than and lowering our self-esteem.
Increased anxiety and depression – Often social media intensify the symptoms of anxiety or depression rather than alleviating those symptoms. You may feel poorly about yourself, depressed, lonely, or more anxious after using social media.
Fear of missing out – Seeing others on social media having fun without you can be tough and can often lead us to focus on what we’re missing out on, rather than focusing on what we are doing. This can lead to decreased happiness, loss of fulfilling activities, and resentment. The fear of missing out can also prevent us from getting off social media, fearing that you’ll miss out on something.
Poor sleep hygiene – How many of you use your phone in bed, possibly right before going to sleep? It’s common practice and often a tempting way to de-compress before bed. However, scrolling through social media before bed often leads to going to bed later, struggling to fall asleep, and a poorer quality of sleep. When using social media before bed, we’re stimulating our brains which prevents us from entering a restful state leading to poor sleep quality.
Becoming addicted – Yes, it is possible to be become addicted to social media. This is because all that scrolling and stimulation can lead to a dopamine loop. Yes, I’m talking about that “feel-good” chemical messenger that allows us to feel pleasure. For many of us, as we use social media our dopamine levels in the brain can increase which temporarily satisfies our natural reward system. This dopamine surcharge can come from having connection with others, getting likes and follows, or even by returning to our favourite social media platform. Although it feels great, overtime it reinforces the behaviour which leads to a cycle of motivation, reward, and further reinforcement.
Maybe you’re reading this and recognizing that you’re experiencing or have experienced one of these common downsides of social media. If you have, then you are not alone and there are ways that you can try to manage the presence of these downsides.
Developing a Healthier Way to use Social Media
Being aware of the negative impacts of social media is the first step to developing a healthy way to use social media. It gives us insight on what to look out for and can help us understand why we might be falling prey to bad habits such as exchanging sleeping for scrolling, excessively and immediately checking social media notifications, or going down the social media rabbit hole for extended periods of time. To help us manage the possibility of experiencing these negative impacts, here are some helpful ways to use social media in a healthy way:
Reflect on your social media use – Try to identify what is driving your social media use? Consider if social media is a substitute for something else in your life or a form of distraction. Think about what are you gaining from social media and what you would you like to avoid? This might lead to actions such as unfollowing people or accounts that play into negative feelings, thereby leading to a healthier digital environment for yourself.
Ask apps to track time – Many social media apps and digital devices can track the total amount of time we spend on social media. Often, we can also set our own time limits for each app, prompting the app or device to let us know we have reached our set time limit for that day. This can help hold us accountable and maintain awareness of our use.
Set aside time to unplug – Before bed, try putting your phone somewhere out of reach to avoid the temptation of using social media right before bed. This allows us to wind down without constant stimulation that interrupts our sleep quality. Doing a social media detox by taking a break from social media can also be beneficial to create balance. Taking a break from social media may be particularly helpful if you’re noticing red flags indicating the emergence or presence of the negative impacts listed above.
Enjoy time offline – It’s important to nurture the time we have with others in real-life and savour the moment. Try to set aside time each week to devote to offline enjoyment whether it be with yourself or with others. While “offline”, putting your phone on focus mode or muting notifications is a great way to create space and balance.
Remember that not everything you read (or see) online is true! It’s important to remember that more followers on social media does not translate to being more social or popular in real life. More likes and comments do not mean they’re better or more attractive. And most importantly (and commonly overlooked), people will try to filter out the bad and try to only show the good but that doesn’t mean they don’t experience the bad too.
At the end of the day, social media is here to stay and the use of social media is rapidly growing. There are so many benefits and positives that come with social media, so it’s important to know how to use social media in a way that feels comfortable and healthy for you. Even though social media is powerful and has presence, that doesn’t mean that social media must have power over you!