According to a recent study, nearly 75% of people in the US are active on social media – and this number is growing. Social media can have many advantages, helping us to connect, find lost friends, and share news and happenings with friends and loved ones. And while there is the risk that using social media can seriously affect our mental health – as we explore below – for some, it provides a forum to open up about their struggles. Superstar rapper Lil Nas X has used social media to speak about his battle with mental health issues, helping to de-stigmatize such problems and get discussions about mental health into the spotlight.
Knowing exactly how social media can impact our mental health is the best way to take the steps needed to protect ourselves and our families. From setting time limits to accessing online therapy covered by insurance, getting the balance right is possible.
The Negative Impact of Social Media on Mental Health
For many, social media can become an addictive activity. Scrolling through posts, checking how many likes our most recent posts have achieved, and seeing what our friends are up to can take up an increasing amount of our time and energy. There’s solid science behind its addictive quality: seeing those likes and loves rack up gives our brains a hit of feel-good dopamine – and subsequently, it wants more of this good stuff, spurring us on to post more and spend more time in general on social media platforms.
It Impacts Self-Esteem
And just as seeing those likes or thumbs-ups makes us feel happy (and validated), a perceived lack of likes, or engagement with something we’ve posted, can have a tangible, negative impact on mood. On top of this, seeing glimpses of what we view as other people’s ‘perfect’ lives on social media can cause us to question our own lives, how we look, and – from here – our ‘worth.’ This can lead to depression, anxiety, stress, and issues like eating disorders.
It Can Disrupt Sleep
A study in 2018 discovered a significant link between the use of social media and sleep disruption. This, in turn, can affect both our physical and mental health and impact our ability to concentrate at school or work.
It May Cause Loneliness
This may seem counterintuitive, as social media platforms allow us to connect with more people more easily than ever before. However, if these connections are all we have, and we neglect ‘real’ friendships and relationships, using social media can lead to loneliness and a feeling of disconnect.
It Can Become Overwhelming
A lot of pressure can come from using social media. It’s tempting to feel like we need to respond to messages or reactions to posts instantly, and things can become overwhelming. Hip-hop star Jay-Z spoke recently in an interview about the fact that he doesn’t use social media platforms; he recalled setting up on Instagram, only to delete it within twenty-four hours, finding the amount of engagement ‘too much.’
How to Protect Ourselves From the Dangers of Social Media
Be Mindful of Social Dilemma
For most of us, engaging with social media has become such an inherent part of our lives that we may not even be aware of the negative effect it’s having. So, the first step in protecting ourselves is to be more mindful of our feelings before, during, and after engagement with a social media platform, checking in with ourselves honestly to see if there has been any impact on our mood, self-confidence, sense of self-esteem, etc. Keep an eye on your kids’ moods, too, if they use socials, to spot if this use is having any obvious negative impact.
Restrict Time Spent Scrolling
Taking steps to limit the amount of time you spend on social media is often a great idea, especially if you feel it’s having a detrimental effect on your general well-being. To give your self-discipline a helping hand, use the settings on your smartphone so that a notification pops up when the set time has elapsed.
Limiting the amount of time kids spend on social media is especially important – this may initially be met with resistance, but it is important to promote better mental health and a good night’s sleep.
Swap time spent on social media with healthier habits. If it’s your routine to check your social accounts on your phone in bed for fifteen minutes in the morning before getting up, commit to doing something different with this time, whether it’s reading a chapter of a book, meditating, or exercising.
If you feel that you or a member of your family is suffering from anxiety, depression, self-esteem issues, or other problems as a result of engaging with social media, then seeking help is important. Speaking to your healthcare provider, a therapist, or a counselor is vital to get the help you need. As mentioned at the top, there are now online counseling sessions available that accept insurance, making accessing support easier than ever before.
Finding the Balance
After assessing your social media platform usage honestly and being mindful of how it’s impacting your mental health, you may decide to have a social media detox for a few weeks – or even come off these platforms for the foreseeable future.
If, however, you’d prefer to keep using social media, but wish to do so in a way that won’t negatively affect you, then a few tweaks to your habits can make a big difference. Limit the time you spend on the platforms, steer clear of engaging with people or pages that don’t serve you or your mental health well, and ensure you spend plenty of time meaningfully connecting with friends in the real world to find the balance you seek.