We all use social media to a certain extent and some people use it more than others. We use it to connect with friends and relatives, share pictures and to find out what’s happening in our social circles. Some experts believe that the more we engage with social media the lonelier and more isolated we feel. Does the use of social media negatively affect our mental health?
According to Forbes, it is suggested that the persistent use of social media can result in sadness, feelings of isolation and depression. (Walton, 2017) It’s strange that the very thing we look for in social media, social interaction, actually leaves us feeling worse and more alone. When we use social media we often compare our lives with the lives others are projecting online. We judge ourselves based on the things that other people post. This is called the ‘Comparison Factor’ which can lead to negative feelings about oneself as well as feelings of jealousy and envy toward others. (Walton, 2017) Feelings of inadequacy and lowered self-esteem definitely have a negative affect on our mental health.
Why do we continue to use social media if it makes us feel bad about ourselves and our lives?
In the same Forbes article it suggests that we continue to use social media because we are addicted to it. (Walton, 2017) I think we all wonder sometimes if this is the case. Do you check your phone first thing in the morning? I know I do. In a study from Nottingham Trent University they discovered that some behaviours associated with social media are similar to those associated with other forms of addiction such as drugs or alcohol. Some of those behaviours are: ‘neglect of personal life, mental preoccupation, escapism, mood modifying experiences, tolerance and concealing the addictive behaviour’. (Walton, 2017) They also discovered that stopping the use of social media resulted in symptoms of withdrawal in some people both behaviourally and physiologically. (Walton, 2017)
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, researchers have used MRI scans to monitor the activity in the reward centres of people’s brains while using social media. It has been found that we react positively to ‘likes’ on social media networks at a neurological level. The activity observed in the subjects’ brains in this experiment has also been compared to drug or alcohol addiction. (CMHA, n.d.)
The CMHA has also said that, not unlike alcohol and drug addiction, the precursors for excessive social media use are existing mental health issues and well as loneliness, low-self esteem and depression (CMHA, n.d.) As mentioned earlier, some of these are also caused by of the overuse of social media.
How do we free ourselves form this vicious cycle?
We can wean ourselves off of social media by removing the apps from our phones to help limit our use. If you are looking for encouragement the CMHA has a number of helpful suggestions. 99 Days of Freedom is one of them. It is an experiment where people try to stay off of Facebook for 99 days. Researchers check in with the participants periodically throughout the 99 days to monitor the participants progress. There are many other resources available if you feel you need help with your social media dependency: The Centre for Internet and Technology Addiction, ementalhealth.ca or Humanetech.com.
Do you feel you suffer from social media addiction?
Facebook: Are you addicted to social media? Check out my blog about Social Media and Mental Health https://bit.ly/2Ngm9ZP
Twitter: Are you addicted to social media? #hcsm #mentalhealthawareness https://bit.ly/2Ngm9ZP
Walton, G. (June, 2017), ‘6 Ways Social Media Affects Our Mental Health’ Retrieved From https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2017/06/30/a-run-down-of-social-medias-effects-on-our-mental-health/#5eeb5faf2e5a
Canadian Mental Health Association, (n.d.), Addictions and Problematic Internet Use, Retrieved From https://ontario.cmha.ca/documents/addictions-and-problematic-internet-use/