Recently a few friends of mine were complaining about social media and how negative it can be. They had decided to take a break from it to gain some distance and recharge. At first, I kind of scoffed a little, thinking it was an overreaction. But then I began to wonder, did they have a point?
Social media platforms definitely have their advantages, giving us more avenues to connect with people on varying levels, creating opportunities for businesses, and allowing us the chance to bond and interact with people across the world that we might otherwise never meet. But there is also a dark side to using social media platforms, and using them too much or in unhealthy ways can leave you feeling depressed and isolated.
Many of us check our phones multiple times a day, sometimes even per hour, to take a peek at what everyone else is up to. Come on, don’t pretend you haven’t looked at your phone when you’re on the toilet, only to realize you’ve been sitting there for 30 minutes! We’re faced with a relentless stream of flawless photos on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, sometimes at the expense of our mental health. Have you ever been cruising your social media and see someone post photos of a party, or a trip, and wonder why you aren’t doing as well as they are? If so, you aren’t the only one! Here are three ways that social media may be hurting your mental health, and how you can regain control over your happiness.
1. Social media can hurt your self-esteem.
I think it’s safe to say that most of us have our quirks and insecurities, whether we want to admit to them or not. It’s easy to get distracted browsing other peoples’ photos, and to get hung up on their ‘perfect’ trip, looks, relationship, house, or kids. We are prone to “upward social comparison” and jealousy on social networks, according to one German research paper.
These feelings of envy can easily spiral into deeper feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy, leaving you questioning or downright regretting your life choices. Many of us unfortunately gain some sense of self-worth based on how we are doing relative to other people, and when we do that, we begin to put our happiness in someone else’s hands.
Becoming more aware of the amount of time you spend scrolling through other people’s online profiles could help you focus more on yourself and boost your self-confidence. In addition to simply spending less time on social media, try to pay attention to what you’re thinking about when you scroll through your social media feed. Are you taking what you see at face value? Make sure you’re not putting others on a pedestal, because what people post on their social media is generally not a realistic portrayal of their daily life. For instance, on one of my Instagram accounts I post a lot of travel photos, and sometimes people will message me saying things like, “Oh I wish I could travel all the time like you”. What they don’t realize is that I love photography and I take a lot of photos when I travel. But that trip I’m posting photos from? It was 5 years ago, and I haven’t been on a trip since then. When I have a rare day off (I’m self employed and often work 3-4 months with no days off), I often go exploring and the photos I take during that one day, are the photos I might use on social media for the next month or two. So not everything you see on social media is an accurate depiction of someone’s life. Don’t become preoccupied with what other people are doing – do what makes you happy!
2. Sleep and social media don’t mix!
I don’t know about you, but I love sleep! But like most people I also wake up periodically during the night, and chances are you do too. Do you find yourself checking your phone if you wake up in the middle of the night? What about when you get up in the morning? Do you have a shower first, breakfast, or do you check your phone first thing in the morning? I know what my answer is, and I can’t say I’m proud of it!
Processing information and potentially becoming wound up with frustration, stress, or envy from what we see on social media keeps the brain overstimulated, keeping us from falling asleep. In addition to being overstimulated, according to the National Sleep Foundation, the blue light from our phones and laptops can suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps control your sleep cycle. Want better sleep? Stop cuddling your phone and try to avoid using it for at least 30-60 minutes before bed, and see if you start sleeping more soundly!
3. Social media is distracting.
Last but not least, is the impact social media may have on your attention span. If you’ve read this far, there’s still hope for you! While we now have large amounts of information readily available to us thanks to social media, it also means that people have become much more easily distracted. Social media gives us almost instantaneous distraction and entertainment whenever we want it. That is, unless you live in the country like me, and spend half your time staring longingly at the progress wheel, contemplating selling a kidney if you could just watch one funny dog video on Youtube.
Because of the amount of information being presented to us now, we have to focus on more things, but we are focusing on them for shorter amounts of time. While we still need to study issues like this in more depth, a study was published in Nature Communications by the Technical University of Denmark with results showing that our “collective attention spans” have shortened over time. This is a layered issue and social media may not permanently damage your attention span, but keep in mind that it does provide a regular and easily accessible distraction from undesirable responsibilities, which could become a habit over time if not properly managed.
As an exercise, especially if you find you can’t even go a few minutes without checking your phone, or you use it to procrastinate – try pushing yourself not to look at it for a certain amount of time. It may be hard at first, but it will get easier over time!
Stay true to yourself and live in the real world.
Interaction, communication, and deeper connections are important for all of us to be healthy and content. When we have a phone or computer wedged between us and the rest of the world, true connection can become rare. When you start learning about the lives of your friends through their Facebook or Instagram accounts instead of by talking to them, you know you have a problem. Some social media connection can be great, but it can’t replace actual human connection. Make an active effort to be present when you’re with your family, friends, and coworkers.
Do you think using social media has affected your mental health? Have you ever tried a hiatus from social media? Tell me about your experience in the comments section, I’d love to hear from you!
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