This post explains how social media can negatively impact one’s mental health. It overviews the four common effects that many social media users experience and elaborates on why these effects play a role in our mental health. As well, it includes a few simple ways to make the social media experience a more positive one.
With social media apps on the rise, and most adolescents and young adults reporting that they are online everyday for multiple hours, it’s important to understand how these apps can negatively impact mental health. FOMO, social media addiction, unhealthy comparison, and disruption of sleep cycles are some of the most common ways that social media can affect people’s mental health, and their overall lives.
Fear Of Missing Out
FOMO, or, “fear of missing out,” occurs when people feel as though other people are living better lives and having more fun than they are. It involves a sense of helplessness and envy as they feel that they are missing out from something significant. This can range from a friend’s weekend party or to a coworker’s winter vacation. On social media, users are surrounded by an endless feed of photos. With people uploading live videos of their vacations and posting pictures of themselves with their friends, the constant posts displaying the best aspects of other people’s lives make it difficult not to develop FOMO.
Social media apps are designed in a way such that you experience feelings of dopamine, or pleasure, after using them. Your brain then picks this kind of activity as a reward, and seeks to repeat it. Every time the dopamine wears off, you become inclined to check social media again. This kind of positive reinforcement is heightened by apps that allow you to receive “likes” or positive comments on pictures you post. This addiction can have an extremely detrimental effect on mental health. It can distract you from work, academics, relationships, and activities, without you even knowing how much time you are spending on it. Social media addiction can also lead to restlessness and irritability when you are not able to use it, thinking about the apps constantly, or turning to social media as a coping mechanism to deal with problems.
Whether it’s people you know, celebrities, or complete strangers, repeatedly seeing pictures of other people and their lives often results in a cycle of comparison. You make judgments about how your life compares to theirs. However, what you can’t see is that most people on social media only post the best version of themselves. Many photos have been photoshopped to cover up blemishes, feign a tan, or even fake being on vacation. People are comparing themselves to unrealistic standards, and not only does it make them jealous, it can cause them to feel worthless. This can cause a variety of body-image issues, as well as low self-esteem, and even feelings of anxiety and depression.
Social media can affect sleeping cycles in numerous ways. Firstly, social media addiction can lead to late nights spent checking apps and scrolling through feeds. The light emitted from the device can also play a role in impacting your sleep. It disrupts the circadian rhythm by reducing the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep. Additionally, many people, especially adolescents, report that they check social media apps throughout the night. This largely disrupts their sleep by waking up intermittently instead of sleeping through the night.
How To Reduce The Effects Of Social Media On Your Mental Health
According to a study done by the University of Pennsylvania, reducing your time online can result in the lessening of anxiety, depression, and FOMO symptoms. To be successful in curtailing your social media usage, you may want to download an app that tracks your time online, turn off technology an hour before going to bed, and limit your time on unproductive social media platforms such as Instagram or Twitter. Replace the time you usually spend online with real-life connections. Some ideas include rekindling a friendship with an old friend, scheduling face-to-face activities with friends and family, and joining a new club. While these will not compromise social activity, they will ensure that you are maintaining real life interactions.