You don’t think social media have an impact on mental health? Well, let’s see…You can’t go a day without posting photos on Instagram? It makes you happy, so why not, right? You are opening chat after chat on Instagram, as the new chat sticker option just appeared. Using Facebook and constantly twitting about your day it’s just the way you connect with friends nowadays. You might think ‘there’s nothing wrong with going with the trends’. Everyone is doing it in the end, right? Your kids are also getting plenty of screen time.
What’s the problem, really? Why are social media getting so much bad press recently?
Does the research confirm our worries about social media impact on our well-being?
Social media can help you connect with people. At the same time, it can also leave you feeling more isolated. There are numerous studies in which findings have shown correlations between higher social media use and poorer mental health, including depression, anxiety, feelings of loneliness, lower self-esteem, and even suicidality.
An interesting study was published at The University of Pennsylvania (it was published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology). They asked 143 undergraduate students to limit their time on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat) to 10min per day for each platform. Following back after just 3 weeks, students showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression over three weeks compared to the control group. Significant decreases in anxiety and FOMO (so famous in recent days fear of missing out) was seen.
As a conclusion, it seems that limiting social media usage to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being. Limiting social media usage to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being.
143 female York University undergraduate students (age 17 to 27 years old) were a subject of another study. This time, the impact of social media on body image was measured.
The study showed that young adult women who actively engaged with photos of attractive peers on social media (Facebook, Instagram) would have a more negative body image than before doing so.
Researchers looked at another component in this study. They tested if photos of the family have also the same effect as photos of other unknown people and celebrities. It appears that interacting with photos of the family would not have an impact on body image in young adult women.
What’s the lesson here: Consuming too much of idealized content on Instagram or Facebook might have an impact on our mental health and, how we perceive ourselves. Much of what we see online are staged, edited photos of people in their best moments. It’s easy to jump into conclusion, that their entire life is like their Instagram feed. Then shortly after we might wonder ‘why don’t I look like this when I wake up in the morning?’. Take things into perspective, realize that what you see is not always the whole truth. If you notice you feel worst after looking at certain content, then stop looking.
There were other studies also confirming that there is an issue of comparing ourselves to others on social media. There is evidence that people feel depressed after spending a great deal of time on Facebook because they feel badly when comparing themselves to others. This might lead to anxiety and depression.
Humans are designed to live in real life. Face-to-face interactions enhance well-being. The longitudinal study from 2017 proved that regular use of Facebook had a negative impact on individual well-being. Liking posts, clicking links and updating your status impact people negatively. When you glued to the screen all the time you forget about the real-life interactions. You constantly compare your life with what you see on the screen, which in turn makes you feel inadequate and less happy.
Social media are and will remain an interesting subject to study. Even though we don’t fully understand its impact, we might clearly see the direction it’s heading already. Like with everything in life, overuse will certainly be not good for you.
How to use social media safely and protect your mental health?
- Limit the time you spend on social media – check objectively how much time you spend on each platform. Try setting yourself a time limit that suits your life best. There are plenty of apps to help with this (check out 7 best apps here)
- Monitor where you use social media most – commit to not checking social media during meals with family and friends, and when playing with children or talking with a partner.
- No screens in the bedroom – Don’t keep your phone or computer in the bedroom, as it can disrupt your sleep.
- Try having a ‘detox’ – go for a few days without social media. See how you feel. If you start to have anxiety you might have the case of FOMO (fear of missing out). Watch yourself for signs of addiction.
- Pay attention to how you feel – if whatever you seeing makes you feel worst, not good enough, anxious then stop it. There is no reason for you to feel this way. Content that doesn’t benefit your life, doesn’t have a place in it at all.
- Clean your feed – over time you find yourself having lots of online friends, organizations, businesses that you follow. Some content might still be interesting, others might be not relevant, boring or simply annoying. Clean, delete, unfollow often. It’s like cleaning your closet, it’s good for your head.
- Turn off notifications – there is nothing so important that you have to know about it the minute it appears online. Live your life on your own schedule, don’t be chained to the cell phone.
- Go outside and meet with people – Invite your friend for a coffee, go out, see people, go for a date. Don’t limit your social interaction only to online.