Do you ever feel drained out after scrolling endlessly on Instagram? Does using too much social media often make you question your self-worth, your body, and your achievements? Social media is a technology that provides us with a lot of amazing benefits. It allows people to share and connect, get news and information, and even meet new people. But it can also have a downside, especially for college-aged young adults who have grown up in a world of screens.
Positive Effects of Social Media
Much research has been devoted to studying the negative aspects of social media. Many of these studies are legitimate. For example, social media addiction is an epidemic among teenagers in our country and seems to be the case everywhere. But social media is not always or only negative. It can have a variety of positive effects on our mental health as well if used widely. Here are some of the often overlooked positive effects social media can have on mental health:
a. Actively interacting with people—Especially sharing messages, posts, and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions—is associated with improved well-being. The COVID-19 pandemic had unleashed its share of other mental health issues, not the least of which was social isolation, which itself is linked to a range of health issues – both physical and mental. This is the downside of social distancing. According to Mesfin Bekala, who conducted the study at the Harvard School of Public Health: “Routine use of social media can compensate for declining face-to-face social interactions in people's busy lives. Social media can provide individuals with a platform that overcomes the barriers of distance and time, allowing them to connect and reconnect with others, thereby expanding and strengthening their networks and interactions.”
b. The anonymity provided by social media offers a safe space- for people to express themselves and reveal their personal experiences with mental illness. In other words, it allows for self-expression without the danger of stigma. It makes connections differently, watching strangers talk openly about their lives. Indeed, this openness and authenticity have become one of the key hallmarks of social media in the Covid-19 era.
c. Inspire healthy lifestyle changes- Social media can be used as a motivational tool to achieve healthy lifestyle goals, such as quitting smoking or going to the gym regularly. Announcing the goal through social media and regularly posting about it promotes accountability to others, creates positive support from friends, and stimulates an online "social support system" that can lead the aspirant to create or join other communities dedicated to similar pursuits. This is a classic case of "positive emotional contagion." While virtual interaction on social media doesn't have the same psychological benefits as face-to-face contact, there are still many positive ways it can help you stay connected and boost your well-being. Improving your relationship with social media.
The Negative Effects of Social Media
Social media affects our mental hygiene in the manner that it has often been linked to depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Recent studies cited by The Child Mind Institute and The National Center for Health Research suggest that people who frequently use social media feel more depressed and less happy with life than those who spend more time on non-social media activities. Let’s talk about how social media negatively impacts our mental health in detail:
a. Almost addictive
Social media apps and websites have the same effect on the brain as playing slots. Because you don't know the content you'll see until you open the app, the spontaneous results make you feel "rewarded" by releasing dopamine—the same chemical that's associated with other pleasurable activities like sex and food.
b. Focus on interactions Another problem can arise when you put too much emphasis on the interactions you get (or don't) on the content you share. For example, if you post an image hoping to be liked or liked and you don't get the feedback you want, you may feel disappointed or invalidated. You can also experience disappointment when comparing your posts to other people's posts. All of these can cause low self-esteem, a distraction from other tasks, and even feelings of anxiety or depression.
c. Filters are fun, but also fake Filters are an example of how social media can be both positive and negative. Sure, silly filters can be great for a laugh, but being able to easily whiten teeth, airbrush body parts, and hide imperfections can create false illusions. Even though you know the posts are filtered and carefully selected, constantly seeing more great pictures can make it impossible to live up to other people's lives. Try to see filters for what they are - a fun tool to make you look different online, but not something that needs to be recreated.
d. Feelings of Missing Out
Fear of missing out, or FOMO, is another reason why social media browsing is so tempting. When your friends and classmates use social media, you may worry about missing a message, joke, or another piece of information that connects you to your peers.
However, constant checking and scrolling can hurt school work and studies. Distractions can lead to procrastination, less information retention, and higher stress levels. You may also experience feelings of exclusion, loneliness, or anxiety when you see posts from others who are having a good time.
So how can you use social media in a way that benefits your mental health instead of damaging it? These tips offer a place to start.
A. Be curious about your behavior
Research suggests exploring why you're turning to social media. This can help you minimize unhelpful usage patterns and begin to identify behaviors that more effectively address your needs. You can start by asking yourself what function social media plays in your life. Perhaps you need a distraction from a recent loss or a stressful work situation. Or maybe you scroll a lot simply because you always have your phone within reach.
B. Avoid social media in the morning and evening Using social media apps first thing in the morning can potentially set a negative tone for the rest of your day. And as mentioned above, using these apps at night can disrupt your sleep. That's why it can help to leave your phone in another room when you go to bed and try a digital or old-school alarm clock. Alternatively, you can leave the phone in the drawer in the room. That way it's out of reach but you can still hear the alarm in the morning. Instead, consider booking your days with truly nourishing rituals that support your mental health.
C. Edit your content Spend a few days paying attention to the kind of content that seems to be negatively impacting your mental health. Then choose the people and organizations you follow. You can also make it a point to find content that inspires and uplifts you.
C. Set yourself up for success.
If you've come across successful detox stories on social media, you might be tempted to go cold turkey. Taking a complete break from all your social apps could certainly be helpful, but be honest about your willingness to avoid social apps.
Setting higher expectations than you're willing to can lead to a cycle of shame, which can in turn fuel more of the behaviors you want to reduce. So ask yourself: What are good boundaries for me on a regular basis? Would I experiment with skipping social media for a day? Can I keep my phone elsewhere to minimize it?