Social media is now an established part of our lives – 40 per cent of the world’s population reportedly uses it– and whether its Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter or any other platform that encourages sharing life snippets and opinions as well as snooping on other peoples’ lives, it seems that social media is here to stay.
Since it is now such an integral part of our day-to-day existence, it’s only to be expected that social media can positively and negatively impact our mental health.
When it comes to positively influencing mental health, social media can be particularly useful. It can offer a great support system during difficult times, providing access to a whole host of professional experts, as well as those who have had direct and personal experience of issues being faced. Online communities can offer a great source of emotional support, offering a platform where questions that can’t necessarily be asked out loud are funnelled. That contributes to reducing feelings of isolation or anxiety and effectively helps individuals to find the answers that can support mental health.
However, as good as it can be, there are a number of studies that point to the damage that social media can do to your mental health. Some studies have found a link between social media use and depression and anxiety and, particularly worryingly, an increased risk of suicide.
Social media can encourage feelings of inadequacy regarding life and achievements. Researchers found that three out of every five Facebook and Twitter users felt that their own achievements were inadequate when compared with the posts of others, as well as making them feel jealous of other users.
“Social media can also actually make us feel more isolated than connected.”
Another cause for concern is the link between sleep disruption caused by excessive mobile phone usage at night with depression and unhappiness. People who spend the night checking social media are more likely to suffer from mood problems, including neuroticism and other disorders, and consider themselves less happy and lonelier.
Social media can also actually make us feel more isolated than connected. A study of 7,000 people found that those who spend the most time on social media were more likely to report feeling social isolation, including a lack of a sense of social belonging, engagement with others and fulfilling relationships.
With social media, it’s far too easy to compare our lives with those of the people we follow. It’s only human nature. But that’s not healthy: one study found that regularly using Facebook could lead to symptoms of depression if the site triggered feelings of envy in the user.
Another study pointed to people demonstrating psychological symptoms of withdrawal, including increased heart rate and blood pressure, as well as anxiety, when they stopped using social media and the internet.
It’s important to recognise how easy it is to become addicted to social media– not helped by the fact that it’s such a core part of life today and that often the problem is not realised until it’s too late – but by taking a step back and assessing your social media usage, it’s easier to reflect on how it affects your mental health.
Help yourself to manage your social media use
If you’re spending too much time on social media and not enough in the “real world”, now might be the time to try to manage this addiction.
Acknowledge that you’ve got a problem!
The first step, of course, to solving a problem is admitting that there is one.
Are you checking your Facebook feed from the moment you wake up, or finding that you’re taking a photo of every single thing you eat and posting it on Instagram? When out with a friend, do you find yourself constantly checking your social media accounts on your phone? Are you scrolling through your phone while you’re sat on the sofa with your partner, supposedly watching television or listening to their day? Have you developed a ‘fear of missing out’ if you can’t get to your phone to see what’s been going on?
If you find yourself nodding in agreement in response to any of these questions, then it’s a good moment to acknowledge you may have a problem.
Remove the temptation from your home screen
Receiving push notifications for recent activity on social media platforms is just too tempting and can immediately encourage scrolling to see what is going on. By disabling push notifications, you’ll help to cut the time you spend online. You can also ‘snooze’ some of the traffic on news feeds by opting to temporarily stop seeing posts from some groups and pages.
Reflect on what else you could be doing
As tempting as social media is, consider what you’re really getting from it and the value it adds to your life. Could you be reading a book, watching a film, catching up with friends, taking up a new hobby or spending more time with your partner? Are you brave enough to put the phone down and do something different?
Ask yourself how many social channels do you really need?
There always seems to be something new when it comes to social media such as new, enticing platforms. But do you really need another way to view a news feed? Reviewing the accounts that you have and resisting the lure of opening new accounts, however trendy, is a positive way to manage social media usage.
Make your social media contributions matter
Before posting your latest thoughts, take a moment to make your contribution matter. Is it really important and necessary to share? Who are you really talking to and, hand on heart, are they that interested? By thinking twice about posting, you will better analyse your social media use and cut back on time spent on it.
Nurture real-world relationships and experiences
Today, it’s second nature to take a photo of an experience or video your favourite song at a concert, rather than enjoying the moment in real-time. How often do we really look back on these once captured and posted? How many people really watch them? So, if the answer is, ‘not that many’, why do we bother? Surely it’s better to enjoy relationships and experiences in the real world?
Are you brave enough to take a break? How does a “digital detox” sound?
Maybe taking a break for a week seems like a really long, unmanageable, time. But how about taking a break from social media for an evening to start with and then a day? It’ll still be there when you pop back on it and, surely, if it’s really important news, your friends and family will pick up the phone or pop around to tell you what’s happening? If not, then perhaps they need to read this article!