Social media, love it or not, it’s here to stay. From Facebook and Twitter to Instagram and Pinterest, you’re likely on at least one social media platform. In fact, 81% of U.S. adults 30-49 and 73% of adults 50-64 say they use at least one social media channel.1
Social media has become a big part of many of our lives, and we may not even realize just how much time we spend scrolling, liking, and sharing. Being on social media can enhance your life, provide inspiration, and help you stay connected to friends and family, but it can also become an additional stressor, which could worsen symptoms of anxiety or depression.2 We’ve got some advice on how you can have a healthy relationship with social media.
The Positive Side of Social Media
Humans are social beings. We need to feel connected and interact with others. Those connections — both the quality and quantity — have a big impact on our emotional and physical wellbeing.3 And people use social media as a way to stay connected with friends, family, and groups of like-minded individuals. Social media also lets us:
- Communicate and connect with others
- Find new friends, groups, or communities
- Join or promote worthwhile causes
- Raise awareness on important issues
- Offer (or look for) emotional support during tough times
- Find an outlet for creativity
- Discover new sources for information and learning
- Find inspiration — from quotes and motivators to home decorating and gardening ideas
While there are some benefits of feeling connected, it doesn’t replace the real-life connections and interactions that we all need.
The Downside of Social Media
Social media is still relatively new. That means there have been no long-term studies to determine the effects of social media on our health and happiness. However, studies are beginning to emerge that indicate a correlation between too much social media usage and poor emotional health.
Social media can become addicting, especially when you consider that most of us access our social media accounts on our smartphones or tablets, making it extremely accessible. One of our tips for reducing stress is to turn off your phone.
Checking our social accounts and seeing positive feedback makes us feel good. In fact, it creates a dopamine reward loop: You pick up your phone, dopamine increases, you feel happy, then dopamine decreases, then you pick up your phone again, and the loop continues.4 Additionally, social media can lead to negative experiences such as:
- Feeling Inadequate - Constantly seeing images on social media of seemingly perfect lives, filtered selfies, and fabulous beach vacations can make you begin to feel inadequate about your own life or appearance. Even when you know that the photos have been manipulated with filters and that they’re only a snippet of someone’s life, it can still lead to feelings of insecurity, envy, or dissatisfaction.5
- Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) - FOMO may not be new to social media, but social media can exacerbate the feeling that everyone else is living a better life or having more fun than you are and that you’re missing out. This can negatively impact your self-esteem, cause anxiety, and make you more compelled to check in on your social accounts.
- A Sense of Isolation - A study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that increased usage of Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram actually increases feelings of loneliness and that using social media less decreases those feelings.
- Depression and Anxiety - We need face-to-face interaction with others for our health and wellbeing. While social media can help us feel connected, it can’t replace in-person interaction such as eye contact or touch. Additionally, social media is a sedentary activity and it’s been found that people who spend more time in sedentary behaviors have less time for face-to-face interactions with others, which leads to feelings of depression and anxiety.6
Signs Social Media Is Affecting Your Happiness
Everyone’s experience with social media is different. But the one thing that holds true for all is that using social media should never make you feel unhappy, depressed, or anxious. If you feel worse after logging off social media, it may be time to step back. Here are some signs that social media is negatively affecting your mental wellbeing7 8:
- You experience increased symptoms of anxiety, depression, or loneliness
- You find yourself constantly comparing yourself to others and may even feel jealous
- It’s hard to log off and you feel compelled to constantly check your social media accounts
- You’re spending more time on social media than with family and friends in person — work or family obligations may begin to suffer
- Your self-esteem is impacted by the number of interactions — likes, hearts, thumbs-ups
Social Media — A Balancing Act
So can you use social media without tipping the scales on your mental health? Here are a few simple steps you can take to balance the scales:
- Take a break - Either schedule time to log off or take a day (or week) away from social media.
- Limit your posts - Don’t share every single detail of your day.
- Refine your feeds - Unfollow accounts that lead to negative feelings.
- Be kind - Online trolls thrive on starting arguments and heated debates. Don’t interact with negative posts, instead, choose to spread positivity and kindness.
- Don’t compare - View other people’s posts as inspiration rather than comparing yourself to what they’re sharing.
- Don’t boast - It’s ok to be proud of accomplishments, but be aware of being boastful, especially just to get a like.
- Make a date - Schedule time to spend with family and friends offline and in person.
Like all things in life, a little can go a long way. Social media can have many benefits. It’s important to be mindful of the negative impacts, however, and learn how to balance social media usage and your emotional wellbeing.