These days, many of us turn to social media for news, community information, updates from family and friends, entertainment, or even just a break from our daily routine. Social media is a technological tool—it isn’t good or bad in and of itself.
Like any tool, social media can have positive and negative outcomes. It’s positive when the photos of a loved one bring a smile to your face, you feel up-to-date and in touch with what’s happening in the world, and that string of videos from your favorite social media family makes you laugh. It can turn negative when the photos from a friend showcasing an event you weren’t invited to make you feel left out and alone, or the onslaught of news leaves you feeling sad and helpless, or the string of videos of other people’s lives makes you feel envious and discouraged.
These emotions can be stirred up in any of us, whether you’re just entering your teen years or you’re well into retirement, brand new to social media or a veteran user of various platforms.
According to the Loma Linda University Institute for Health Policy and Leadership, “There is a growing body of literature showing a correlation between social media use and depression, anxiety, eating disorders, sleeping disorders, and/or suicidal tendencies.” While social media has done an important job of raising awareness of and removing the stigma around mental health, it’s important for social media users to be aware of how their engagement with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and other platforms is affecting their mental health.
There are several indicators that your social media usage may be negatively influencing your mental health. If you find yourself spending more time online than with your “offline” friends, if you are unfairly comparing yourself with others’ lives, if you experience feelings of “FOMO” (fear of missing out) and find yourself frequently checking social media to see what other people are doing (even while you yourself are out doing things), social media is likely negatively affecting your mental health.
Whenever you have a spare moment of solitude, do you find yourself immediately going to social media? Without quiet moments in our lives, we miss out on moments of self-awareness or self-reflection, which are essential for our growth as people.
If social media has become a distraction from your everyday activities, like work and school, to the point where you can’t pull yourself away to focus on the tasks at hand or get enough sleep at night, it’s probably time to re-evaluate your social media consumption.
If social media leaves you feeling more anxious, depressed, and lonely after you’ve used it, this is a clear indication that it’s time to pull the plug on your social media for a while.
For some people, cutting ties entirely from social media might be the best option, but many folks can improve their mental health by taking simple steps to change their relationship with the various social media platforms.
According to the same article cited above, “A 2018 University of Pennsylvania study found that reducing social media use to 30 minutes a day resulted in a significant reduction in levels of anxiety, depression, loneliness, sleep problems, and FOMO.”
That might seem like a drastic cut to some of us, but simply being more mindful of how we’re using social media can drastically impact our relationship to it. This means being more mindful of when you are using social media and setting boundaries that provide more time and space away from your smartphone. Consider leaving your phone in another room to charge at bedtime, setting up screen time limits, disabling social media push notifications, limit the frequency of your social media checks, or remove social media apps from your phone. Any of these steps can help you control the amount of time you spend on social media.
When you know the intention behind your own use of social media as well as other people’s use of social media, it can “right size” your relationship with the platforms. Define for yourself what you expect out of social media—do you go to social media to find specific information, or are you simply going to social media out of boredom? Knowing your motivation can help you discern whether you’ve crossed over into unhealthy social media interaction.
Social media can be a fun way to connect with people we don’t get to see every day, but when we allow those relationships to become substitutes for “real-life” connections, our mental health suffers. Social interactions with humans in the real world keeps us happy and healthy in many different ways. Make time each week for lunch dates, coffee, or get-togethers with friends and family, where the emphasis is on spending time with each other without the necessity of phones. Reach out to old friends or make new ones by joining a local club. Engage with the people around you at work, at the grocery store, on the street, etc. Even these small connections can lift your mood and help you feel more connected to the rest of the human race.
With so many people helpfully promoting and advocating for mental health, it can also be tempting to use that information to “self-diagnose” your own mental health. This might not be the best way to analyze how you are feeling—you might be able to name what you might be dealing with, but often this self-diagnosis misses helping you to cope with the negative emotions you’re experiencing. If you feel like you might be suffering from mental health challenges, it’s important to talk to a counselor or qualified mental health professional. These individuals are trained to help you not only name what you might be experiencing but find appropriate tools and resources for you to use to heal and recover from underlying causes.
The Mental Health and Recovery Board of Ashland County has a network of these mental health professionals available to help you through whatever challenges you’re experiencing. Visit our website for more information.