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Social media and mental health. It’s all the rage nowadays. You blink and a new platform emerges…or disappears. But how does it affect your interactions with real people, how does it affect your self-image and what damage is it doing to your mental health?
Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, TikTok; the list goes on. Whatever platforms you choose to use, they are designed to keep you on their site for as long as possible; so they can gather information about you and your preferences, in order to show you relevant content, that will keep you on there longer. Do you see how that works?
In this post, we will be discussing if social media is hurting our mental health. What it does to your brain, the dangers of getting addicted to it; as well as the positive effects social media can have when used in the right way.
Is social media hurting your mental health?
In a nutshell, yes…probably. Social media, and the devices we use to look at it, are terrible for sleep. Phones, tablets, computers and TV’s all emit blue light. This blue light has a short wavelength which is visible to the eye. It makes the brain think that it’s day time and helps to regulate the circadian rhythm (the sleep and wake cycle.) While blue light in the day time is fine, during the evening hours, it suppresses the production of melatonin which tells the body it’s time to get sleepy.
The stimulation quality of social media is also bad for your mental health due to the anxiety it can produce when you read something you don’t like or see something that upsets you. Not to mention the addictive quality of ‘just five more minutes.’
Seeing other people living idyllic lives can make you feel like you’re missing out, or that your life is lacking and make you want things you don’t have. The classic fear of missing out syndrome will keep you continuing to scroll through your news feeds to see what else you might be lacking, and how to get it.
But it’s important to remember that what you see on social media is just a snapshot of someone’s day and doesn’t tell the whole story. Ask anyone of your friends what their life is like, and you will probably find they feel just as you do when scrolling through their social media feeds too.
What does social media do to your brain?
While social media can be responsible for making you overspend on things you don’t really need, and make you feel hungry when you find yourself scrolling through your friends’ fantastic cooking; it can also have a real impact on the way you think. As human beings, we crave validation from those we care about, and that can lead to changing your thought patterns to fit in with groups that you are involved with.
Self-esteem is often affected by witnessing what others have got that you don’t. The way your friends seem to handle everything in their life with ease, while you find things difficult, can lead to you feeling like a failure. It can also be difficult to get the real meaning behind someone’s posts when you don’t have body language and facial cues to work with. So when someone says something online, it can be taken in a different context than was originally meant and lead to hurt feelings and lack of confidence.
High levels of dopamine are released when you receive ‘likes,’ ‘follows,’ and ‘saves.’ While this may seem like a good thing, it actually makes social media addictive by creating a reward cycle. This behaviour was originally the body’s survival tactic. When, for example, you eat food, socialise or exercise, your brain releases endorphins which make you feel good and encourage you to do the same thing again. But mindlessly posting and scrolling through social media means you are not actively engaging with people and bonding with them. This can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Can you get addicted to social media?
Social media addiction is more common than you might think. Due to the reward cycle, we discussed above, your brain recognises that checking your social media brings you pleasure and so messages you that you should do that again.
Social media was originally set up to connect people with others that they love. People who have similar interests, and to reduce loneliness. But since then it has evolved to become a hobby for many, a platform to sell and advertise for businesses, and somewhere where predators can get their fix too.
While using social media to get information, connect with loved ones or get support when you need it is a good thing; overuse, or misuse, can lead to problems such as low self-esteem, insomnia, anxiety, depression and more.
Are there positive effects of social media?
Social media doesn’t have to be all negative though, there are some positives to it if you use it wisely. Especially with the current pandemic raging through the world – it’s a great way to stay connected with loved ones you are unable to see.
It can also be a great way to raise money or awareness for worthy causes. Starting groups or petitions is a steadfast way of getting things done.
Using social media for support when you are suffering from an illness is another plus. There are groups on every platform for just about everything these days; and connecting with like-minded people can help you feel less alone in your plight.
So although nothing really beats face-to-face connection with other human beings, social media does have it’s place. We just need to make sure we use it wisely.
Do you use social media a lot? What do you use it for? Do you feel it has become a problem in your life? Let us know in the comments below!