Social media has become an essential part of life for the majority of the American population. We use it to communicate with friends and family, share ideas and information, host events, share pictures and videos, and much more. While social media has allowed for increased communication and connection, it has also caused new and significant mental health challenges society is still learning to navigate. Social media has directly influenced the way our culture has changed in the last two decades, but not always for the better. In many cases, people are beginning to realize the deep impact that social media has on their mental health, both good and bad. Here are some ways in which social media affects mental health.
One positive benefit that social media has had on people is the ability to stay connected to friends and family members who people don’t have regular physical contact with. Because the ways that you can interact with these people now is practically unlimited and has only gotten more creative, you can reap the benefits of sharing your life with loved ones even if you’re apart.
Distraction and Dopamine
Social media is designed to satisfy your curiosity and desire to be entertained. Psychologically, notifications and “likes” target the part of our brain that handles emotions and pleasure. Receiving them or waiting to receive them triggers the anticipation and release of dopamine, the human “happy hormone.” Dopamine creates a positive association to the social media you’re seeing, but it also ensures that you come back for more. This means that social media can become a big distraction to work and productivity, as people consistently chase the feeling that social media gives them. It can lead to heightened positive emotions and self-esteem, it can lead to negative emotions and self-talk, or it can do both. Many scientists are now saying that it’s possible to become addicted to this feeling.
The world has never before had such instant access to so much information. People are becoming more aware every day of societal, cultural, and global issues, which can also lead to a rise in creating positive change. Social media has also made it easier for many people to stay informed about current events, assuming the researcher uses reliable sources. This level of heightened awareness can also lead to people becoming more introspective and willing to make changes in their lives, and the consequential positive mental health benefits.
Social Comparison and False Realities
Social media has been pointed to as a major factor in the increasing amount of mental health conditions being diagnosed today. Because social media allows people to post an altered, filtered, or surface-level reality about themselves or others, it’s easy to get caught up in comparison, bullying/being bullied, fear of missing out(FOMO), and dissatisfaction with the state of one’s life. It’s impossible to see what someone’s life looks like beyond edited snapshots in time, leading to the idea that some people have perfect lives while others do not. This leads to an ongoing pursuit of satisfaction, which is often defined and determined by others.
Impacts to Self-Esteem
Social media is also a trigger for validation. People go to social media to feel better about themselves or be told that what they think or believe is correct. This ensures that social media platforms can become a main source of self-esteem. This can be positive, but it can also easily be negative, as an over-reliance on social media can lead to negative thoughts or ideas about oneself that are challenging to overcome. Social media is not meant to help your mental health, and can actually harm it. Because of the constantly changing nature of social media and the pressure to “perform” on it, self-esteem is often one of the first aspects of mental health to suffer. Social media connections may not always feel genuine or authentic, which can lead to loneliness, isolation, and a negative sense of self-worth.
Potential to Lead to Isolation
Social media often becomes a substitute for real-life interactions, which can then cause a breakdown in in-person community building. This can cause a significant amount of loneliness, and take a toll on a person’s mental health. This is one possible reason why depression and anxiety diagnosis rates have spiked in recent years, especially in younger generations. Many people find that taking a break from social media—or even leaving it all together—gives them a mental boost as they reconnect with themselves and real life outside of the internet.
People also go to social media to cope with the negative aspects of their lives rather than constructively managing their emotions in healthy ways. Because social media provides a comforting dopamine fix, and each progressive post can distract you from negative thoughts and experiences, it becomes a way for people to medicate their pain. Depression and anxiety are often linked, which could mean that dependence on social media is also causing any anxiety challenges you have to become worse.
Signs That Social Media Is Affecting Your Mental Health
It’s not always easy to notice that social media is affecting your mental health. It often feels like a necessary tool, and it’s an entertaining one at that. However, there are some ways to determine whether or not it’s significantly impacting your ability to process thoughts, emotions, and information.
- You spend multiple hours a day looking at it: This signals the possibility of a mental/emotional dependence on social media, which can have negative effects on your ability to effectively manage your time and your emotions.
- It reduces or replaces your physical interactions with others: Social media cannot replace the positive, affirming, and mentally beneficial effects of spending physical time in someone else’s presence. If you’re spending more time alone with social media (or even letting it distract you from being present with someone who’s with you in the moment), it’s possible that you’re allowing it to replace your much-needed social life.
- You’re emotionally and physically tired a lot: The use of social media burns through a lot of our emotional and creative energy every day—not to mention that the stimulating light from screens can affect your brain’s ability to think and process information. Also, using social media and digital devices in general can negatively impact your sleep quality, which will leave you tired when you wake up. If you find that you have little to no energy on a regular basis, it may be because you’re using social media too much.
- You play the comparison game a lot: If you’re constantly comparing yourself to others, defining success or productivity by what others accomplish, or thinking less of yourself than you think of others, it’s possible that social media is influencing these behaviors.
- You have no time for self-reflection: If you have a difficult time facing your innermost thoughts, feelings, desires, and needs because you don’t take the time to know and understand yourself, it’s possible that social media is distracting you from doing these practices.
- You engage in risky behaviors: If you’re engaging in risky behaviors for the sole benefit of showing other people what you can or are willing to do, social media is likely negatively affecting your life. It’s often the potential for online attention that causes people to act out in unhealthy ways.
We’re Here to Help
At Community Access Network, we know that social media can be a great tool, but also a negative influence health. If you’d like to learn more about how you can positively manage your overall wellness, we’d love to help. Schedule an appointment today!