It is no secret that social media has a profound effect on our lives. What we post, how we portray ourselves, and how we interact with others online can have a lasting impact on our mental health. In some cases, it can be downright harmful. Whether we are young adults or part of the older generation, social media platforms can have an impact on mental and emotional health.
For example, research has shown that excessive social media use can lead to feelings of loneliness, envy, and anxiety. It can also cause us to compare ourselves unfavorably to others and make us feel more insecure about our own appearance and accomplishments. This can disrupt our mental well being and produce low self esteem.
What’s more, the constant stream of bad news that we are exposed to on social media can have a negative effect on our mental health. Studies have shown that exposure to negative news can lead to mental illness like anxiety and depression. If someone already has a mental disorder like bipolar disorder then they may feel it more intensely than others, which can become serious.
This can be especially true for teenagers and young adults who have lived most of their lives online and developed unhealthy social media habits as well as experience issues such as –
They can be so consumed by what is on the screen in front of them they can find it hard to focus on other things. For instance, social media can take people away from their everyday lives, meaning that they can neglect themselves in real life, which will mean not paying attention to what is going on around them and only focusing on what is online. They can seek instant gratification when online which can turn into a vicious cycle when they are not getting that dopamine fix they have been striving for. This can cause tension with their parents, having a knock-on effect on their mental health.
It has been noted by websites such as sleepfoundation.org that the more screen time teens spend on their phones, whether that be excessive time spent on social media usage, playing games, texting, and so on, the harder is it for young people to fall asleep, which can end up negatively impacting their sleep patterns and establish sleep problems. This may develop into health conditions that affect them later on in life.
Unfortunately, with the positive aspects of social media comes the bad side, and that can come in the form of bullying. Bullying is a serious topic among teenagers, and with the growth of a variety of these platforms, it opens adolescents up to multiple channels that can be detrimental to their mental health and self esteem.
Blogs like youthranch.org have listed the effects cyberbullying can have –
- mental health issues like developing depressive symptoms and anxiety disorders
- poor academic performance
- wanting to drop out of school
- increased risk of suicidal thoughts
The last one is especially serious and can happen to those who feel like they have nowhere to turn and believe that ending their lives is the only way they can find some peace. The lasting emotional scars that young adults can feel from negative social media use can stop them from spending time on actual pleasurable activities with a good friend or family members who want to help them.
Unrealistic Body Standards
With the rise of social media influencers, people are consuming a lot of ‘idealized’ bodies which can make them feel inadequate with their physical appearance or strive for a body that cannot be achieved, due to the fact that it is not real and has been faked by the use of photoshopping and airbrushing apps.
This can produce negative effects which cause them to look at extreme dieting, using weight loss supplements, as well as doing high-intensity workouts to try and burn fat. It has the potential to have a serious effect on adolescent health, especially as their bodies are still growing.
This can become intense, resulting in eating disorders and body image issues that they can carry with them for the rest of their life if they do not get the appropriate help. It may also make them retreat into themselves and cause them to have fewer friends and limit their social circles.
What should you do?
Knowing the effects of social media on mental health can help those who are suffering from this high consumption of social media sites and raise awareness of what needs to be done. So how can we protect our mental state and well being and our family and friends’ mental health from the harmful effects of this ever-expanding media?
First, it is important to be aware of how social media is affecting you. If you find that you are spending too much time on social media, or if you are starting to feel lonely, jealous, or anxious after using it, take a break.
It is critical that you take a step back and see why you are feeling the way you are feeling and how your mental well being is being impacted. If you start to feel jittery from being away from your phone, this could be a bigger issue which may mean the need for professional help such as a therapist, who can help you with mood disorders, social anxiety, sleep quality/delayed sleep, and so on.
Therapists can help you see what is going on and how best to tackle what you are going through. Many people may not see the serious effects that social media can have, and genuinely ponder the question “how does social media affect mental health?”
So, hopefully, they will be able to get the answers they need without compromising their mental health and be able to dip into the digital world without developing further mental health problems.
A Positive following
Another point is that you should make sure that you are following people and organizations that make you feel good. Seek out positive content and different platforms that make you feel happy and uplifted. You do not want to limit your self-expression online, so do not follow anyone that makes you feel like you should shy away. They should make you feel the positive effects of social media.
If you insist on spending your time online, maybe you have a social media-based job, or you work with computers that require you to be online more than the average person, then it is important you surround yourself with influencers and pages that can support your mental health and not cause you to feel any depression or anxiety as soon as you log on.
Break out of the simulation
Finally, remember that social media is not reality. The pictures and posts that people share are often carefully curated to show only the best parts of their lives. Do not compare your own life to what you see on social media, and do not believe everything that you read.
As previously mentioned, this affects a lot of teenagers who see these ‘model’ images and want to be them so badly that they will try their hardest to be just like them. This can also happen to older groups who are in their 30s to 40s, who feel like they need to work extra harder to look good.
Multiple research studies by a variety of authors such as Frisén and Holmqvist, 2010; McAndrew and Jeong, 2012; Chua and Chang, 2016, have discussed how gender is an important factor in this too, with girls being increasingly affected by body image online as they immerse themselves in this content more than boys do.
If you are struggling with your mental health and are seeing social media as a part of your struggles, then you need to reach out for help from professionals that can support you in a proactive and positive manner so you are not suffering in silence.