Social media has revolutionised the way we communicate and interact with other people. We now spend most of our time on our devices, checking what others are up to, watching vlogs and videos, and chatting with friends and loved ones.
Excessive use, as studies have suggested, can fuel feelings of loneliness and dissatisfaction, but finding a healthier balance can also be beneficial.
In this article, we’ll be exploring the relationship between social media and mental health, including its negative and positive aspects and how you can use it to benefit your mental health. Also, find out how counselling and therapy can help you.
What are the negative effects of social media?
Mindlessly scrolling through your social media feeds may seem like a harmless habit. It can, however, negatively affect your mental well-being, especially with excessive use or if you’ve built an emotional attachment to it.
So, how does social media affect mental health?
Social media platforms are deliberately designed to be addictive. Studies have also shown that heavy usage can cause addiction.
This is because it activates the reward center of the brain by releasing a ‘feel-good chemical’ called dopamine. This is associated with pleasurable activities such as food, sex, and social interaction.
Risks of cyberbullying
Anonymity, according to a study by the University of Georgia, has caused people to engage in cyberbullying. One common form of this is body shaming, which can lead to low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness.
Reading insults or negative comments about your posts can also lead to an increased risk of anxiety and depression.
Checking social media before bed can disrupt sleep. Electronic devices emit blue light, which fools your body into thinking that it’s not yet time for sleep. And with poor sleep, you’ll find it much harder to deal with minor stresses. It is also linked to psychological and mental health problems.
Comparisons to other people’s lives
If you spend a lot of time on social media, it is easy to fall into the trap of comparing your life with others. This is mentally unhealthy, as social comparison has been linked to negative body image, sleep problems, and depressive symptoms.
It is worth noting that everything you see on social media is heavily curated. It doesn’t always reflect reality.
Increased anxiety and loneliness
Being on social media constantly can make you feel more anxious, lonely, and depressed. This is partly because it encourages us to spend less time interacting face-to-face. If this is true for you, online therapy and counseling can help you develop a healthy relationship with social media.
What are the positive effects of social media?
While some studies about mental health and social media focused on the downsides, there are actually upsides to it. The key, of course, is moderation, along with using it in a way that can promote good mental health.
Here are the positive effects of social media:
Maintain existing relationships
Social media breaks down geographical barriers, allowing you to stay up to date with friends and loved ones who live far away. This is particularly beneficial during quarantine or times of social isolation.
Being able to chat, share stories, or watch movies together online can help lift your mood and make you feel more connected as human beings.
Platforms like Facebook and Instagram also enable us to see photos and read updates on other people’s lives. Elderly individuals with physical disabilities or mobility issues can greatly benefit from this. It can help them strengthen existing relationships or connect with friends they’ve lost touch with.
Increase awareness on important issues
Social media has changed the way we learn and respond to the important issues our society faces. In just a few clicks, it is now easier to raise awareness, promote change, and make a positive difference.
One good example is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014. This raised awareness on motor neuron disease, as well as $220 million worldwide for medical research and treatment.
The use of hashtags also brought more attention to different movements like #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #PrayForParis, and others. This is beneficial in conducting mental health campaigns and encouraging people to talk about mental struggles and generate positive social change.
Normalise seeking mental health support
It can be tough to open up about mental health issues due to fear of judgment and rejection. Social media, however, has provided a safe space where people can talk about their struggles and encourage people not to suffer in silence.
It has also given us access to a range of mental health resources, such as health forums, articles for awareness, and online support services.
It is also social media that helped introduce different methods of information sharing and modes of communication to normalise seeking support during tough times. Many online therapy platforms are also active in social media, encouraging others to seek professional help or try online therapy.
Help fight loneliness
Humans are social beings, constantly feeling the need to socialize and connect with other people. Social media can help fulfil this need by promoting social support, which in turn reduces loneliness. It can help you forge meaningful connections, build new friendships, and enhance existing relationships.
Video and messaging platforms provide more opportunities to connect with others, which then increase connectedness. These have also become a lot more useful nowadays, especially with restrictions and social distancing guidelines due to the pandemic. These platforms can also help elderly adults who tend to feel socially isolated to connect with loved ones.
Having a healthy relationship with social media
As previously mentioned, there is a strong link between social media and mental health. To make it work in your favor, it is important to regulate your use and schedule times to step away.
Here are some of the other things you can do to maintain your mental health while using social media:
Protect yourself online
Make sure to check your privacy settings and cover your webcam when not in use. You should also be mindful when downloading apps or signing up to sites, particularly those that require your full name and address.
If you, for instance, have seen or experienced something inappropriate online, report it to the platform or talk to a mental health professional.
Avoid mindless scrolling
It is easy to spend countless hours scrolling without realising it. This only makes it important to identify your purpose when checking these sites and sticking to it.
It is also recommended to use social media to connect with your friends, instead of mindlessly scrolling or spending most of your free time online.
View people’s posts in a different light
The picture-perfect moments of your friends and loved ones don’t reflect their life as a whole. This is why instead of comparing yours to these posts, see them as inspiration to work toward your goals.
You may also want to carefully select the people you follow and consider unfollowing those who make you feel bad or frustrated.
Think before you click or post
Mind the message or the content you share. It is ideal to choose kindness and spread positive and supportive posts with your friends and loved ones.
If you, however, find yourself commenting on a message with something negative, pause and ask yourself if it’s worth it.
Prioritise your mental health
Wherever you go online, ask yourself, “how does social media affect my mental health?” If they make you feel down or bad, take a break or do something offline. You can also choose to disable your push notifications if they make you feel stressed or anxious.
Social media does affect your mental health positively and negatively. If you are experiencing stress or anxiety due to it, consider online therapy at Calmerry. It can connect you to a range of licensed therapists, so you can get professional mental health care services and work through your struggles and mental health issues.
This article is brought to by Calmerry. Featured image: Jordan McQueen/Unsplash