Social media has become a daily part of our lives, and it doesn’t look like that will be changing anytime soon. In fact, 72% of Americans have at least one social media platform, and the trend continues to grow as social media becomes more popular.
The impact of social media on mental health is widespread and well-researched. Below, we’ll guide you through the effects of social media, its pros and cons, how it affects your mental health and how you can protect your mental health while using social media platforms.
The Effects of Social Media
The emergence of social media has changed how we communicate with one another. We have access to other people at all times of the day with a simple touch of a button. As social media becomes more popular, people are expected to answer messages and respond to notifications quickly. These expectations are one of the reasons that teenagers and young adults spend so much time on social media.
Pew Research Center reported that 95% of teenagers in the United States have access to a smartphone, and 45% of teens engage with social media almost constantly. Access to information at all times of the day makes us hyper-aware of what’s going on online, and being connected 24/7 can cause impulse control problems.
The more you engage online, the more notifications you’ll get throughout the day. These notifications can harm your focus, reducing your productivity at work or school and taking you out of the moment with friends and family. Social media can also disturb sleep since many people end their day by scrolling through their feeds. Many teens and young adults fall asleep with their smartphones nearby to respond to a notification quickly.
When you receive a like, comment or share, it triggers the release of dopamine in the brain, acting as a reward for your engagement. This reward pattern keeps people hooked to their screens and creates an addiction to social media.
If a person doesn’t receive likes for their content, it can bring about feelings of inadequacy. It’s also common for people to compare their lives to how they see other individuals and influencers living on social media, even though most people post highlights from their life and not the whole story.
It isn’t easy to establish the long-term effects of social media on individuals and society as it hasn’t been around for very long, but we can see many short-term effects. People use social media to mask underlying problems or uncomfortable feelings, such as anxiety or loneliness. While the temporary surge of dopamine makes us feel better in the moment, it can worsen many of these problems.
Pros and Cons of Social Media
Social media is a large part of our society and has many advantages and disadvantages. Below are some of the pros and cons of using social media.
Social media was first established to connect with friends and family while opening the door to communicating with others across the globe. No matter where you live, you can connect with another person through a smartphone screen. Connectivity is a significant advantage of social media. People enjoy being able to stay in touch with family and friends who’ve moved away and expose themselves to new people from different cultures on the other side of the world.
The other advantages of social media include:
- Awareness: Social media has created a platform for various social issues, such as mental health awareness and political activism. These platforms allow users to share information, find resources and ask questions about varied social issues.
- Creativity and self-expression: One of the main benefits of social media is that it allows you to express yourself in any way that you choose. You can share your thoughts and creative projects with millions of people online, creating a path for new connections and allowing you to vent or eliminate negative emotions.
- Access to information: Participating in online forums on social media allows you to access a vast network of knowledge. No matter what you’re interested in, you can learn about it through social groups and forums. These groups also provide a place for you to ask questions about your topic and seek advice from those with more experience.
- Emotional support: Some people turn to social media for emotional support when they’re struggling, whether that’s joining online support groups or connecting with friends or family across the world. Social media allows individuals to seek emotional help at any time of the day from others who have gone through similar experiences.
Many of social media’s advantages keep people coming back to the various platforms. Still, there are significant cons to be aware of if you’re someone who uses social media often. Some of the main disadvantages of it include:
- Mental health problems: Using social media frequently can increase feelings of loneliness and isolation, contributing to worsening mental health.
- Antisocial behavior: Individuals who use social media frequently limit their face-to-face interaction with people. It becomes easier to compare your life to others you’re following, which increases the fear of missing out. Antisocial behaviors can also contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation, making mental health conditions worse.
- Misinformation: While social media can be an excellent way to learn more about various topics, it is also vulnerable to the spread of misinformation. People can share incorrect information and present it as fact, and others believe it to be true. This information can be harmless, but it can also be dangerous. For example, a person could share inaccurate information about the proper disposal of hazardous materials, such as paint thinner, leaving an individual vulnerable to harm.
- Cyberbullying: As social media became more popular, the prevalence of online harassment and bullying also increased. These online platforms allow people to harass others online anonymously and at all times throughout the day. A victim of cyberbullying can’t easily escape the harassment once they go home for the day. It continues to follow them, no matter where they go.
- Division: Many people believe that social media is helping to further the divides between various groups. Continued polarization creates tension across social media platforms and in real life.
Mental Illnesses That Can Arise From Social Media
Notably, the most significant disadvantage of social media is its effect on your mental health. Certain mental health conditions can arise, while others can worsen from consistent social media engagement. If you use social media frequently, it’s essential to keep an eye on your mental health and take action if you believe you’re struggling. Below are some mental health conditions to look out for while using social media.
Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses caused by social media. People who often use social media are more likely to feel depressed, lonely and fearful of missing out on life. Many people log on to social media platforms and start comparing their lives to others, even if they don’t realize it. Even though many people know that content online is specially curated and shows the best of each person’s life, the comparison still happens, leaving individuals feeling inadequate and lonely.
The more frequently you check social media, the more often these comparisons will occur. When feelings of inadequacy and loneliness increase, a person is more likely to develop depression or make their existing condition worse.
There are various types of anxiety disorders with different symptoms, but one of the most common anxiety disorders that can arise from social media use is social anxiety.
Social anxiety is a mental health condition where people become anxious in social situations. Some symptoms of social anxiety include:
- Fearing interaction with others
- Worrying about doing something embarrassing in public
- Avoiding speaking in public or with others
- Expecting the worst-case scenario in social situations
- Fearing others will judge you or notice your anxiety
Social media can make it challenging for people to socialize in their real lives. They can become accustomed to chatting online and feel more comfortable in a digital space. If they don’t practice their communication skills enough in person, they can develop social anxiety.
Social media can also cause other types of anxiety. Constantly being exposed to bad news and negativity can create fear and other uncomfortable feelings. It’s even possible to develop panic attacks if you always “doom scroll” or only look at bad news every day.
Many people compare themselves to others when using social media. When people look through their social media and view society’s expectations for beauty and happiness, it can cause dysphoria, which is an overall dissatisfaction with life. People can also experience body dysphoria, a mental health condition that causes a person to obsess over a minor or imagined flaw.
A person might see a model or influencer on Instagram with a different body type and start to view their own body differently. They may want to make changes to fit into standards set by certain social media influencers, which can lead to dangerous behaviors.
A person can develop eating disorders to try to fix a minor or imagined problem. These disorders can cause severe health problems, such as malnutrition. In some cases, these conditions can be life-threatening.
Self-Harm and Suicidal Ideation
It’s already been established that social media can increase depression, anxiety and dysphoria. Some of these conditions, such as depression, come with a risk of self-harm or suicidal ideation. Frequent social media use increases an individual’s exposure to self-harm behaviors through online communities, shared videos or negative messages encouraging self-harm.
Teenagers and young adults who use social media frequently are at an increased risk for self-harm and suicidal ideation. Lack of support for mental health, psychological distress and poor overall mental health all contribute to increased self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
6 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health From Social Media
The effects of social media on your health can significantly impact your quality of life. Your confidence and self-esteem can take a hit when you compare your life to others, and feelings of anxiety or depression can worsen. However, there are things you can do to protect your mental health while using social media, including:
- Limit your usage: When you use social media, you cannot connect with the people around you in a meaningful way. You’ll be distracted and fretting over your timeline. Try to limit your usage to a set amount of time a day, especially when you’re spending time with loved ones. It’s a good idea to keep computers and smartphones out of your bedroom so notifications don’t disrupt your sleep. You can also turn off notifications or use airplane mode while you’re working to reduce distractions at work or school.
- Create a detox period: Taking a break from social media altogether can help you live in the moment and reduce stress. Create a plan to take a break from social media for multiple days. If you’re worried about going cold turkey, you can start by limiting your usage to 10-20 minutes a day before taking a break altogether. Deleting your favorite social apps and declaring your break to friends and family can help you resist the urge to log back in.
- Keep tabs: Collect information about what you’re doing on social media and how it makes you feel. Experiment with your use and conduct sessions where you stay online for a certain amount of time and note how it made you feel. If you find that using social media before bed or first thing in the morning makes you feel bad, change the amount of time you spend online and when. It’s also important to make an effort to engage when you go online. Passively browsing through content can make you feel worse than actively engaging.
- Practice mindfulness: We all use social media for various reasons, and it’s important to be mindful of these. If you use social media first thing in the morning, ask yourself if it’s because you’re trying to stay updated on the latest information or if it’s simply out of habit. If you struggle to log off at the end of the night, consider why you find it challenging to put the phone down and go to sleep. Knowing the answers to these questions can help improve your social media habits.
- Prune your accounts: If you’ve been using social media for a long time, you’ve probably followed and friended a lot of people. Some of the information you come across on your timeline can be useful and engaging, but other information can be boring, annoying or detrimental to your mental health. In fact, much of the information people find on their friends’ social media accounts can significantly impact their self-esteem. Take this time to unfollow and unfriend people and clear up your timeline to only keep the friends and pages you want to see.
- Connect in real life: Social media can take us out of the moment and make it challenging to engage in real-life situations. If you’re spending time with your friends and family, put your phone away or turn off your notifications to stay present. Connecting with people in real life can help improve your mental health.
Let’s Talk About It
If your social media usage affects your mental health, help is available. My Psychiatrist employs high-quality physicians with expert knowledge to help you overcome mental health conditions and improve your quality of life. We can help you quickly schedule an appointment to see a psychiatrist within 48 hours to get you the help you need.
If you’re ready to improve your mental health, browse our list of providers and book an appointment to secure a diagnosis and start your personalized treatment plan.