What Is Social Media Doing To Our Mental Health?
Updated: Sep 2
Do we keep a similar track on our mental health like we keep track of what to eat and how much we work out in order to be physically fit and healthy?
We often try to be mindful about what and how much we eat and I think it’s high time that we also pay attention and be mindful about what and how much are we feeding our brains with.
We need to ask ourselves these questions :
How many hours do I spend on social media? (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Telegram, Twitter etc.)
Is what all I read on social media, true?
Is all of this information helpful?
How do I feel after spending time on social media, mentally and physically?
We humans are social beings and we have a strong universal instinct to connect with people around us. Along with this instinct also comes the need to be accepted by others. We tend to search for additional meaning in our lives and validation of ourselves, our looks, thoughts and opinions. And more so online. What better than a number of Facebook ‘LIKES’, Instagram ‘HEARTS’ or Twitter’s ‘FAVOURITES’ to make us feel good about ourselves? But let’s pause for a second and think about the individuals who don’t receive those Likes, Hearts and Favourites on respective social platforms. How does one feel when whatever they post online hasn’t been recognized or accepted by others as they hoped? What happens when individuals are persistently trolled? How did that person feel when he/she read shameful and mean comments about what he or she posted? How hurt do people feel when they are ridiculed for their appearance?
Fact is that even if we aren’t trolled, on some level we tend to compare our real lives with the filtered picture perfect (unrealistic) lives of others. By just viewing pictures of other successful people- those travelling around the world, owning luxuries that we can’t afford, or looking amazingly attractive in ways that we wish ourselves to be and living the lives that we only dream of living- our self-esteem is drastically affected because we want ourselves to be in that position where we currently are viewing others. We then start to change ourselves physically and behaviourally by succumbing to unrealistic methods like going on a complete liquid diet, or imbalanced intermittent fasting, and other such bizarre ways. We start talking differently (often similar to a popular figure whom we idolise), our body language changes, our preferences change, and it’s all hunky dory until we realise that it isn’t any good for us because we’re uncomfortable and hate ourselves and or mental health is suffering due to all these unhealthy changes. This kind of behaviour change comes from envy and or jealousy! Such feelings are negative and so are their results. Is all this suffering worth it? No. Can we do something about this? Absolutely yes!
People often feel socially pressured to post updates, pictures, opinions and show check-ins, so as to be accepted by their peers, colleagues, families, friends etc. It has become like a status symbol to update on social media that everything is positive and you are happy in your life. But realistically is it possible that you, or for that matter anyone is happy in their life 24 x 7 throughout the year? No. The need to portray ourselves in a certain way, which suits the society or the audience, comes from the fact that a lot of us have still not accepted ourselves. We haven’t achieved the self- love and acceptance that must come from within. And this could be because of multiple reasons.
Another important point is that social media is not just a luxury anymore. It is pretty much available to anyone who has access to an internet connection and a smartphone, laptop etc. Social media’s accessibility is why people have the freedom to post anything and everything online which may or may not be true and is often shared and re-shared in different social circles without checking facts or being censored. Can you imagine that?? Millions of people read, see pictures and videos and even share so much information that is ultimately just a sham which is made and shared for the sake of publicity, fun, pride etc. At the end of the day all that false information is taking a toll on our minds – it is critically affecting our mental health.
Social media users are addicted not only to updating their own life online, but also addicted to looking at other’s lives- because they believe that it’s their right to have access to someone else’s personal information and life. this sense of having a right over someone's life is the result of intense curiosity to know more than what others are revealing. This happens at a higher level with celebrities and their fans. The actions that follow are in order to fulfill their curiosity and sense of entitlement that comes with it. It tells them that they must get more personal information about someone because they deserve it and hold a right to it just because the person has already revealed intimate information. Trolling and obscene messages are the result of such beliefs- and all the other (sometimes false) information that is almost freely available. I use the term ‘addicted’ because a number of scientific psychological research studies show how social media can be an addiction and how it negatively affects our mental health.
A study from Harvard University showed that self-disclosure online fired up a part of the brain that also lights up when taking an addictive substance, like cocaine.
In a recent research it was revealed that people found it easier to refrain from tobacco and alcohol as compared to social media.
One study found that social media was negatively associated with student’s mental health and academic performance and that the relation between social media and mental health was mediated by self-esteem.
Findings also show that social media use is linked to greater feelings of social isolation.
One study looked at how we make comparisons to others posts, in “upward” or “downward” directions—that is, feeling that we’re either better or worse off than our friends. It turned out that both types of comparisons made people feel worse. Any kind of comparison is linked to depressive symptoms.
Another institute studied how social media invoked a vicious jealousy cycle. Feeling jealous can make a person want to make his or her own life look better, and post jealousy-inducing posts of their own, in an endless circle of one-upping and feeling jealous.
A number of empirical psychological studies show that social media leads an increased risk and real symptoms of anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, depression and even suicidal thoughts. Even if people decide to leave social media or at least reduce the time they spend it, FOMO is one major reason why they don’t leave.
FOMO or Fear of Missing Out is the anxiety (due to missing out on events and incidents or ‘fun’) or motivation (towards getting back to social media to avoid the anxiety due to FOMO) social media users feel when they want to belong to some group, event, or even a moment that others are posting about. It arises from feelings of social exclusion, isolation, etc.
Anxiety can be so intense that people will abandon what they’re doing to join or consume a fleeting moment on social media. This is also one of the major reasons behind the time that people end up spending on social media, and this kind of repetitiveness often leads to – like I mentioned earlier – addiction. On the other hand, a number of individuals across the globe have reduced their time spent on social media or deleted social media from their life altogether and have shared how their life has changed positively since then – Increased self-esteem, no more FOMO, better sleep, self-awareness, stronger face-to-face relationships, discovery of new hobbies, no more feelings of competition, better concentration, re-connection with the real world, improvement in overall mood and a lot more benefits.
There is absolutely no doubt that in today’s world, where it has become difficult to physically be present and work or simply meet our loved ones, social media is a boon but, it has its own set of banes too!
At the end of the article you will see some links which lead you to a free online quiz and test on internet addiction. You can take the quiz/test and decide for yourself about your usage of the internet and social media.
I hope that after reading this article, you will at least think about your social media usage and reducing it, if not leaving completely. Think about being more mindful about other times in the day and choose to focus more on them.
Do not hesitate to reach out if you think that you might need help.
- Nishita Vaswani
Here are some quizes you can take on internet addiction :