Building a Balance Between Social Media and Mental Health
Social media plays a key role in making the world a smaller place, connecting people across the globe, building relationships and supplying everyone with their recommended daily dose of cat videos (the last one is especially important!). By 2021 it is estimated that there will be approximately 3 billion people with active social media profiles.
But, while feeds, stories and tweets have helped us experience the world in a completely different way, the impact of social media on mental health paints a less positive picture.
How social media affects mental health
Social media platforms have tremendous benefits, but many people’s dependence and relationship with them can cause increased feelings of anxiety, unhappiness and isolation. The average British person checks their phone 28 times a day, and each time we use social media it can have a negative impact on our mental health, even if we don’t register it at the time.
Here are just some of the ways social media can hurt our mental health:
The ‘Fear of Missing Out’ or FOMO is linked to intensive social media use, where we don’t want to miss out on the activities and fun that other people are sharing on social media. This can lead to feelings of sadness, loneliness and inadequacy with life as people see what those they follow are doing and compare it with their own life, creating critical comparisons.
It can also result in an increased reliance on social media, as people become scared to miss getting involved with something online.
Speaking of comparing yourself to others online, social media use can result in feelings of low self-esteem. When looking through photos on Instagram or relationship statuses on Facebook, it can be difficult not to compare that person’s life with your own, particularly if you’re enduring a rough patch.
The ‘compare and despair’ mentality between social media and our own self-esteem can cause us to lose satisfaction with our own lives and instead derive our own sense of self-worth on how well others are doing.
Getting enough sleep is hugely important for our mental health, and a dependence on social media can make this difficult. Whether it’s using our phones or computer screens right before bed causing us to have a less restful sleep, or waking up to check alerts intermittingly throughout the night, social media can result in recurring sleep problems, affecting our mental health.
With the amount of attention available at our fingertips thanks to social media, it encourages people to flick through their feeds hastily and constantly refresh to see the latest news. By the time we’ve scrolled to the bottom of our screens, we’ve forgotten what we saw at the top. This can affect our brain’s ability to concentrate on tasks in future and become more easily distracted and develop addictive behaviours.
This in turn leads us to make mistakes, increases anxiety and be less mindful of the situations we find ourselves in.
While social media has opened avenues to communicate with people worldwide, it can sometimes feel like the most isolating place imaginable. Becoming too attached to people’s digital personas can prevent us from going out and making personal, face-to-face connections with others in our lives, leading us to feel increasingly lonely and depressed.
An unhealthy relationship with social media can impact anyone’s mental health poorly. Selena Gomez at the end of 2018 took a three-month break from all social media platforms to look after her own wellbeing.
“As much as I am grateful for the voice that social media gives each of us, I am equally grateful to be able to step back and live my life present to the moment I have been given. Kindness and encouragement only for a bit! Just remember— negative comments can hurt anybody’s feelings.”
From the most recognisable in society to our family and friends, the impact social media can have on people’s mental health can have significant consequences. Many people online are quick to judge and cultivate negativity through their social media personas, resulting in people shying away from saying anything for fear of criticism and carrying this fear into their day-to-day lives.
Social media and mental health statistics
- 41% of 18-24-year-olds say social media platforms make them feel anxious, sad or depressed
- Children that spend more than 3 hours on social media on school nights are twice as likely to experience mental health problems than those who spend less
- 11 to 19-years-olds with a “mental disorder” are more likely to use social media every day (87.3%) than those without a disorder (77%)
- 7 out of 10 young people say they have experienced cyber bullying
- Anxiety and depression rates in young people have increased by 70% over the past 25 years
- Close to 40% of girls who spend 5+ hours a day on social media show symptoms of depression
- Using social media for more than two hours per day is associated with poor self-rating of mental health
- 84% of young people support safe social media being taught in PSHE
Most of the statistical data relating to social media and mental health is based on younger people, as they have grown up with these platforms and make up the clear majority of people using social media on a regular basis. However, it’s important to remember that these problems can impact people of all ages and backgrounds.
5 ways to build a balance between social media and mental health
So, is the solution to immediately delete Facebook from our phones, say ta-ta to Twitter and eliminate Instagram? While in certain cases this could be the only course of action, in general it’s impracticable to quit social media cold turkey.
As previously stated virtually everyone in the UK will be on these platforms soon, and amid the headline news about the problems social media causes, it can also have positive effects on our mental health if approached the right way, such as:
- Forming new relationships
- Discovering new fandoms
- Allowing a platform for creative expression
Therefore, a more practical solution is establishing a better relationship between our mental health and social media profiles. Here are our 5 suggestions to building a healthy connection to your life online.
Manage your social media feeds
If someone you follow on social media is negatively impacting your mental health, simply unfollow or mute them. Whether their posts are frustrating you or causing you to create negative comparisons to your own life, cutting these out and replacing them with inspiring, positive accounts that make you feel better will make your experiences on social media significantly more enjoyable.
Take regular breaks
While it’s unlikely you’ll want to cut ties with social media altogether, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break. In fact, it’s actively encouraged! Facebook and Instagram recently introduced tools to limit the time you spend on their platforms, so you are compelled to take time off from your screens.
But be prepared to set your own schedule and gradually reduce the time spent on social media for the sake of your mental health. And if like Selena Gomez you feel like a week or month-long hiatus is required, a short break from social media can help unclutter your mind, lower anxiety and refresh your perspective before you return.
Engage with posts positively
Social media platforms have their fair shares of trolls and critics, so actively avoid being one of them. Conversely, a passive, scroll-and-consume approach to social media can also result in reduced wellbeing, as you simply watch the world pass you by one post at a time.
The key is taking an active approach to social media and responding to posts in a positive, friendly manner. Not only will this make you feel better about yourself and improve your engagement with others, but it will probably make the person whose posts you’re commenting on feel great too!
Use social media as a springboard
Social media can be a stepping stone to building relationships with people in the real world, ensuring your time on these platforms doesn’t isolate you from those you see day-to-day. It can be easy to lose yourself in the virtual universe that social media platforms present, but it’s important to stay present in your environment and develop positive human connections as a result of your time online.
Turn off screens at night
Social media and sleep don’t mix, so make sure screens are shutdown as part of your nightly routine. Switch off your phone or laptop at least an hour before you go to bed, turn them to silent and keep them out of reach. If you wake up in the middle of the night and the immediate temptation is to reach for your phone, focus on your breathing and try to get some rest.
If you find yourself regularly struggling to get some shut-eye, our team offer a range of treatments for overcoming sleep problems.
Is social media good or bad for our mental health?
Social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so working on our relationship with it to support our mental health is the way forward. It can be difficult to break through the negativity and pressure associated with having an online presence, but by using the tips above and taking a more positive, constructive approach overall, we can actually draw positive benefits between social media and our mental health.
If your experiences on social media have negatively impacted your mental health, be it a loss of self-esteem, increased anxiety or feelings of depression, Therapy for You can help. As well as introducing techniques and thought processes that will lead to a healthier relationship with social media, our courses dive into the underlying causes of your mental health concerns, helping you overcome them and feel better long-term.
To start your journey, contact us today on 01268 739 128 and speak to a member of our clinical assistance team for more information on available courses.