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How Social Media Is Directly Affecting Your Mental Health

People using mobile phones totally absorbed in online life, looking obsessed, not talking to each other, using wi-fi at cafeteria, facing one another

Are Facebook and Instagram changing our mental health? Do we look at the world and the people in it differently than we did before? Do we interact with them differently?

If you’ve asked yourself these questions, you’re not alone. The effect social media has on our mental health has been a hot topic for scientists. The interest began when people started considering the lack of a Facebook profile “unnatural.“

Can you imagine that? We’ve come that far. Now, when someone says they aren’t on social media, we ask ourselves what’s wrong with them. Meanwhile, there’s something wrong with the rest of us. The rapid-fire way that different social platforms are taking over our lives is concerning.

Social interaction – then and now

When was the last time you took a picture for yourself, instead of for Instagram? When was the last time you were an activist in real life, instead of on Facebook?

Unfortunately, social media has changed the way we interact with people. The internet offers a form of protection that changes our behavior. Rarely are we the same people on and offline. It seems that the modern wonders of technology brought contemporary forms of addiction with them. We can’t seem to get off social media. We understand how much of a negative impact it has on our health and social life. Still, we keep coming back.

An average person uses social media for two hours a day. Imagine what you can accomplish in two hours. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through your feed, you could clean the house. You could make a fancy meal or share a cup of coffee with your friend. The options are endless.

And, yet, we keep wasting our time on social networks. What’s more, we devote ourselves to them more and more each day. Now that social media has become such a vital part of our everyday lives, what else are we sacrificing for more time online? Well-being? Mental health?

It seems the answer is yes.

The relationship between social media and mental health

We can’t blame social media for all the radical changes in our behavior. Facebook isn’t forcing you to spend an hour before bed scrolling through the newsfeed.

Our mental health is endangered because of the way we use social media; there’s no one to blame but ourselves. We are the ones who made one small meet-up website into a global empire and a must-have app.

The correlation between social media and the steady increase in mental health issues is very concerning. So much so, that even Facebook researched this subject. They questioned how and why social media has such a massive impact on mental health. Conjoined research of David Ginsberg, Facebook’s Director of Research, and Moira Burke, a Research Scientist, confirmed the existing suspicions. The pressure of social media is the pressure we put on ourselves.

The image and opinion we have of ourselves

How many times have you seen a selfie on social media and wished you were as put together as that person? How many times did you think: “Oh, I wish I looked like that, did those things, hung out with people like that”?

This isn’t a rare train of thought. Social media platforms have become the outlet for “picture-perfect” moments. Therefore, the pressure to always look and feel perfect is at an all-time high. And, let’s be real, those expectations are tremendously high. No one feels perfect all the time. No one is happy all the time. Furthermore, no one looks their best every minute of every day. But, that’s the image we are trying so hard to portray on social media.

And, of course, we fail. Then we feel bad when we see someone else do it better than us. There are a lot of people out there, living a fulfilling and satisfactory life, and presenting their best selves on social media. However, most of that is a lie. We try so hard to achieve perfection, if only for a moment. Then we exploit that moment for attention by posting it on social media. We fail to realize we should enjoy it.

The consequences of our low self-esteem

It’s ridiculous when you think about it. Objectively, we know that no one is perfect. We know that we can’t achieve the unachievable. Constant perfection isn’t real. But, we look at other people, who keep posting those exceptional moments. When you put them together, those moments do give out the impression of always being on the top of one’s game. That’s when the feelings of envy and jealousy flood our senses.

When we fail to achieve what can’t be obtained, we feel bad about ourselves. Our confidence plummets. Our collective self-esteem is much easier to shake that it was before social media. It’s so fragile now because it depends on the opinions of strangers on the Internet. Social media completely changed the game. It changed the way we see ourselves and how we look at others.

Social media has a domino effect on our mental health. It makes our self-esteem fragile and lowers our self-confidence. This can cause other problems like body dysmorphia and eating disorders. In our race to perfection, some of us are willing to sacrifice much more to reach the finish line.

The thing is, there is no finish line. With this line of thought, we’ll never achieve perfection. Nothing will be good enough. We chase after other people’s passing and insignificant approval when we should be focusing on self-acceptance.

Studies show that women suffer more

Penn State University did a study on how other people’s selfies and the image they project on social media affects us. They concluded that we are always comparing ourselves to others. Seeing other people happy, and seeing them maintain that high level of joy at all times lowers our self-esteem.

“Perfect selfies” make us feel inadequate and unattractive. The constant pressure to be happy all the time and look your best is getting to us. This is especially true for women. A study was done by the University of Strathclyde, Ohio, and the University of Iowa. They concluded that women’s self-esteem is especially vulnerable to the pictures and posts other women put on social media. They are more likely to be affected by images of other happy women, than by images of men.

Depression as a result of “failure”

Our inability to achieve “the perfect life” can lead to severe depression. When paired with low self-esteem and confidence, depression can cause further problems.

However, that’s not all there is to social media. Sure, it can negatively impact our lives. But, social networks can also have a positive effect. They can serve as positive reinforcements.

The difference is in the way we use social media. Establishing and maintaining healthy, positive relationships with people online can help ease the symptoms of depression. When used as part of the social support system, instead of a platform for comparison, social media is quite helpful.

Positive vs negative interactions

Only negative online interactions can harm us. These often lead to the worsening of symptoms like hopelessness and worthlessness. A new study in the Journal of Depression and Anxiety showed that negative experiences online take their toll on our mental health. Just like in real life. Contrary to that, positive interactions can serve as reinforcements. They can have a therapeutic effect.

These effects are especially apparent in the Millennial generations. The Universities of Pittsburgh and West Virginia questioned over 1,200 Millennials. They wanted to see which interactions were predominant – positive or negative. They also wanted to know what kind of effect they have on people. The participants also answered questions about depression symptoms. The goal was to find the correlation between them and the daily online interactions.

This particular study found compelling evidence of a strong correlation between negative interactions and depression. For every 10% rise in negative communication via social media, the symptoms of depression and the risk of depression also rose, but by 20%.

Furthermore, the levels of anxiety are also on the rise. Depression and anxiety usually go hand in hand. Therefore, this isn’t surprising.

Social and general anxiety

The constant worry we aren’t good enough, and the feelings of restlessness are the epitomes of anxiety. Multiple studies show that the more social media platforms you use, the higher your chances of increased anxiety are.

The Journal of Computers and Human Behaviour showed that people who use more than two social media platforms on a daily basis are three times more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression.

However, don’t take this data at face value. Studies that examine the correlation between social media and anxiety are still few and far between. Therefore, researchers still can’t pinpoint the exact issue and the type of online interactions that cause anxiety.

The internal clock and the quality of sleep

If you have insomnia, social media might be the one to blame. Those of us who spend time on our laptops, tablets, and phones right before going to bed have more trouble falling asleep than those who don’t.

The blue light that modern gadgets emit can delay circadian rhythms necessary for sleep. It can also cause a reduced production of melatonin. This hormone enables falling asleep and ensures the required quality of sleep. Therefore, if you’re waking up more tired than you were when you went to bed, try laying off the social media.

The University of Pittsburgh found that the blue light phenomenon plays a large part in sleep disruption in Millennials. However, our obsessive need to keep up with social media is also to blame. Instead of putting our phones down and falling asleep when we feel tired, we keep ourselves awake and alert, so we don’t “miss” anything.

Interpersonal relationships and connections

While it was invented to keep us more connected, it seems that social media is driving us apart. There is a rift in interpersonal relationships that wasn’t there before. We’ve changed the way we interact with other people.

For example, the constant need to check our accounts, even while in the company of other people, alienates our companions. The fact that we put more weight on what’s happening on our phone than on what’s happening in front of us is concerning.

The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships did an eye-opening social experiment. They paired strangers, who were to converse for 10 minutes. However, half of them had their phones present. The participants that had their phones reported less clear recollections of their partners. Furthermore, they were more disconnected and passive.

Social media affect romantic relationships, as well. Our partner’s excessive use of social media can result in loss of trust, envy, and jealousy. It creates feelings of insecurity, especially in young people.

Physical and emotional well-being

Social media is making us feel lonely. Even though we have all those potential contacts at our fingertips, we still feel alone.

On the other hand, social media can stimulate feelings. Internet content can encourage jealousy, envy, anger, and sadness. Still, it’s good to know that positive material has a more significant impact than the negative one. So, it’s more likely that social media will boost your mood.

However, the most common emotion social media stimulates is envy. We can’t help but resent other people who are more successful, more beautiful, or more content than us.

One study showed that over one-third of users report negative emotions evoked by other people’s posts. We can’t stop comparing ourselves to others. Still, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Envy can be a powerful motivator. It can be the drive we need to make positive changes in our life. Seeing someone else succeed, can light a fire under you. It can make you work harder, and, thus, be more successful yourself.

Social isolation and the lack of real-life interactions

Social media has the opposite effect than the one they are aiming for. People who often use social networks feel more lonely and isolated. They shut themselves out, due to choice or circumstance.

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine did a study on social isolation. They found that it is a direct consequence of social media overuse. We keep devoting more time to our online presence. Therefore, we have less time to spend with people face-to-face.

People who spend more than half their free time online are more likely to feel a lack of connection. They also can’t form stable, satisfying relationships with others. So, instead of making friends, they feel more alone each day. This feeling of isolation is fueled by the misconception that others lead “perfect” lives we can’t achieve.

The attention we crave and are addicted to

There’s no denying it – social media is addictive. We keep spending more time on our profiles, to keep up with the constant changes. A study done in the Netherlands found that social media addiction is rapidly spreading. They advocate making it an official disorder, much like Internet addiction. Their colleagues in the United Kingdom support those claims. They also add that social media addiction requires professional help.

Why do we need the constant attention?

The need to share every aspect of your life on social media is on the rise. What was once considered private is now plastered online for the whole world to see. That can have positive consequences, leading to feelings of acceptance and familiarity. However, it’s also taking a toll on our mental health. Excessive use of social media can cause depression and anxiety. Not to mention, disrupt our sleep and the way we interact with others.

So, with all these adverse effects it has, we can’t help but wonder – why do we do it? Why do we crave the attention so much that we’re willing to sacrifice our health?

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Richard Larson

Richard Larson is the Marketing Manager at GoPromotional.co.uk, the leading UK promotional products company. He enjoys sharing his experience on a range of subjects to enable customers to increase their brand awareness through the use of promotional merchandise.

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