How does social media affect our mental health?

Social media is a huge part of our everyday lives, with many of us spending time on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok each day. In fact, over half of the global population are active on social media.

Let’s face it, there’s not many of us that can say that we are not fully engrossed in our social platforms on a daily basis, whether that’s scrolling through news feeds, engaging with friends or family, or posting content.

As human beings, we’re naturally social creatures. Being socially connected to others can ease stress, anxiety and depression while boosting feelings of self-worth and happiness. That’s why we enjoy spending time on social media so much.

But, spending too much time online and seeing content that makes you feel angry, annoyed, or inadequate can have a negative impact on our mental health.

Over the years, research has persistently indicated that there is a strong link between heavy social media use and an increased risk of anxiety, depression, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts. There have also been reports of a link between being envious of your friends on Facebook and depression.

Why does social media affect our mental health?

It’s addictive

First and foremost, social media can be incredibly addictive.

And for many social media users, being addicted to their social platforms causes them to neglect other areas of their life, including their relationships, work-life, and sleep. Excessive use can also cause mood modifying experiences that lead to cause extreme withdrawals.

Being aware of how much time you’re spending online and setting boundaries can really help.

Unhealthy perceptions

One of the main reasons social media has such a negative impact on users’ mental health is that it’s so easy to compare our lives to those we see online. This not only causes people to feel socially isolated, but it can also lead to a sense of inadequacy, jealously, and depressive thoughts.

It’s important to remember that what we see on social media isn’t a true reflection of someone’s life. It’s a collection of carefully curated moments that they have chosen to share.

Lack of face-to-face contact

With many of us spending more time online, we’re spending less time with people in real life. Humans need real human contact to be mentally healthy. And, while social media may make us feel as though we are connected, it’s just not the same as real, face-to-face contact with someone you care about. The more we prioritise social media relationships over in-person ones, the more we risk our mental health.

Bullying

Cyberbullying is another major social media concern. Social media platforms can be magnets for bullying, trolling, and abuse. Seeing hurtful things written about us online can be extremely detrimental to our mental health.

How we can adapt our social media use to help our mental health?

There are a number of ways we can modify our behaviours online to reduce the impact it has on our mental health. If you or someone you care about is struggling, try these tips:

Cut back on social media time

Reducing how long you spend on social media each day can significantly reduce the risk of anxiety, depression, loneliness, and sleep problems caused by social media use. Try using an app to track how much time you’re spending on social media - you might be surprised how much it adds up. You can also try turning your phone off at certain times of the day, turning off notifications, or even deleting social media apps altogether.

Spend more time with your friends

Don’t allow social media connections to replace real-life friendships. Set time aside each week to engage with your friends and family offline. And, if you don’t feel as though you have any friends, reach out to people you may have lost touch with, join clubs, and even interact with strangers you come into contact with in your daily life.

Be mindful of why you’re using social media

All too often, we pick up our phones to mindlessly scroll through our social feeds, often out of habit. So try to focus on why you’re heading online. Are you using it as a substitute for real life? Are you making meaningful connections? How is being online making you feel?

Appreciate what you’ve got

Rather than wishing for what others have (or appear to have on social media!), try to appreciate what you’ve got. Keeping a journal can be really helpful, allowing you to look back on all the positive aspects of your life and the memories you make along the way.