This article was inspired by Alexa Curtis, a true inspiration for women of all ages, who encourage us to be fearless and true to our unique selves.. I know you will love tuning into Alexa’s podcasts “Life Unfiltered” (www.lifeunfilteredwithAlexa.com).
As with any form of technology, the increased usage of social media in today’s society comes along with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. You are probably able to list some of these on your own. For example, social media enables us to share real-time, places we go and people we see. On the flip side, it can be time consuming and can often distract us from other important things. What may surprise you is that there is a growing body of research indicating that one’s experience with social media can have a significant impact on mental health. As a Psychologist and mother of teenage daughters, this concerns me. Since the chances of social media going away anytime soon are slim, the better we understand this relationship, the more we can be aware of how social media may impact our state-of-mind.
Let’s start out by discussing the positives, because not all social media is bad. In fact, the ability to share experiences can be satisfying and rewarding. It can help us feel connected to a larger community of people with similar interests and is a great way to stay in touch with friends and family. In addition, when it comes to goal setting, social media is a good way to stay accountable and gain support from others to help you stay on track. For the younger generation, social media can help enhance communication skills and interpersonal connections. It can enforce the basic social and technical skills that are important for functioning in day-to-day society.
Unfortunately, despite these benefits, the increasing popularity of social media comes with a price. Studies have shown that factors such as the number of social media platforms someone has or the time spent daily on social media, has an indirect correlation to measures of mental health. This does not mean that social media per se is the main reason for mental health issues, but it does indicate that it has an overall impact on well-being. Let’s take a closer look at why this may be happening.
The first and most obvious reason is that the more time we spend on social media, the less time we have for other things in our lives, like building healthy, sustainable relationships. Often social media can give us a false sense that we have active social lives, when it fact, it can prevent us from spending quality time with those around us. In the short-term, social media interactions may feel satisfying, but over time they can lead to feelings of isolation and eventually depression. Face-to-face time is critical for developing true bonds with others.
Similar to this, overuse of social media has been found to negatively impact performance in other areas of life, including work, school and other day-to-day responsibilities. Some experts claim people can become addicted to social media much in the same way they become addicted to other harmful habits. This can eventually result in consequences that lead to feelings of inadequacy or failure. For example, someone who spends the majority of their day scrolling through their Facebook feed, may not finish their work on time, causing them to feel stressed and dissatisfied with their job. In turn, they may look to the instant gratification of social media to pull them out of their rut, only to dive deeper into this negative pattern.
In addition to serving as a distraction, the adrenaline rush experienced through approval (in the form of likes or comments) serves as a temporary mood enhancer, resulting in a ‘crash effect” when our expectations are not met. People often find themselves feeling inadequate due to the “in-your-face” friend tallies, status updates, and pictures of others having a good time. This can alter our sense of reality and impact self esteem, particularly when it comes to body image.
So what can we do about this? Here are some simple tactics to help you monitor your use of social media so you can still enjoy, but also keep a check on your sanity.
- Decide on a specific chunk of time each day that you will put down your phone and focus on the present. You will notice your attention and focus become stronger on what you are doing in the here and now. A great example of this is my high school junior who puts her phone upstairs when she does homework. It takes her half the amount of time and she is more accurate.
- If you need to have your phone by you (expecting that call from you Dr.), turn off notifications so you don’t become distracted. Sometimes I put my phone on “Airplane” mode or “Do Not Disturb” when I am at my computer trying to get work done. This way it is close by, but I can choose to use it as I need.
- Delete apps that contribute to unhealthy body image or other feelings of inadequacy. Add apps that help you feel better about yourself or inspire you to engage in healthy behaviors.
- Use apps that tell you about your usage. This will help to increase your awareness of how much you are engaging with social media and is a great reality check.
- Use an alarm clock instead of relying on your phone. As a general rule, I never have my phone near my bed. Sleep time is crucial for restorative health and I like to take advantage of every minute.
- Take a day off from social media to focus on other things. Sunday is a good suggestion since it is a day when you probably aren’t in school or at work. Your family will appreciate this and you will be able to spend more quality time together.
- Ditch your phone at the dinner table. Meal time should be about conversation. There is nothing that critical on social media that can’t wait until you are finished eating.
- Consider how you would ideally like to spend your time. Ask yourself: How much time do I want to spend using social media? How can I connect with people I care about in other ways, such as talking on the phone or meeting in person?
Awareness is the first key to understanding behavior. If you are reading this, you are off to a good start by recognizing the risks platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have on mental health. By understanding these pitfalls, people of all ages can benefit from making their social media experiences positive ones that enhance relationships and sense of self, rather than creating vicious cycles of time consumption and self doubt. Use social media wisely and to your advantage!