While there any many benefits to social media, it can be very addicting and can cause a lot of harm to your mental health. Although it is so popular, multiple studies have found a strong link between heavy social media and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
Social media may promote negative experiences such as inadequacy about your life or appearance. Social media has a reinforcing nature. Using it activates the brain’s reward center by releasing dopamine, a “feel-good chemical” linked to pleasurable activities such as sex, food, and social interaction. The platforms are designed to be reinforcing but can also be associated with symptoms of anxiety and depression when used in excess.
While social media may help to cultivate friendships and reduce loneliness, evidence suggests that excessive use negatively impacts self-esteem and life satisfaction.
Social media has been linked to poor self-esteem and self-image through the advent of image manipulation on photo-sharing platforms. In particular, the notion of the ‘idealized body image’ has arguably been detrimental to self-esteem and image, especially that of young women. The 24/7 circulation of easily viewable manipulated images promotes and entrenches unrealistic expectations of how young people should look and behave. When these expectations are inevitably not met, the impact on self-esteem can be damaging, to the disturbing extent that the Royal Society of Public Health recently found 9 in 10 young females say that they are unhappy with the way they look.
To boost self-esteem and feel a sense of belonging in their social circles, people post content with the hope of receiving positive feedback. Despite all of the negative things seen on social media platforms, people constantly check platforms hoping that friends will respond favorably.
Fear of Missing Out
The popular concept of Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) refers to a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent and is ‘characterized by the desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing. FOMO has been linked to intensive social media use and is associated with lower mood and life satisfaction. If everyone else is using social media sites, and if someone doesn’t join in, there’s concern that they’ll miss jokes, connections, or invitations.
We have become more aware of what we are missing out on, for example, seeing photos of friends having a good time together in one’s absence. ‘Always on’ communication technology can cause feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and inadequacy through highlighting these activities, compelling users to stay continually engaged and up to date due to fear of not being involved. Humans are social beings who desire group interaction, therefore perceived exclusion can have damaging psychological impacts. Indeed, studies from the USA have found a robust association between intense social media use, fear of missing out, and both depression and anxiety.
Teens in marginalized groups—including LGBTQ teens and teens struggling with mental health issues—can find support and friendship through the use of social media. When teens connect with small groups of supportive teens via social media, those connections can be the difference between living in isolation and finding support.
Focusing on likes: The need to gain “likes” on social media can cause teens to make choices they would otherwise not make, including altering their appearance, engaging in negative behaviors, and accepting risky social media challenges.
Cyberbullying: Teen girls, in particular, are at risk of cyberbullying through the use of social media, but teen boys are not immune. Cyberbullying is associated with depression, anxiety, and an elevated risk of suicidal thoughts.
Making comparisons: Though many teens know that their peers share only their highlight reels on social media, it’s very difficult to avoid making comparisons. Everything from physical appearance to life circumstances to perceived successes and failures is under a microscope on social media.
Only Having “Friends” Through Networks: Even with privacy settings in place, teens can collect thousands of friends through friends of friends on social media. The more people on the friend list, the more people have access to screenshot photos, Snaps, and updates and use them for other purposes. There is no privacy on social media.
Only online connections and less face time: Social interaction skills require daily practice, even for teens. It’s difficult to build empathy and compassion when teens spend more time “engaging” online than they do in person. Human connection is a powerful tool and builds skills that last a lifetime.
From the statistics alone, it’s clear that social media has become an integral (and to a large extent, unavoidable) part of our lives.
So-called ‘social media addiction has been referred to by a wide variety of studies and experiments. It is thought that addiction to social media affects around 5% of young people, and was recently described as potentially more addictive than alcohol and cigarettes. Its ‘addictive’ nature owes to the degree of compulsivity with which it is used. The ‘urge’ to check one’s social media may be linked to both instant gratification (the need to experience fast, short-term pleasure) and dopamine production (the chemical in the brain associated with reward and pleasure). The desire for a ‘hit’ of dopamine, coupled with a failure to gain instant gratification, may prompt users to perpetually refresh their social media feeds.
Associated with this desire for instant gratification is the negative impact that these platforms can have on sleep and sleep quality. Data from qualitative studies have shown that using social media compulsively can damage sleeping patterns, having an adverse effect on young people’s performance in school.
One study out of the University of Pittsburgh, for example, found a correlation between time spent scrolling through social media apps and negative body image feedback. Those who had spent more time on social media had 2.2 times the risk of reporting eating and body image concerns, compared to their peers who spent less time on social media. The participants who spent the most time on social media had 2.6 times the risk.
Results from a separate study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine showed that the more time young adults spent on social media, the more likely they were to have problems sleeping and report symptoms of depression.
Another small study of teens ages 13-18 from the UCLA Brain Mapping Center found that receiving a high number of likes on photos showed increased activity in the reward center of the brain. Further, teens are influenced to like photos, regardless of content, based on high numbers of likes. Bottom line: It feels good to be “liked” and herd mentality is big on social media. Like what others like and you’re in.
Setting Smart Limits
People aren’t usually motivated to change their social media use by simply hearing it’s bad for them. It’s better for individuals to see what their limits are. It’s probably unrealistic for most social media users to quit completely. However, they can monitor their behavior to see how their use impacts them, and how to act as a result.
A few months ago, I made the decision to delete all social media platforms. While the first day, I kind of missed it, I have never regretted my decision and now I have finally realized how negatively it had impacted me. While this may not be the case for everyone, I challenge you all to try to set limits for yourself.
Parents can develop a plan of how much time family members will spend on devices. Strategies like these teach kids healthy media use and good sleep hygiene.
What Can You Do?
In the comments below, please let me know:
- After reading this project, what ways do you believe are the most important on how to help more people be educated on how to positively use social media?
- Do you believe that social media has affected either you or people you know? If so, how?
- What are you going to do to become more aware of your social media usage?
- By more celebrities sharing that how they look on social media has been extremely edited, has this changed the way you feel about body image on social media? (Click here to learn more about Khloe Kardashian’s story)
Please feel free to respond and start a discussion within the comments!