"John Tantillo, Ph.D. is a TV, Radio and Social Media Branding Expert with over 30 years experience in Behavioral Health Care Branding"
The Effects of Social Media on Mental Health
It’s hard to go a day without hearing someone mention a social media platform. Whether it’s in the context of talking about their BFF’s Insta story, a friend from elementary school’s wedding album on Facebook, or the latest Tweet from a favorite celeb, it’s always something. And it doesn’t stop there. Phrases like “phone eats first” and “do it for the gram” are now ingrained into everyday life. If you didn’t Instagram your In-N-Out burger, did you really even have one?
This begs the question of how exactly social media impacts our everyday lives and, in turn, our mental health. While there isn’t a ton of research and the effects social media may be having on mental health are still unclear, it’s worth talking about.
Whether we like it or not, social media make it easy for us to compare our lives to others. Think what you see when browsing Facebook for just 10 minutes. Maybe you stumble across a friend’s recent vacation pictures to sunny Greece and feel jealous because you can’t take time off to go on vacation. Next, you see how happy your friend and her new boyfriend look in their photos and wish your relationship looked like that. Before you sign off, you see a post from an old friend who just got promoted and feel frustrated at being in a dead-end job.
It’s easy to get carried away wishing your life looked just as cool as what you see online, which could potentially spark feelings of jealousy. According to one study, social media use may even fuel depression and anxiety in young people.
Remember that social media is essentially curated content of photos that people decide they want others to see. They don’t typically show the unglamorous flight delays, the fight that just took place with their significant other or the bad meeting they just had at work.
It’s logical to think that being very active on social media would make people feel more social and connected, but that may not be the case. One study revealed that heavy use of social media in young adults was related to feelings of perceived social isolation.
While causation in this study is unclear, think about how much social media has changed our way of life. People have become almost addicted to scrolling on their phones. It’s become easier to do that, than to take the time to meet someone in person. And even when friends are all hanging out together, it can almost feel like some people aren’t really “there” when they decide to scroll on social media instead of interacting with those in the room. They want to snap the perfect pic to show their followers what they’re doing but are they actually present enough to enjoy it?
It’s not all bad…
Social media isn’t all bad and, in fact, can have a really positive impact in certain cases. For one, it’s a great way for people to meet like-minded individuals. For example, someone may be going through a serious weight loss journey that nobody around them can relate to. They may use social media platforms to meet other individuals with similar challenges so they can swap tips and share their struggles.
It can also be a great way to learn new information. Following certain experts can be a great way to gain more knowledge about a topic, free of charge.
Tips on Using Social Media Responsibly
It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole that is Instagram or Facebook. One second, you’re casually scrolling your newsfeed and the next you somehow wind up on the page of your high school girlfriend or boyfriend. It’s a dark hole, but there are some simple measures you can take to set boundaries.
Limit Time Allowed on Social Media
Your iPhone will tell you exactly how long you’ve spent on your favorite social media platforms. It can be alarming to see. To avoid addictive social media behavior, setting boundaries are a must. Limit the amount of time you allow yourself on certain apps. You can even set time limits through your iPhone.
Limit When You are Allowed on Social Media
Social media shouldn’t be the first thing you do when you wake up or before you go to sleep. The light from your device may actually cause sleep interruptions. When you don’t sleep well, it could mess up your entire day and cause unnecessary anxiety.
Also, you may want to avoid being on social media when you’re hanging out with people. Try enjoying each other’s company instead and build connections that way.
Take Inventory of Who You Follow
Are you following people who constantly make you feel bad about your own life? If that’s the case, consider unfollowing them. That’s an easy way to eliminate some negative feelings the next time you hop on social media. On the opposite end of the spectrum, try following people who inspire you and bring positivity. This can be a fitness guru, successful entrepreneur or your favorite athlete.
All in all, social media is what you make it. By setting boundaries and not letting it replace real, human interaction, it can enhance your life. However, on the flip side, when people let it consume their lives and spend too much time posting, Tweeting or Instagramming, it may end up having a negative effect on mental health.