The internet is one of the greatest inventions made by man. It has brought us numerous benefits. From making our work a lot easier to it being a more convenient way for people to stay connected. One way that it helps us to stay connected is through social media platforms which have become quite popular over the years. These include Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, and many others.
Humans are social in nature, and they like to stay connected and interact with others. Social media platforms provide avenues for people to share their thoughts and ideas, photos, memes, and videos with their audiences. Those with similar interests from all over the world can interact easily in real-time. In recent years, the use of social media has evolved. It has become a way for people to support each other during difficult times, create awareness on heavy issues, and call out social injustices through signing petitions and crowdfunding.
However, like most good things(is it really), there is a downside to social media use. These networks pose challenges to your mental health and wellbeing. With May being Mental health Awareness Month, there has never been a better time to discuss the relationship between social media and mental health and how one can minimize the effects through social media detox.
How social media affects your mental health
1. Social comparisons and feeling inadequate
Many people share almost every detail of their personal lives on social media; their achievements, houses, cars, spouses and children, vacations, clothes, and jewelry, etc. If you don’t have such luxurious things to show off like everyone else, you might start to feel like something is missing in your life. Your life could probably be just fine the way it is, but because you are on social media platforms, you see others who you think are doing much better and start to compare yourself with them leading to dissatisfaction. It could even be something as simple as the number of likes, views, and shares on other people’s posts.
You can start to feel like you are behind on things which can make you stressed and anxious. For instance, if you are probably the same age as someone, but they are already married, with kids, have a great job, a nice house, and a car while you have none of that.
2. Easy access and exposure to inappropriate or triggering content
Before the advent of social media, when anyone wanted inappropriate pictures, they would have to plan to buy the next issue of a magazine that featured sexy people. However, now all you have to do is make a few clicks (sometimes they pop up as ads) to have access to inappropriate content at any time. Social media platforms have been listed as one of the leading causes of the moral crisis among young people.
Furthermore, some content shared could be triggering and could lead to relapses, especially for those that have undergone similar trauma in the past. Say, for example, in cases where people share videos or pictures on violence, content on sexual assault, or suicide without including trigger warnings.
3. Fear of Missing Out(FOMO) causes anxiety
Not everyone is on social media because they enjoy it. With the extensive use of these networks, people who are not on them feel pressured to join for fear of missing out. You fear that your group of friends will discuss news or attend events that you aren’t aware of or aren’t invited to. If you are into beauty and fashion, you think you will miss out on new fashion or makeup trends. You could also be afraid that you will miss out on trending jokes or memes hence not fitting in with your friends. FOMO can lead to serious mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
How often do you fall into the social media scrolling rabbit hole? Without realizing it, you find yourself mindlessly watching videos on YouTube for 4 hours straight. These sites are designed to be addictive. When you get a like or a follow, your brain reacts the same way it would if you were on drugs. You get a dopamine rush that floods you with pleasure; this motivates you to stay on these sites and keep coming back for more anticipating the reward.
If you are addicted to the internet, it is easy for you to miss out on what is going on in your immediate surroundings. You prefer to live in a virtual world with friends you have never met, thus forgetting to live in the present. You no longer have time to interact with people face to face or form meaningful relationships. You cannot sleep unless you finish the day off scrolling on one of these sites. Excessive social media use has been linked to many mental health issues, including; depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia, dissatisfaction with your own life, as well as triggering suicidal thoughts.
5. Self-absorption and Relying on others for validation
Whenever you make a post, you expect positive feedback, whether in the form of likes or comments, which is not guaranteed. You can overthink and feel anxious as you prepare to post because you are apprehensive about the kind of response you will get from your followers. No matter how many posts you have made before, you can’t predict what people’s reactions will be. You will get either of these reactions;
- Positive feedback which is good for your self-esteem.
- No feedback at all — which will have you anxious and wondering things like, ‘Why don’t they like me? Is there something wrong with me?” This could lead to self-obsession.
- Negative feedback or be a victim of cyberbullying — which can affect your sense of self-worth and self-esteem negatively.
Since many people post about every detail of their lives trying to show how good it is, they forget to enjoy the moments and instead are busy taking pictures and videos to upload on social media networks for approval through likes and views. Relying on other people to validate your feelings about yourself is detrimental to your mental health.
6. It could be a blow to your self-esteem
Societal beauty and body standards play a big role in this. Society places aesthetically pleasing people on a pedestal, and because of this, they get to enjoy the pretty privilege even on social media platforms. When they post pictures of themselves, they get more likes and clout than those who look average. If you consider yourself the latter, you might develop negative feelings towards yourself and also towards them. For instance, you could start having low self-esteem because of your insecurities and feel envious.
You could resort to editing your pictures with filters and apps that allow you to change how your body looks. In other cases, some may take more drastic measures, such as having plastic surgeries to try to look more acceptable by society’s standards. All this can take a toll on your mental health, and you might develop Body Dysmorphic Disorder — a condition where a person obsesses about perceived flaws in their appearance.
How to detox from social media
Social media can be a dangerous space for both the young and the adults, If you already suffer from a particular mental health condition, for example, depression, using these platforms can worsen it. As such, one should try to consume it in moderation or get rid of it entirely. Here are a few things you can do to detox from social media networks and protect your mental health.
- Track the time you spend on specific social media apps and work on limiting it. Luckily, most apps have a tab to see how much time you spent online.
- Unfollow and block those who make you feel bad about yourself or post inappropriate stuff.
- Interact physically with friends and family more often.
- Put a physical barrier between you and the phone screen. For example, use a flip cover or wrap a rubber band around your phone. The difficulty in use will bring you back to the present before you get too lost in the social media rabbit holes.
- Divert attention to something else, for example, your hobbies or learning new skills or language
- Take breaks between sessions, especially when things get heavy.
- Delete the apps(out of sight, out of mind)
Social media is a double-edged sword, with one side being just a little bit sharper than the other. As much as we love to use it to catch up on friends, family, and events that are going on in the world, your health should come first. The effects of social media on mental health can, and have led to severe consequences when we use it and believe in what we see on it too much. If you notice that you no longer enjoy being on these apps and websites, a social media detox may be in order. You will enjoy better mental health, more free time, and lead a happier life.
This is the second installment in the Mental Health Awareness Month series. If you missed the first post, please read it here: 10 Signs You Need to Take a Mental Health Day(and how to spend it) | MENTAL HEALTH AND WORK