Social media has gown massively over the past decade, from simply exchanging information electronically to being a virtual meeting place, a shopping platform and the most successful modern marketing tool. But for many people, it is a place to unwind and escape to, where you can connect with friends, family, celebrities and the all new ‘influencer’ community. However, social media use isn’t always rainbows and smiles, especially when used excessively. It’s important to know when too much is too much, and how to use it in a way that doesn’t disrupt your life and your health.
As odd as it sounds, social media addiction is real. In fact, studies suggest that 210 million people worldwide suffer from some form of internet and social media addiction. It is characterised by being overly obsessed with social media platforms, driven by an irresistible urge to log on or open social apps, and spending so much time and energy on social media that it interferes with other important areas of life. It is also said that that young people who spend between five and seven hours each day on social media are twice as likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, compared to others who may only spend 1 hour a day using their phone.
As well as it becoming addictive, there are other ways social media can affect mental health.
Comparing ourself and our lives with others is mentally unhealthy, and can push feelings of social isolation. Falling into the trap of comparing yourself to social media influencers, who seem to be just regular people with ‘the dream life’, can create false judgments of who the person is and how you measure up to them, which in turn can lead to depressive symptoms and a decrease in self-esteem.
We also see us getting caught up in the cycle of it making us feel bad, but then going back to it after a while thinking it will make us feel good, or going back because of the FOMO, knowing your friends are on it and you might be missing something incredibly important (when in reality it’s probably just a funny cat video they’ve sent you). Although, another thing to point out is the fact that having more friends/followers on social media doesn’t make you more social, or mean they’re all real friends. Physical social interaction is important for positive mental health, and virtual social interaction can’t replicate the therapeutic effects of spending time with your friends in real life.
Now, you may not have an actual addiction to social media, but you might feel as though sometimes using it can affect you negatively (like the ways above), or is possibly just becoming a toxic habit. If this is the case, there are plenty of ways to manage your social media use so that it stays a pleasant feature in your life, and even using it as a way to actually improve your mood and mental health.
It’s OK to unplug
It’s easy to get into a routine, checking social media at morning, noon, and night. But remember it’s not a requirement, and acknowledging this can give you the power to decide when and how often you use it, without it being automatic. Setting time limits per day can be beneficial to stay mindful of how much you’re using social media, and you may become more aware of wether the content is actually interesting or just something to pass time with.
Cut out the negative
It may be a given, but if seeing posts or interactions from a person/account that make you unhappy or annoyed, unfollow them, block them, and report them if it’s harmful. It may feel good to interact with them and rant about what you’ve seen or what they’re doing, but in the end it will likely do more harm than good to your relationship with social media and your mental health. If social media is your escape, or frequent communication method, you’ll want it to stay positive and light.
Avoid before bed
It can be a frequent habit using our phones while we lie in bed waiting to fall asleep, but it is proven that looking at phone screens before bed can impact sleep. Our phones emit blue light, which is good at keeping us focussed and productive, with the light exposure telling us to be awake. This is perfect for daytime of course, but when it’s nighttime and your’e about to fall asleep, not only will it delay your sleep, but it may disrupt it throughout the night. Bad sleep = bad mood. Try to limit (or stop completely) your social media use at least an hour before bedtime, to allow your brain and body to wind down, ready for sleep.
It is important to frequently monitor how your social media use is affecting your mood and mental health. If you notice your content and interactions aren’t positive or uplifting, take a step back and try these tips to put your mental health first.