In addition to the obvious risks of social media, such as providing a medium for public bullying and shaming, there is a more insidious risk. Use of social media can be damaging to your general well-being, and even your mental health. There is now a growing body of research showing that social media use is associated with poor body image, anxiety and depression, as well as hopelessness, a risk factor for suicide. The more time you spend on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, and Snapchat, the less happiness and life satisfaction you will experience. Ironically, you will also feel a greater sense of social isolation and disconnection. Both hopelessness and social isolation have powerful negative influences on our well-being, mental health and physical health.
One of the primary reasons social media is believed to have such a negative impact on well-being and mental health is that it facilitates frequent and large quantities of social comparisons. As we scroll through what other people have chosen to highlight in their lives (usually their successes/accomplishments and altered photos), it is difficult not to compare ourselves and make judgements. Because most people highlight their accomplishments rather than their failures on social media (relationship status, new child, home renovation, recent vacation, promotion, great meal out, another adventure), when we compare ourselves to them, the probability is high that we will view ourselves as worse off. Nobody’s real life is as exciting as someone else’s social media persona.
For some people, use of social media can become excessive. If use of social media results in a neglect of other aspects of life, is used to escape life, and results in a preoccupation or obsessive thoughts about using social media, professional help may be needed. If you or a loved one is experiencing excessive use, stopping may be difficult, due to both psychological and physiological responses.
Reducing the Impact of Social Media
Stopping use of social media has been associated with improvement in mood and well-being. If that is too difficult, or you use social media to connect with loved ones living away at great distances, use in moderation.
It is important to keep young children’s use of social media to a minimum, and build social media free time into you and your family’s day, especially on weekends and during family times (e.g. dinner, visiting extended family members). Face to face interaction, without the distraction of technology, is essential to our well-being. There should also be a cutoff time for you and your children each night. Do not check your accounts more than 40 minutes before bed or during the night. The anxiety and stress related to social media increases physiological reactions, making sleep more difficult to attain, while the light from devices suppresses melatonin.