Each month, I wonder what to write about, and when there are no big themes recognised, it falls to me to choose something I am passionate about. From finding your motivation, setting good intentions, letting in the power of nature and establishing a more connected world, I have shared my thoughts on a range of topics. Now one that is close to home: social media and our mental health.
“Anxiety, loneliness and fear of missing out…” “unhappiness… the development of mental health issues”, “a vehicle for distress”, “sleep loss…”. These are just a few headlines of articles and websites when you search for “social media and mental health”.
It’s clear that they paint a pretty gloomy picture, and quite rightly so. For all of the benefits I live every day from being online (such as connection, friendship, support, inspiration and passion), I am fully aware of the negative aspects to such a hyper-connected world.
It’s a world where we have access to everyone’s lives, all of the time. Without physical barriers, we are free to peruse, indulge and obsess over other’s lives we see online. Whether they are famous people we admire or our friends from school, no-one is off limits (given that the large majority have an Instagram account nowadays).
Although it is still emerging, the rapid growth of social media platforms is widely supported to have a negative impact on our mental health, and in particular on younger generations. The very intention for connecting online is to form virtual relationships, to be inspired and to create an outlet for our minds, but more and more often, this connection to the online world can become addicting and unsatisfying. We mindlessly hit the social media app looking for our next dopamine hit without realising what we are doing. We receive that hit of gratification when our posts are being liked, we gain followers and see our post being shared by others, or we see other accounts that make us happy. On the flipside, when we believe our posts are not “preforming well” and our status updates are zero, the feelings of failure creep in. We are unsatisfied, we perpetually refresh our feeds looking for that hit… that may never come.
This behaviour may sound alien to you reading this, but if you think about your day-to-day, how often do you check your feeds? How much better do you feel when you have messages and comments to reply to? How uplifting is it when you have more likes than you thought?
And I don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong with this, per se, as long as we don’t then foster feelings of inadequacy, un-popularity and those of missing out on life, when we don’t receive the gratification, we desire. It is this ongoing desire, sub-conscious or otherwise, that can lead to heightened anxiety around social media apps, sleep loss due to constant scrolling and refreshing, the fear or missing out when we are not online and ultimately lower moods.
Furthermore, social media is also seen to have damaging effects on us, as users, for the unrealistic expectations they promote. Apps and platforms are often the trigger for feelings of low self-esteem, self-doubt, body-image issues and so much more. To only intensify this problem, the invention of filters that can drastically change the users body/face heighten the unrealistic expectations for what we should or could look like, perpetuating our feelings of undesirability.
I can see that all of this, along with many studies and research articles, highlight issues of addiction, self-loathing and anxiety – produced by social media use, but it is not all bad. It doesn’t have to be like this.
Although I myself struggle from time to time, I have such a better relationship now with social media thanks to a few home truths, reminders and daily practises. We all have slightly different habits, but from speaking with friends and platform users, I know that we all share a few common beliefs:
There are so many ways we can get outside of our social media lives abut that is not to say that social media is not real life, because on some levels, it is very real. Some people call it work, some call it friendship, others meet loved ones online, so we’d be too quick to paint social media in a negative light all the time. Being mindful of how and why we use certain apps, when we use them and who we follow and connect with while online can help to ease the rising levels of anxiety, fear of missing out and generally poor mental health. Be an active user, engage in content that fulfils and uplifts you and maintain attached to the world beyond your phone.
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