When this topic first came to mind, I wasn’t sure how much information I would be able to find on the subject. To my surprise, there was an overwhelming number of publications on the affects of social media on mental health.
One of my favorite quotes from the articles I reviewed was, “…sitting is one of the worst things we can do for health. But possibly as concerning is the thing that we often do while we’re sitting: Mindlessly scrolling through our social media feeds when we have a few spare minutes (or for some, hours).” (Walton, Alice. 2017)
Not only does the side effects of sedentary behavior pose a concern for when we mindless “swipe”, but it’s concerning what the things we are swiping on is doing to our mental health and wellbeing. Social media has associations with depression, anxiety, and feelings of isolation, particularly among heavy users.
Last year, Instagram made headlines in their decision to suppress the ability to see the number of “likes” on posts in an effort to reduce the feelings associated with seeing high, and low, numbers of likes on posts. We post content to hopefully receive a positive response, and our self-esteem can be affected if our post doesn’t ultimately attract the amount of “likes” we want. Believe it or not, social media activates our brain in a way that releases dopamine, which is a “feel good chemical” that our body produces. Because of this, social media can be addictive. We’ve all heard someone say they spent literally hours scrolling videos on TikTok because, well, the time just flies. And the content is quite literally addicting. We are addicted to our phones.
Another study found that social media usage triggers more sadness and less well-being. The more we use social media, the less happy we tend to be. Studies have also linked social media use to greater feelings of isolation. It’s not surprising that the more people that use platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, etc., the more isolated they may perceive themselves to be in comparison to others.
All of this goes without saying that indeed, there IS benefit to social media, despite the picture I’ve been painting for you. It does keep us connected, re-engage with people we’ve lost touch with, and can bring us laughter and joy. However, taking a break from social media does help boost psychological well-being, and if you choose to keep social media as part of your day-to-day, perhaps do so in moderation.