Whether you’re posting your latest vacation photos to Instagram® or sharing funny images and videos on Facebook®, there’s a good chance you spend time on one or more social media account every day.
Over the last decade, social media has become hard to avoid. According to Pew Research External Site, just 5 percent of Americans used at least one social media account in 2005. Today, it’s more than 72 percent.
While social media can help foster connections around the world, research has found that too much of it can have a negative impact on our mental health. Not only does it drain our productivity (the average person spends more than two hours a day External Site on social media), it can prevent us from being present in our own lives.
How social media may be impacting your mental health
It can affect your self-esteem
The saying goes that comparison is the thief of joy — and the curated nature of social media platforms is a great real-life example. People tend to share the ideal representation of themselves, but their perfectly filtered and captioned photos often don’t tell the whole story. Even so, you may find yourself constantly comparing your success (or faults) to others in your social network. Not only does this make you more aware of your insecurities External Site, it can also lead to feeling jealous, competitive, inadequate, and even depressed.
It’s designed to manipulate your behavior
Every time you log in to any social media platform, you’re providing endless amounts of behavioral data to companies whose goal it is to keep you engaged in those platforms for as long as possible. These companies know what you’re seeing and how you react to it. They use that information to keep feeding you content they know you’ll consume and enjoy.
It leads to information overload
Thanks to endless scrolling, you can scan countless pieces of content — both good and bad — from around the world in minutes, without ever glancing up from your screen. Sound tiring? That’s because it is, especially to your brain. "Most of us are constantly taking in information. This can include around-the-clock news updates, videos, texts, and emails," says Shannon Evers, clinical director at Employee and Family Resources in Des Moines, Iowa. "As a result, our brains have to work harder to try to keep up. Without any coping skills or positive ways to help us unplug and relax, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and exhausted."
It encourages "FOMO"
Yes, FOMO — fear of missing out — is real. You don’t want to miss a single update, but you feel sad or down when you see others in your network having a good time without you. In a nutshell, FOMO is the worry that we’re not connected to our social world. But, because online interactions are less emotionally rewarding than in-person communication, increased social media has the opposite effect and can make us feel more isolated.
Lessen social media’s impact on your mental health
You don’t have to immediately delete your accounts to make a difference. Instead, try these tips:
- Set limits External Site for social media use. For example, say no to checking your accounts first thing in the morning or right before you fall asleep. At work, stick your phone in a drawer so you can focus on what you need to do that day. If you’re having a hard time sticking to self-imposed limits, have your phone do it for you External Site. Head here if you want tips for helping your kid or teen reduce their screen time.
- Prioritize real-life connections. Take the group chat with your friends offline and meet up for a meal or even a leisurely stroll for in-person conversation.
- Understand why you reach for your phone. Think about the time you spend on social media. What are you gaining from it? Do you need to find a recipe for dinner tonight? Are you reminiscing about a fun outing you had with friends last weekend? Do you feel the urge to open notifications as soon as you see them? Becoming more aware of how and why you use social media will help you gradually reduce its importance in your life.
- Focus on enjoying the moment. Instead of trying to get that picture-perfect snap for your friends and followers, put the phone down and appreciate what’s in front of you.
There’s no denying it — social media is here to stay. Routine social media use External Site isn’t necessarily a problem. But, if you find yourself becoming too attached (for example, frequently checking to make sure you’re not missing anything new or feeling disconnected from friends when you’re not online) it may be time to take a step back.
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