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5 ways social media might affect your mental health

Social media is still a relatively new technology.  So, it’s early days for research into the long-term consequences of its use.  However,  studies have found a strong link between it and increased risk of depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts.

If you spend too much time online you may start to recognise that feelings of sadness, dissatisfaction, frustration, or loneliness are impacting your life.  If so, it may be time to re-examine your online habits and find a healthier balance. 

Here are some of the ways social media can impact your mental health.

  1. Inadequacy about your life or appearance: we all know images on social media are edited. However, they can still make us feel insecure about how we look or what’s happening in our own life. Likewise, we know that people tend to share only edited highlights of their lives. They rarely post the low points that we all experience. Yet that doesn’t lessen our feelings of envy and dissatisfaction as we scroll through a friend’s filtered photos of  tropical beach holidays or read about their exciting promotion at work.  But remember, negative comparisons are a bad idea and serve no positive purpose. Try to get out of the habit of comparing yourself to other people. Make a conscious effort to stop when you find yourself doing it. 
  1. Fear of missing out (FOMO): FOMO has been around far longer than the internet.  But sites such as Facebook and Instagram seem to fuel feelings that everyone is having more fun or living a better life than you are. The idea that you’re missing out can take root. If it does, it can impact on self-esteem, trigger anxiety, and fuel even more social media use.  
  1. Depression and anxiety: Human beings need face-to-face contact for good mental health. Nothing reduces stress or boosts mood faster or more effectively than eye-to-eye contact with someone who cares about us. A good laugh or an interesting conversation can do us the world of good.  But the more you prioritise social media and online interaction over in-person relationships, the more you risk of developing or exacerbating mood disorders like anxiety and depression.
  1. Cyberbullying: before we ever had the internet or social media, we had bullies. Back then people could usually escape the bully once they left school or work. However, the internet has given bullies direct access. They can now target their victims 24/7, even while they are at home. Social media platforms can be hotspots for spreading hurtful rumours, lies, and abuse that can leave lasting emotional scars. If you’re the target of an online bully, a first step is to limit your time online.  Set yourself ground rules on phone / device use.  Don’t be afraid to block or report people or to discontinue your social media accounts if you’re the subject of abuse. 
  1. Self-absorption: Sharing endless selfies or all your innermost thoughts online can create an unhealthy distance between you and real-life connections. This can lead to reduced self-esteem and an inability to express your true self due to fear of judgement.  Consider your actions online in this light.  

Signs that social media is impacting your mental health

  • Comparing yourself unfavourably with others online.
  • Experiencing cyberbullying.
  • Being distracted at school or work.
  • Having no time for self-reflection.
  • Engaging in risky behaviour in order to gain “likes”.
  • Suffering from sleep problems.
  • Worsening symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Tips to reduce social media

  • Spend more time with friends offline
  • Delete social media apps off your phone
  • Avoid bringing your phone to bed
  • Disable social media notifications
  • Limit the amount of times you check social media
  • Journaling to try to understand the negative emotions that come with your online activity
  • Spend time doing things you enjoy
  • Stop following / block people who don’t make you feel good
  • Head outdoors. Walk the dog, go for a walk.  Connect with a friend to join you.  If you’re outdoors you’re more likely to connect with friends in person.