24 May Mental Health Awareness Month: Social Media and its Impacts
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and this week, we’re talking about social media: how it can impact your mental health—for good and bad—and what to do about it.
Do you start your day by checking your social media accounts? And end your day the same way?
Maybe you pop back in throughout the day for quick check-ins — but before you realize it, you’ve scrolled through recent posts for nearly an hour.
This isn’t all that uncommon. After all, social media use is pretty widespread.
Whether you recently started using social media or have had an active presence for years, you’ve likely come across plenty of mentions about its potential negative impact on mental health.
But contrary to what many people may suggest, social media isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“Social media often gets a bad reputation for being a contributor to negative outcomes,” says Britt Frank, a licensed psychotherapist and author of the book The Science of Stuck.
Yet, like anything, Frank goes on to say, the coin has two sides. In other words, social media could be both harmful and helpful.
The key to using social media well involves finding ways to lessen the downsides and amplify the upsides. Here’s how.
What are the downsides?
You might already know social media can potentially hamper mental health. But you might have less awareness of exactly how.
Social media could negatively affect mental well-being by:
Making you feel bad about yourself
Social media offers plenty of opportunities to compare yourself to others. Scrolling might leave you envious of your social circle’s lives, including their:
- fancy vacations
- clean, cozy homes
- tight-knit, smiling, well-dressed families
- seemingly flawless bodies
Whitney Goodman, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of the book Toxic Positivity, comes across this regularly in her practice.
She notes that her clients often feel less-than after using social media, explaining that social media often creates a feeling of ‘never being enough’ or reinforces the idea that perfection is possible.
Seeing filtered slices from someone’s life can lead you to assume they’re living in complete bliss, even as you know you aren’t.
And when it comes to physical appearance, frequent exposure to filtered and Photoshopped images can also lead to self-consciousness and dislike for your own looks. In fact, there’s even a term for this experience—Snapchat dysmorphia.
Messing with your sleep
- go to bed later
- sleep less
- sleep worse
One explanation that may drive excessive use, even despite any potential consequences, is fear of missing out (FOMO). You might have a hard time logging off if you worry that doing so means you’ll miss something important.
But this mindset can easily disrupt sleep. Using social media at night may stimulate your brain when you really want to be winding down for the night. As a result, you might find it much harder to fall asleep.
Contributing to anxiety and depression
Various research studies suggest a connection between social media and symptoms of anxiety and depression.
A 2017 study used data from same survey to explore the impact of using multiple social media platforms. The results of this study suggest people using between 7 to 11 social media platforms are more likely to experience depression and anxiety than people using between 0 and 2 platforms.
The study authors point out, though, that the link could go both ways. Some people, for instance, may use social media to cope with existing feelings of anxiety or depression.
In this study, participants who used Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram for only 10 minutes each day for 3 weeks experienced reduced depression and loneliness, in comparison to participants who used social media as they usually would.
Crowding out fulfilling activities
“Excessive social media use takes time away from doing other things that may benefit your mental health,” points out Goodman.
If you use social media apps too often, she says, you might be spending less time doing things like:
- connecting with others in person
- spending time in nature
- taking care of yourself in other meaningful ways
What about the benefits?
All that said, social media can have plenty of upsides, too.
Social media could help promote improved well-being by:
Increasing access to resources
Whether you’re searching for support groups, informative articles, or valuable tools and tips, social media can provide access to multiple resources — though, of course, you’ll always want to consider the source for potential inaccuracy or bias.
Social media can also break down some of the barriers people face when trying to access resources.
“Sitting behind a screen largely eliminates social risk,” says Frank.
If you find it challenging to get out and about for whatever reason, social media could make it easier to do things like:
- join a support group
- find recommendations for healthcare professionals
- participate in virtual events
- get information about events in your area
- learn more about free or low cost resources, events, and opportunities for recreation
Highlighting causes of interest
“Social media can also help raise awareness for different causes,” says Goodman.
It can also help you:
- learn more about volunteer opportunities
- support organizations that have a positive impact on the world
- make meaningful connections with people who have similar values and prioritize the same issues
Connecting you with like-minded people
Before social media, your options for socializing were geographically limited, for the most part. You might have had some challenges finding people to connect with, especially if you lived in a small town.
Today, social media allows you to quickly and easily ‘travel’ beyond your city, state, and even your continent to expand your inner circle.
Communities exist for practically everything you can think of: homeschooling, virtual book clubs, Minecraft, and crafting, just to name a very small handful.
No matter how obscure your hobbies are, you can likely find a community of people who also loves what you love.
Helping you share and sharpen your skills
- share your interests and pastimes with others
- sharpen your skills by learning from others with the same interests
- broaden your creative, cognitive horizons by learning about new hobbies and ways to try them
You might, for example, share talents like:
- art, from music to photography
- poetry and creative writing
You can also:
- improve your cooking and baking skills, plus learn more about the cuisines of different cultures
- find fun ways to move your body
- learn more about daily life from people living across the globe
Next week, we’ll wrap up this mini-series and discuss what you can do to improve your relationship with social media—or rid yourself of it forever!
This article was brought to you by the Proactive Health Management Plan in partnership with Healthline.