How Social Media May Be Affecting Your Mental Health

There's little doubt or debate about it, social media has reshaped our world in the past decade, and with it how we connect with one another. There's a lot to love about social media, namely the ability to stay in touch with friends, family, and former colleagues from around the world.

Social media allows us to share our experiences and perspectives, as well as stay in the loop on relevant topics of today. Unfortunately, there's also a lot to be concerned about when it comes to the lasting effects of prolonged social media use.

In recent years healthcare professionals have speculated on the long term effects of our social media habits, which run the spectrum of mental, emotional, and yes, even physical.

Here are 5 of the most widely reported side effects of social media:

Top 5 Side Effects Of Social Media

1. Inability to Exist in “Real Time”

Social media is often compared to online gambling, and for good reason. There's a certain high to be had from refreshing that browser and seeing new content unfurl, and many report losing hours–and in some cases entire days–to addictive social media scrolling. This prevents us from living in the present moment, and engaging with the tangible world around us. In short, you can miss a lot while you're scrolling, and confuse the happenings online with what's going on around you.

2. Unhealthy Comparisons

Social media is arguably a bit of a smoke-and-mirrors affair, in that most of us only post from our highlight reels, rather than the decidedly less attractive behind-the-scenes. True, some are inclined to share all the good, bad, and ugly with abandon, but most of us only want people to catch our good side. This can lead to a lot of obsessive comparisons that only lower your sense of value and productivity.

The mentality of “so-and-so is on vacation and I'm not, or got a new and better job than mine, or has more followers, or is in a more enviable romantic relationship” can be hard to overcome, but is nonetheless necessary in order to savor your own accomplishments and quality of life.

3. Negativity Overload

There's a lot of positive, share-worthy stuff going around on social media, but let's face it, there's also a lot of horrible news and behavior. This negativity overload can have serious effects on your mental health and life outlook, resulting in exacerbated depression, anxiety, and even trauma.

4. Social Isolation

It's easy to confuse engaging on social media with engaging in real life, but that's simply not the case. An online chat to catch up with a long distance friend is one thing, but if you find that ALL your contacts can only be reached through social media, you may be isolating yourself from the benefits of a real community. This social isolation can also lead to a breakdown in overall communication tools that are vital to maintaining personal and professional relationships.

5. Impact on Sleep, Eating, and Exercise

A recent study conducted through the University of Melbourne’s National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health found that excessive social media use can have a serious impact on one's diet, sleep, and physical fitness. Think of it this way: if you're glued to your screen for hours at a time, are you making time for proper meals, sleep, and exercise?

So How Can You Counter the Negative Effects of Social Media?

Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to ensure you get the best out of social media, without inhibiting your health and well-being.

1. Time Yourself

A lot of people give themselves a finite amount of time to scroll their social media accounts, and when the buzzer goes off it's time to log off too. If you have trouble managing your time online, try setting an alarm for increments of 20 mins to at most an hour. This will not only relieve the guilt of indulging online, but keep you on track for a productive day.

2. Know When To Disengage

It's easy to get pulled into online debates and disputes, which can spiral into pretty ugly territory pretty quickly. Know when to step away and take a pause–don't worry, that thread will be there when you get back.

3. Abstain From Social Media At Least An Hour Before Bed

It's long been determined that the light emitted from our electronic devices can disrupt melatonin levels, which contribute to a good night's sleep and keep fatigue and depression at bay. A study published by The Lancet Psychiatry established that people who spend the better part of their night on social media were more likely to experience mood effects such as bipolar disorder and neuroticism, as well as report feelings of depression and low self esteem. Try switching to a book before bed, or other low-key activities that don't require the use of a phone, tablet, or computer screen.

4. Keep in Mind “The Grass Is Always Greener” Saying

You've probably heard older generations pointing out that “the grass is always greener on the other side,” meaning that what someone else has tends to look better than what you've got. Remember, social media is a platform largely dedicated to showing off the better aspects of one's life, while keeping the underlying realities mostly offscreen.

For example, the next time you look at someone's glowing vacation photos and feel those pangs of envy, try to remind yourself that they probably had to work a lot of hours and make quite a few sacrifices to save up for that trip, so be happy for them! In doing so, you'll brighten your own outlook on life and the people you share it with.

Closing Thoughts

Social media addiction is a real thing, and if you do find yourself struggling to strike a healthy balance it may be time to seek professional help. In this particular case, online counseling can be extremely beneficial, allowing you the privacy and discretion to speak to a licensed and experienced therapist at your convenience. With the right assistance you can regain your day-to-day productivity and sense of well-being without sacrificing the perks of social media connectivity.

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