The impact of social media on mental health

Social media, despite its numerous advantages, also comes with its share of drawbacks. For college-aged young adults, who have been immersed in a screen-dominated world, the downsides can be particularly pronounced. While it facilitates sharing, connection, and access to news and information, it also poses challenges that merit attention.

Recent research highlighted by The Child Mind Institute and The National Center for Health Research suggests a connection between frequent social media use and feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Individuals who spend significant time on social media platforms tend to report lower levels of happiness and increased dissatisfaction with life compared to those who engage more in non-screen-related activities.

Discover the ways social media can detrimentally affect your mental well-being, and explore strategies for using it in a more balanced and healthier manner, both for yourself and those within your social circle.

Approaching Addiction

Social media platforms operate on a similar principle to slot machines in terms of their impact on the brain. Opening these apps and websites triggers an element of unpredictability, much like pulling a lever on a slot machine. This unpredictability prompts a sense of anticipation and excitement, leading to the release of dopamine—the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure—in our brains. This chemical reaction mirrors the sensation experienced during other enjoyable activities like eating and intimacy.

Directing Attention to Social Interactions

Difficulties can arise when you place excessive importance on the reactions you receive (or lack thereof) to the content you share. For example, if you upload a photo with the expectation of receiving likes or comments, and the feedback doesn’t meet your expectations, you may experience feelings of disappointment or invalidation.

Feeling let down is common when you compare your posts to those of others. Such comparisons can lead to a drop in self-esteem, distraction from important tasks, and even feelings of anxiety or depression.

Filters: Adding Fun, Hiding Reality

Filters showcase the dual nature of social media, blending both positive and negative aspects. While playful filters offer amusement and laughter, the ease of enhancing features like whitening teeth, airbrushing body parts, and concealing imperfections can perpetuate false ideals and illusions of perfection.

Despite being aware that posts are often filtered and meticulously curated, the constant exposure to seemingly flawless highlight reels of others can create an overwhelming sense of inadequacy in comparison. It may seem daunting to measure up to the seemingly perfect lives portrayed online. It’s important to recognize filters for what they are: an enjoyable tool for altering one’s online appearance, but not a prerequisite for authenticity.

Sensation of Being Left Out

The allure of social media often stems from the fear of missing out, commonly known as FOMO. When friends and classmates engage with social platforms, there’s a concern about overlooking important messages, inside jokes, or vital information that binds you to your social circle.

Nevertheless, frequent checking and endless scrolling can negatively impact academic performance and studying. This distraction often results in procrastination, diminished retention of information, and increased stress levels. Moreover, viewing posts of others enjoying themselves can evoke emotions of exclusion, loneliness, or anxiety, further exacerbating the negative effects of social media use.

Having access to a vast digital world right at your fingertips can discourage real-life social connections and face-to-face interactions. It’s important to prioritize opportunities for in-person gatherings with friends rather than relying solely on virtual communication behind a screen whenever feasible.

Tips for Managing Unhealthy Social Media Behaviors

According to a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, reducing social media usage below your usual amount may alleviate feelings of loneliness and depression. While it’s improbable that you or someone you know will completely abstain from social media (given its evident benefits), it’s crucial to practice self-awareness and acknowledge potential warning signs:

● Experiencing heightened anxiety, depression, or loneliness

● Preferring social media over real-life interactions with loved ones

● Regularly comparing oneself to others and feeling jealous

● Encountering online trolling or cyberbullying

● Engaging in risky behaviors for online validation

● Observing negative impacts on academics and relationships

● Neglecting self-care activities like exercise, sleep, and mindfulness

If you notice any of these red flags, consider reducing your social media usage. This could involve implementing screen time limits, restricting certain app usage on your device, or scheduling specific times for checking your accounts. Many also find that taking occasional breaks or “detoxing” from social media can be beneficial for prioritizing mental health and nurturing relationships.

How can you step back from social media?

● Arrange a casual get-together

● Engage in outdoor physical activity

● Seek volunteering opportunities

● Enjoy quality time with a close friend in person

If you or someone you know struggles to break away from negative social media patterns—or experiences persistent feelings of anxiety or depression—consider scheduling a conversation with your healthcare provider or a professional at your campus health center. They can assess for depression and anxiety symptoms and suggest appropriate treatment or guidance tailored to your needs.

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