Social media has taken the world by storm in the last decade and has established an entirely new medium for human interaction.
While it has many positive aspects, it is not all sunshine and rainbows. Social media is fast gaining a reputation for having a negative impact on mental health, removing genuine human interaction, and shouldering much of the responsibility for the failing of modern society.
But does it really deserve such a bad rap? According to a number of studies, it depends on how you use it.
While much of the focus surrounding mental health and social media use is on younger participants, mental health issues affect all age groups. More mature users can also be impacted by the negative aspects of Facebook addiction, anxiety, or depression related to various online platforms.
So, exactly how can scrolling through Instagram or watching cat videos on Facebook impact our mental health? Let’s have a look at what the research says.
How Your Mental Health Can Be Impacted By Social Media
“The Grass Is Greener” Syndrome
Studies have revealed that one of the biggest downsides to being online is falling into the comparison trap. Usually, people only post the best, shiniest, most attractive parts of their life. But it is so easy to forget this when you see perfect Instagram selfies, successful careers, and flourishing relationships. We fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others as we scroll through our feeds, and make judgements about how we measure up.
A study conducted by the University of Copenhagen concluded that Facebook envy is very real. Researchers surveyed 1095 people, asking half of them to continue using Facebook as normal, and the other half to stop using it altogether.
At the end of the study, those who stayed off the platform reported higher life satisfaction than those who kept scrolling.
Another study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology had an even bigger range of participants. From the 5209 people that took part, they found that regular use of Facebook had a negative impact on wellbeing.
We all know that getting a decent amount of sleep is essential for maintaining optimal mental and physical health. But many of us are guilty of going online for one last glance at our newsfeeds just before we hit the hay. This can cause a sub-standard level of rest.
Perhaps we get agitated with anxiety or feelings of inadequacy while scrolling, making it hard to sleep, or we may end up mindlessly online for far longer than intended.
Not only that, but the light emitted by your device interferes with the release of melatonin, an essential hormone to help you get sleepy and experience a good night’s sleep. Experts recommend staying offline for at least 40 minutes before bedtime. That means staying away from answering emails right before bed too!
Isolation And Depression
Part of the unhealthy cycle is that we keep coming back to social media, even though it doesn’t make us feel very good. This is likely because of what’s known as a forecasting error: Like a drug, we think getting a fix will help, but it actually makes us feel worse, which comes down to an error in our ability to predict our own response.
Along the same lines, another study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology looked at the links between anxiety, depression, loneliness and FOMO (fear of missing out) in relation to social media. A small group of graduate students were surveyed, with some randomly asked to significantly limit their social media use on a daily basis.
The study found that those who limited their social media use to 30 minutes a day reported reduced depression and loneliness. This was particularly true if they began the study with higher levels of depression. So, it is wise to be cautious with social media use if you do suffer from feelings of anxiety or depression.
Managing Social Media Usage
While these studies make social media sound like a bad thing, it doesn’t have to be. Plenty of other studies have found that social media can also have a positive effect on mental health.
What it boils down to is how you approach and use the platforms. Mindlessly scrolling through our social media feeds when we have a few spare minutes (or for some, hours) has become a habit. Just like anything in life, it is about finding balance and approaching it with a positive mindset.
The digital landscape has inadvertently allowed disruptive and unhappy souls to become very vocal. These people, called trolls, appear everywhere, and can severely affect people’s mental health.
Here are a few ways to ensure your social media use is positive:
Schedule time out from social media and stick to it.
Spend one on one time with friends, family and colleagues - minus the phone!
Get an old school alarm clock and leave your phone out of the bedroom at night.
Get clear on your reason for logging into social media (i.e. sending a message, researching a business, or posting an update), and log off when you are done.
Let other people’s newsfeeds inspire you.
Be selective in who you follow. If anyone makes you feel irritated, angry, or low, unfriend or unfollow their page.
If a troll is attacking you on social media, you can block and report them. That is your right as a digital user.
Be kind online.
Responsible Social Media In The Workplace
Social media usage at work is very difficult to control. Increasingly companies use the same tools for business (like Facebook and LinkedIn, as their workers do for social reasons and sectors such as marketing and recruitment are actively encouraging their employees to utilise social media. Professional networking sites like LinkedIn greatly assist companies to find employees and job seekers to find work.
If employers notice staff using social media excessively, there is a reason for it. Cary Cooper who Co-Chairs the National Forum for Health & Wellbeing for Work in the UK suggests “Maybe they are not stretched, not properly managed, not given adequate objectives. So don’t blame the social media, try to unwrap why they are doing it”.
Susan Hepburn, a London based therapist and addiction expert recommends simple solutions including making sure employees have “offline periods throughout the day, whether through organised team meetings, group lunches or providing lunchtime activities such as yoga - to get employees to switch off completely and take a step back from the continual stream of online media.”
Ready to ensure good mental health and social media go hand in hand at your workplace? Then get in touch with us here at Wellbeing Workshop to discover the range of support options we provide.