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Reel Talk: 5 Ways Social Media Affects Your Mental Health

TikTok, Instagram and Facebook are now a constant presence in most people’s lives and, particularly for children and teens, life is now lived online. Social media has created a new kind of digital identity, one that’s far more curated, deliberate and fragile than any that preceded it.


Sure, it’s great to be able to share our day with friends across the world and nobody is immune to the thrill of watching the likes pour in from a popular post. Even in a post-COVID world, going viral is still something to aim for.


For all the positives of social media, it’s important to remember that mental health interacts with social media in multiple ways. While social media can foster a sense of connectedness and community, it can also exacerbate loneliness, depression and a lack of self-worth.


Both children and adults are impacted by this topic, so let’s explore mental health and social media.



  1. Comparison and Self-Esteem


Comparison is the thief of joy, and one of the most pervasive ways social media affects our mental health is through the culture of comparison it breeds. With the ability to curate and filter content, individuals often present idealized versions of their lives, leading to feelings of inadequacy and envy in others. Scrolling through perfectly curated feeds can leave us questioning our own accomplishments, relationships, and even appearance.


Research has shown that constant comparison on social media can significantly impact self-esteem and mental well-being, and there is a strong correlation between time spent on social media and feelings of loneliness and depression. The incessant exposure to carefully crafted images of others' seemingly perfect lives can distort our perception of reality and erode our self-worth.


You can combat this impact of social media by being aware of it. The popular trend of “Instagram vs Reality” reminds us that the images we see in our social media feeds are often filtered and airbrushed, or at best a highlights reel of lives filled with ups and downs. By curating a more “real” social media feed of your own, and being honest about your struggles as well as your achievements, you can contribute to a healthier relationship with social media for everyone.


  1. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)


Ever spent an evening on your sofa, scrolling through social media? It looks like everyone’s at a party, or a crowded bar, or they’ve just bought a house or run a marathon. But remember, nobody posts social media photos of the boring evenings they’ve spent on social media!


The fear of missing out, or FOMO, is another detrimental aspect of social media culture that affects our mental health. As we scroll through our feeds, we are bombarded with images and updates of friends and acquaintances seemingly living their best lives. Whether it's a lavish vacation, a glamorous event, or simply a night out with friends, the constant stream of highlights can trigger feelings of inadequacy and anxiety.


Psychologists have identified FOMO as a contributor to stress and anxiety levels, particularly among younger generations. The relentless pressure to keep up with the seemingly perfect lives of others can lead to feelings of insecurity and dissatisfaction with our own lives. Moreover, the fear of missing out on social events or opportunities depicted on social media can disrupt our sense of contentment and peace of mind.


You may have had a busy weekend, and your sofa time is a valuable opportunity to recharge. Social media creates unreasonable expectations, so it’s vital to keep these in context. If social media is giving you FOMO, the best thing to do is reduce your engagement: spend more time with friends, and less time viewing the world through a phone screen.


  1. Cyberbullying and Harassment


While social media has the potential to connect us with others and foster meaningful relationships, it also harbors darker aspects. When looking at mental health and social media, cyberbullying and online harassment are an unfortunately prominent risk. The anonymity and accessibility afforded by social media platforms make it easier than ever for individuals to engage in hurtful behavior without facing consequences.


Cyberbullying and online harassment can have devastating effects on mental health, leading to feelings of fear, anxiety, and isolation. Victims of cyberbullying may experience depression, low self-esteem, and even thoughts of self-harm. The constant barrage of negative comments and messages can chip away at their sense of self-worth and leave lasting psychological scars.


Research has revealed that 6 in 10 American teens have experienced some form of online bullying or harassment. While most social media platforms should have robust mechanisms for reporting, blocking and banning users who are harassing others, this is often harder to achieve in reality. Reporting cyberbullying offline to parents, teachers or professors is as important as reporting it online.


  1. Validation and Self-Worth


Social media and mental health clash once again as platforms thrive on likes, comments, and shares, often coming to serve as a form of validation for users. The pursuit of validation through social media metrics has become increasingly pervasive, with many individuals basing their self-worth on the number of likes or followers they receive.


However, relying on external validation for self-worth can have detrimental effects on mental health. Studies have shown that the dopamine rush we experience from receiving likes and comments on social media can be addictive, leading to compulsive behaviors and feelings of emptiness when validation is lacking. Moreover, the fleeting nature of social media validation means it only temporarily relieves underlying insecurities and self-doubt.


It’s vital to cultivate a self-worth that exists independently of social media metrics forced upon us by the apps we use. Learning how to self-validate takes time, but can be achieved by looking inward and pursuing offline hobbies and interests which matter to you.


  1. Sleep Disruption


The final risk of social media is a side effect. Our phones are addictive, distracting, and constantly at hand. Social media algorithms are built to bring us an endless feed of content and it can be very hard to step away.


The pervasive use of social media, particularly before bedtime, has been linked to sleep disruption and poor sleep quality. The blue light emitted by electronic devices can interfere with the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating sleep-wake cycles, leading to difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.


Furthermore, the content we consume on social media before bedtime can also impact our sleep patterns. Scrolling through stressful or stimulating content can heighten arousal levels and make it harder to unwind and relax. As a result, individuals who spend excessive time on social media may experience sleep deprivation, which has been associated with a host of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and mood disorders.


Sleep hygiene isn’t just about reducing social media use, but it helps. Try to put your phone down an hour before bedtime and build a healthy nighttime routine that signals to your body that it’s time to sleep.


Wrapping Up


Social media has profound effects on our mental health, from fostering comparison and envy to exacerbating fears of missing out and perpetuating cyberbullying and harassment. Moreover, the relentless pursuit of validation and the disruptive impact on sleep patterns further compound the negative consequences of excessive social media usage.


However, it's essential to recognize that social media is not inherently evil; rather, it's how we engage with it that determines its impact on our mental well-being. By cultivating awareness of our social media habits and implementing strategies to promote balance and moderation, we can mitigate its negative effects and foster a healthier relationship with these digital platforms. Ultimately, prioritizing mental health in the age of social media is crucial for maintaining overall well-being and happiness.


If you’re worried about your child’s mental health, oVRcome’s Children and Adolescent Program could be a valuable tool. With resources for both parent and child, oVRcome supports young people face fears, phobias and anxieties in a safe and controlled way.


References:


  1. Jan, M., Soomro, S. A., & Ahmad, N. (2017). Impact of Social Media on Self-Esteem. European Scientific Journal, ESJ, 13(23), 329. https://doi.org/10.19044/esj.2017.v13n23p329


  1. Gupta M, Sharma A. Fear of missing out: A brief overview of origin, theoretical underpinnings and relationship with mental health. World J Clin Cases. 2021 Jul 6;9(19):4881-4889. doi: 10.12998/wjcc.v9.i19.4881. PMID: 34307542; PMCID: PMC8283615.


  1. Pirdehghan A, Khezmeh E, Panahi S. Social Media Use and Sleep Disturbance among Adolescents: A Cross-Sectional Study. Iran J Psychiatry. 2021 Apr;16(2):137-145. doi: 10.18502/ijps.v16i2.5814. PMID: 34221039; PMCID: PMC8233562.

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