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The Effects of Social Media on Mental Health 

Author: Shaylan Gross

Social media has undoubtedly become a prevalent part of our everyday lives. From Twitter, to  Snapchat, to Facebook and Instagram, there are multiple options for social media that can be  accessed by anyone. However, while these platforms can be used for communication and  connection, the design and purpose of social media platforms can bring about more negatives  than positives if used in the wrong way.  

These negatives can evolve into more than just being trapped in a web of mindless scrolling. To  list some examples, the use of social media has been linked with media addiction, anxiety,  depression, feelings of isolation, mental and emotional stress, low self-esteem, sleep disruptions,  body dysmorphia, distortions of reality, and even increased risk of suicide (Sadagheyani &  Tatari, 2020).  

How it Hooks Us 

One key component of social media design is the ability to keep people coming back. Platforms  do this by targeting the “reward center” of our brains, powered by a hormone called dopamine or  the “feel-good” hormone. The simple act of opening a social media app in order to see  everything new triggers the release of dopamine into the reward center of the brain; this  dopamine release is highly addictive, as the good feeling that comes from a release of dopamine  is one that our brain desires for us to come back to (for a bit of perspective, this is the same  hormone that plays the biggest role in alcohol and substance addiction) (McLean Hospital,  2022). This becomes a problem as we keep coming back for more and more in order to get that initial dopamine response, eventually leading to a nasty social media addiction with far more  consequences than benefits.  

How It Affects Us 

While made for instant access at anyone’s fingertips, the consequences of a social media  addiction extend far further than simply being trapped by scrolling and wasting time; in  particular, the search for acceptance and validation, fear of missing out or FOMO, and pressure  to keep up to date socially are just a few pipelines leading to emotional and mental stress.  

Many hop on social media looking for support or approval in the form of interactions, comments,  and likes; this alone is enough to put so much emphasis on speaking to people online that it takes  away from face-to-face interactions and connections. It is important to have these face-to-face  experiences with our friends and families, as they allow genuine, true connections and help to grow relationships, which cannot be accomplished with online interactions alone (McLean  Hospital, 2022). Adding to this is the pressure that having a social media presence brings, as harsh judgements or disrespectful comments are quite common on social media, along with  feelings of being alone and isolated due to being left out by friend groups or the fear of missing  out on something “important” that is happening in the world. 

Have you ever been scrolling through social media only to see pictures of edited, filtered, face tuned perfection? These “perfect lives” that are posted all over social media can have many negative effects on media users, even without their knowledge. When presented with these fake  realities, users may begin to compare their own lives to those of others on social media, even  accidentally or unknowingly. This can quickly raise issues, as the pressure to live up to a fake lifestyle that is not attainable in real life can cause both physical and emotional stress, as well as cause harm to self-esteem and lead to even more deeply rooted issues such as body dysmorphia,  which could even lead to disordered eating behaviors and depression (Stabler, 2021).  

All this time spent on social media could create outside problems as well, especially for students.  Specifically, excessive social media use has been shown to have extreme harm on schoolwork  quality and study skills. For example, in many cases students will put social media scrolling,  posting for likes, or social media interactions in front of schoolwork or study time. This places  social media at a higher importance than schooling and can harm attention spans as well, as any  attempt at focus can be easily broken by the temptation of social media use. As someone who  personally struggles with procrastination, or putting tasks off to the very last minute, the heavy  influence of social media makes it much more difficult to complete important tasks by creating  an extra, easily accessible space to spend time and attention. Reaching for a phone or tablet to  check social media every few minutes can quickly become a habit, taking precedence over any  other task that needs to be completed.  

How to Break the Cycle 

As with many issues, the first step to fixing something is realizing that there is a problem. First,  taking note of patterns of negative moods, anxiety, or loneliness after social media use over time could be a strong indicator that a change should be made to feel better both mentally and  physically. To do this, one may ask questions like: “How many times have I reached for social  media while trying to write this essay?” “How did I feel before, during, and after scrolling  through social media for a while? How has this changed my mood?” “Do I begin to feel anxious  when I am away from or on social media for too long?” “Why do I feel lonely despite interacting  with so many people online?” “What am I missing out on in my life that social media has taken  the place of?” If one takes the time to ask these questions and answer them honestly, it could  help in realizing that there may be a problem, which opens a wide window for positive change. 

To begin taking action, replacing social media scrolling with other activities that one enjoys  instead is a great first step; this aids in rewiring mindless habits and retraining the brain’s  dopamine pathways by resisting the urge to open social media in order to receive those reward signals that were mentioned in the “How it Hooks Us” section. Additionally, making plans to  meet up with friends in person instead of interacting solely online or in school could help with  feelings of disconnection and loneliness (Stabler, 2021). Even further, challenging oneself to  complete tasks or schoolwork before picking up the phone and becoming immersed in a social  media trap leaves time for healthy, controlled social media usage after the tasks are completed. 

These changes can be incredibly challenging at first; however, in the long run, these small  differences will become routine and offer long-lasting positive effects in important areas of our  lives, such as face-to-face connection, healthy perceptions of reality, time-management skills, and overall happiness and better mental health. In the end, we all could benefit from growing the strength to put the phone down and deciding to pursue something more fulfilling, gratifying, and  joyful (Stabler, 2021). 

As always, if you would like a counselor to assist you in your growth journey, give Anchoring Hope a call at 276-298-5034 or fill out our online form at We can provide counseling in our Wise and Abingdon, VA offices or via telehealth across Virginia! If you are outside of our service area, you can find counselors by going to


The social dilemma: Social media and your mental health. Here’s How Social Media Affects  Your Mental Health | McLean Hospital. (2022, January 21). health 

Sadagheyani, H. E., & Tatari, F. (2020). Investigating the role of social media on Mental Health.  Mental Health and Social Inclusion, 25(1), 41–51. 0039 

Stabler, C. M. (2021, September 1). The Effects of Social Media on Mental Health. home/2021/september/the-effects-of-social-media-on-mental-health


Published by Anchoring Hope

We are a small collective of counselors dedicated to distributing helpful, relatable content directly to your device! We also provide counseling services to those in Virginia & an anxiety training that can be accessed around the globe!

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