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 bit.ly/ahchopeq. 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 www.psychologytoday.com.
The social dilemma: Social media and your mental health. Here’s How Social Media Affects Your Mental Health | McLean Hospital. (2022, January 21).
Sadagheyani, H. E., & Tatari, F. (2020). Investigating the role of social media on Mental Health. Mental Health and Social Inclusion, 25(1), 41–51. https://doi.org/10.1108/mhsi-06-2020- 0039
Stabler, C. M. (2021, September 1). The Effects of Social Media on Mental Health. Lancastergeneralhealth.org. https://www.lancastergeneralhealth.org/health-hub home/2021/september/the-effects-of-social-media-on-mental-health