As a frequent social media user, I know how easy it is to get swept up in curating the perfect posts and profiles.
What started as a way to connect with friends and share life's moments has evolved into an unhealthy fixation with likes, hearts, and building a highlight reel of an inauthentic life.
While social media does have its benefits when used judiciously, many studies have found links between excessive social media use and issues like anxiety, depression, loneliness, and poor sleep quality.
The more I've learned about these effects, the more aware I've become of the subtle impacts to my own wellbeing.
The curated posts, fear of missing out, and social comparison were chipping away at my self-esteem and mental health in ways I didn't fully realize until I started limiting my use.
The truth is, while social media may seem harmless, it is secretly hurting our mental health.
In this article, I explore some of the ways social media negatively influences wellbeing and share strategies to help establish a healthier balance.
Social Media and Depression
Social media use has been linked to increased rates of depression, especially in teens and young adults.
As someone who has struggled with depression, I've experienced firsthand how social media can negatively impact mental health and wellbeing.
FOMO and Social Comparison
The fear of missing out (FOMO) and social comparison are two of the biggest culprits.
When we see friends and peers sharing curated glimpses into their glamorous lives, it's easy to feel like our own lives pale in comparison.
This can fuel feelings of inadequacy and jealousy.
Sleep and Mood Disruption
Excessive social media use, especially at night, has been shown to disrupt sleep patterns and mood regulation.
The blue light emitted from our devices tricks our brains into thinking it's daytime, suppressing melatonin production.
Lack of sleep is a risk factor for depression and anxiety.
Addiction and Distraction
Some people can become addicted to social media, compulsively checking updates and wasting hours mindlessly scrolling.
This distraction and avoidance prevents us from engaging in self-care, spending time with loved ones in person, and being fully present in the moment.
Tips for Using Social Media in a Healthy Way
The solution isn't necessarily quitting social media altogether.
Some tips for responsible use include: limiting check-ins to 3 times per day, disabling notifications, unfollowing accounts that make you feel inadequate, and spending more time engaging in real life social interaction.
When used in moderation, social media can be a useful tool for connection.
The key is being selective and making your mental health and real-world relationships the priority.
Social Media Use and Anxiety
Social media use has been linked to increased symptoms of anxiety and depression.
As someone who has struggled with anxiety for years, I've found that social media particularly exacerbates feelings of inadequacy and worry.
Fear of Missing Out
The curated posts on social media make everyone else's lives look perfect.
But in reality, people only share the highlights.
Constant exposure to these carefully crafted images of everyone else's lives can foster a fear of missing out and a sense that your own life is lacking in comparison.
For those prone to anxiety, this endless comparison-making and idealization of others can significantly worsen symptoms.
Distraction and Addiction
Excessive social media use trains your brain to constantly seek out external validation and instant gratification.
This behavior activates the same reward centers in the brain that are implicated in addiction.
The distraction provided by social media also prevents you from focusing on the present moment, which is an important skill for managing anxiety and stress.
Scrolling through social media before bed disrupts your circadian rhythm and makes it harder to fall asleep.
Most platforms are designed to keep you engaged for as long as possible, exposing you to bright lights and mental stimulation when you should be winding down for sleep.
Lack of sleep is a significant contributor to increased anxiety, stress, and worry.
FOMO: The Fear of Missing Out
As an avid social media user, I have experienced firsthand how it can negatively impact one's mental health and well-being.
One of the ways it does this is through fear of missing out, or FOMO.
FOMO: The Fear of Missing Out
FOMO is the feeling that your peers are having rewarding experiences that you're missing out on.
Social media allows us to curate our lives to seem picture-perfect, even if that's far from reality.
When we see friends and influencers on lavish trips, at exciting events, or just living glamorous lives, it's easy to feel like we're missing out in comparison or not living life to the fullest.
This phenomenon is amplified on social media.
We only see the highlights of other people's lives, not their daily struggles or mundane moments.
It's easy to perceive their lives as more exciting or fulfilled in contrast to our own.
FOMO can lead to decreased life satisfaction and happiness, as well as anxiety and depression.
To combat FOMO, it's important to limit social media use and be more mindful of how you engage with it:
•Reduce time spent scrolling.
Only check social media for short periods a few times per day.
This limits exposure to curated posts that fuel FOMO.
Only follow accounts that inspire or educate you.
Unfollow people who stoke feelings of inadequacy or FOMO.
•Remember, people curate their image.
No one's life is as perfect as portrayed on social media.
Focus on your own life instead of comparing it to the curated lives of others.
Exercise, engage in hobbies, spend time with loved ones, and do things you're passionate about.
Staying active and fulfilled in your own life helps alleviate FOMO.
•Limit social comparisons.
Appreciate the achievements of others but avoid directly comparing their lives to your own.
Their journey is not your journey.
By being more mindful of how you use social media and focusing on your own self-care, you can overcome FOMO and protect your mental health.
Comparing yourself to the curated lives of others will only make you feel inadequate in contrast.
Your worth isn't defined by what you post on social media or the exciting experiences you share with the world.
What matters most is living a life that is meaningful to you.
Social Media Addiction
Social media addiction is a very real problem that negatively impacts mental health and well-being.
As someone who has struggled with limiting social media use, I have experienced firsthand how it can become an unhealthy obsession and source of anxiety.
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
The fear of missing out, or FOMO, is a common driver of social media addiction.
When I see friends and family sharing photos and life events on social media that I’m not a part of, I feel left out and inadequate in comparison.
This triggers anxiety and a compulsion to check social media more frequently so I don’t miss anything else.
Over time, this cycle perpetuates and intensifies feelings of inadequacy in my own life.
Distraction and reduced focus
Excessive social media use trains my brain to constantly seek out information and stimulation.
This makes it difficult to focus on important tasks like work, school, and relationships.
I find myself distracted by notifications and an urge to check social media, even when I’m in the middle of something else.
Reduced focus and concentration negatively impact my productivity, performance, and the quality of my work.
Staring at bright screens late into the evening disrupts my circadian rhythm and makes it harder to fall asleep.
Scrolling through social media at night also stimulates my mind with new information that I continue to process even after putting the phone down.
This significantly reduces the restfulness and rejuvenation of my sleep, and the cycle continues when I wake up and immediately check social media again.
Anxiety and depression
For some, social media addiction can even contribute to or exacerbate symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
Exposure to carefully curated posts about the lives of others can fuel feelings of inadequacy in my own life and a tendency to negatively compare myself to others.
The more time I spend seeking validation and mood boosts from social media ‘likes’ and comments, the less time I spend engaged in self care, nurturing real-world relationships, and pursuing meaningful hobbies or activities.
To improve wellbeing, it's important to recognize signs of social media addiction and take steps to regain balance through more mindful technology use.
Reducing time spent on social media, limiting notifications, and engaging in self care are all effective strategies for nurturing better mental health and happiness.
Social Comparison and Self-Esteem
Social media allows us to carefully curate the parts of our lives we choose to share online.
However, this curation often leads to social comparison and diminished self-esteem.
As I scroll through posts, I find myself measuring my own life and accomplishments against the curated lives of others.
The lives we see on social media are not an accurate reflection of reality.
We post about exciting life events, vacations, promotions but rarely the mundane or struggles.
This gives the impression that the lives of others are more successful or glamorous than our own.
Studies show that social media use, especially viewing the curated posts of peers, leads to increased social comparison and decreased self-esteem and life satisfaction.
Fear of Missing Out
Seeing friends and peers engaging in fun activities or events on social media can lead to a fear of missing out or ‘FOMO’.
FOMO is the feeling that others are having rewarding experiences that you are not a part of.
This can negatively impact self-esteem and life satisfaction.
FOMO leads to increased social media use in an attempt to connect with others and be ‘in the know’ about what is going on.
But increased use often exacerbates feelings of inadequacy and loneliness.
Less Authentic Connections
While social media allows us to stay connected with a large network of people, these connections are often superficial.
We share less personal information and have less intimate interactions on social media versus in person.
These less authentic social connections do not provide the same psychological and emotional benefits as deeper, in-person relationships.
Relying primarily on social media for social interaction and validation can negatively impact self-esteem and mental well-being over time.
Cyberbullying and Online Harassment
As an avid social media user, I have experienced firsthand how it can negatively impact mental health and well-being.
One of the most damaging aspects is cyberbullying and online harassment.
Cyberbullying involves using technology to bully, harass, or intimidate someone.
It can include:
Sending threatening or harassing messages via text, email or messaging apps
Posting embarrassing photos of someone without their consent
Creating fake social media profiles to impersonate someone
Sending sexually explicit images without consent (cybersexual harassment)
Trolling: deliberately upsetting or angering someone by starting arguments or posting inflammatory messages
Cyberbullying can have devastating psychological impacts including anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and suicidal thoughts.
The anonymity of the internet emboldens bullies and the 24/7 nature of social media means there is no escape.
I have had messages or comments posted about me that made me feel violated and upset.
No one deserves to experience cyberbullying.
Online harassment refers to threatening, humiliating or intimidating behavior that causes fear or distress.
Stalking: repeatedly sending unwanted messages, monitoring someone online, or showing up uninvited
Doxing: sharing someone’s personal information like home address, phone number or workplace publicly without consent
Swatting: falsely reporting a serious emergency at someone’s address to provoke a police response
Revenge porn: sharing sexually explicit images of someone without their consent to cause distress or humiliation
Online harassment can escalate to real-world harassment and violence.
It aims to silence victims and violates their basic human rights to privacy, security and dignity.
The impacts are devastating.
I have had private images shared publicly before, causing deep embarrassment and shame.
More needs to be done to prevent and address online harassment to make the internet a safer place.
In summary, cyberbullying and online harassment are harmful behaviors that no one should have to endure.
By raising awareness of these issues, victims can find support and legal recourse, while perpetrators face consequences.
A kinder and more compassionate internet benefits us all.
Together, we can work to prevent and address cyberbullying and build a more positive online culture.
Disrupted Sleep Patterns From Nighttime Usage
As an avid social media user, I have noticed the effects it has on my sleeping patterns and overall rest.
Social media usage, especially at night, has been shown to negatively impact sleep quality and quantity.
Disrupted Circadian Rhythms
Our circadian rhythms are the natural cycles our bodies follow for sleep and wakefulness.
Staring at bright screens late into the evening disrupts these rhythms by suppressing melatonin production.
Melatonin is the hormone that makes us sleepy.
With less melatonin, it's harder to fall asleep.
Social media also exposes us to stimulating content that elevates our heart rate and body temperature, making us feel more alert when we should be winding down for bed.
Fear of Missing Out
The fear of missing out, also known as FOMO, is the feeling that your friends or peers are having rewarding experiences that you're absent from.
FOMO is a major driver of social media use and causes anxiety that makes it difficult to fall asleep.
You stay up scrolling through posts to see the latest updates, events you weren't invited to, and experiences you're not a part of.
This triggers feelings of inadequacy and restlessness that persist even after you put your phone away.
It's easy to lose track of time while absorbed in social media.
Before you know it, 30 minutes have passed and you've procrastinated going to bed.
This sleep procrastination, even when unintentional, reduces total sleep time and the amount of deep, restorative sleep you get.
Over time, chronic sleep deprivation from going to bed later and waking up at the same time can have serious health consequences like daytime fatigue, impaired memory, and weight gain.
To improve your sleep hygiene, avoid looking at bright screens 1 hour before bed, limit social media use in the evening, and try to put your phone away at a consistent time each night.
Making your bedroom as dark as possible, doing relaxing activities before bed like reading a book, and keeping a consistent sleep schedule will help ensure you get the rest you need.
Your mental and physical health will thank you.
Tips for Using Social Media in a Healthy Way
As an avid social media user, I have found that it can negatively impact my mental health and well-being if I am not mindful of how I engage with these platforms.
Based on research and my own experiences, here are some tips I have developed to use social media in a healthier way:
Limit Time Spent Scrolling
It is easy to lose track of time mindlessly scrolling through social media.
I try to limit my social media use to 30 minutes per day and avoid checking it within an hour of bedtime.
This helps reduce feelings of distraction, inadequacy, and anxiety that can arise from excessive social media use.
Curate Your Feed
The content we consume on social media can affect our mood and self-esteem.
I make an effort to follow accounts that post positive and inspiring content, and unfollow those that make me feel bad about myself or the world.
Seeking out and engaging with uplifting content helps create a more balanced perspective and boosts my optimism and happiness.
When I do post on social media, I aim to share content that is authentic to my life and experiences.
I avoid curating a perfectly polished image and instead share a balanced range of life's ups and downs.
Posting in an authentic way reduces feelings of pressure to project a curated image and allows for more genuine connections.
It also helps others connect with the real me.
While social media makes it easy to stay on the surface level with many acquaintances, I prioritize using it to foster real relationships and connections.
I reach out to close friends and family directly to start meaningful conversations, comment on their posts with questions or words of encouragement, and make an effort to meet in person when possible.
Focusing on the quality of my connections helps combat feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Take Regular Breaks
It is important to take periodic breaks from social media to disconnect from distractions and focus on the present moment.
I take one day off from all social media each week and a week-long break from it every few months.
Spending time away from social media helps me gain perspective, improve my concentration and creativity, nurture in-person relationships, and boost my overall well-being.
Moderation and balance are key.
FAQ: Answering Common Questions About Social Media and Mental Health
One of the most common questions I receive is whether social media use can negatively impact mental health.
After years of research, the short answer is yes.
Social media use has been linked to increased rates of anxiety, depression, loneliness, and FOMO (fear of missing out).
However, social media itself is not inherently bad.
When used moderately and mindfully, social media can have benefits like facilitating social connections and access to information.
How exactly does social media affect mental health?
Social media promotes social comparison and inadequacy about one's own life or appearance.
When we see curated posts about the lives of our peers, it's easy to feel like everyone else's life is better or more successful in comparison.
This can fuel anxiety, inadequacy, and depression.
Social media is highly addictive and designed to keep us scrolling.
The fear of missing out and desire for likes and hearts keeps us endlessly checking our feeds.
This behavior activates our brain's reward center, releasing dopamine that makes us feel good and keeps us coming back for more.
Over time, this cycle can be hard to break and leads to distraction, less productivity, and less real-world social interaction.
Social media spreads misinformation and "fake news." It can be hard to determine what's real and what's not, which leads to confusion, anxiety, and distrust in the media and scientific community.
This spread of misinformation has real-world consequences, as we've seen recently with the anti-vaccination movement.
What can be done?
The good news is there are some simple steps you can take to promote your mental health and wellbeing:
•Limit social media use to 30 minutes per day.
Disable notifications and only check intentionally.
•Follow accounts that spread positivity and truth.
Unfollow or mute accounts that make you feel inadequate or spread misinformation.
•Engage in in-person social interaction.
Make time to see friends and family face to face instead of just liking their posts.
•Be more mindful of how you use social media.
Don't compare yourself to what you see on social media and remember that people tend to curate the very best parts of their lives to post online.
•Get enough sleep and exercise.
Both sleep and exercise are essential for your mental health and can help combat some of the negative impacts of technology and social media use.
While social media itself is not to blame, how we choose to use it and how much time we spend on it can significantly impact our wellbeing.
With more mindful and balanced use, social media can absolutely be used for good.
The key is being more aware of how it influences you and making sure to prioritize the real-world relationships and activities that truly matter.
As I reflect on how social media has permeated nearly every aspect of our daily lives, I can't help but feel concerned about the impact on our wellbeing.
While social media does have benefits when used responsibly, we must be vigilant and self-aware.
We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to make our mental health and real-world relationships the priority over likes, hearts, and retweets.
The research is clear that excessive social media use can be damaging, but the good news is we have the power to make changes and find balance.
It will take effort and commitment, but by being more intentional with our time and interactions, valuing in-person connections, limiting distractions, and nurturing our mind and body, we can thrive in an age of information overload.
Our mental health depends on the choices we make each and every day.
Let's choose wisely.