5 Ways Social Media Negatively Impacts Mental Health

social media chicago

By: Kari Harrison

If you’re like most of us, somewhere in your morning routine includes a social media check. You might browse your instagram feed and like a few posts, check facebook for notifications, open snapchat to see who watched your story. But, if you find yourself becoming increasingly distracted by social media throughout the day, and find that your social media use actually impacts your mood, you are not alone. Social media can negatively impact our mental health.

If you notice any of the following in yourself, it might be time to do some personal self reflection regarding whether your social media presence and engagement is the best utilization of your time. Here’s why…

  1. You can become addicted…

Social media use actually works on our brain’s reward system. With each like, comment, and positive social media interaction with another person, it plays into our inherent need to connect with others and provides an ego boost. Research indicates that the validation we can receive through connecting with others online or being perceived positively by people online is incredibly powerful, and gives us a shot of dopamine similar to that of sex or food. For some, it might be even more addicting than alcohol or cigarettes.

  1. You may start comparing yourself and your life to others at the sacrifice of your own self esteem…

Oh the grass is always greener, isn’t it? Your friend must have the perfect relationship  because they do #MCM and #WCW posts every week. Your boyfriend’s ex girlfriend is prettier than you. Your old co-worker went on a 3 week long vacation to Thailand while you’re stuck working a 50 hour week.

You know what the problem with this is? It only captures a part of the story. That friend with the “perfect relationship” fights with her boyfriend. I guarantee it. And in fact, those who incessantly post about their relationship online often do so because they have self esteem that is highly dependent on their relationship status.

The girl you think is prettier than you has personal problems, insecurities, and bad hair days just like everyone else, so her filtered selfies are not a worthy comparison to you as a whole person. Your old co-worker’s photos from Thailand showcase the best parts of her vacation, not the stressful aspects, the lonely and confusing moments, and the financial burden that comes inherently with exploring a new place.

Point is, when you are comparing yourself and your life to one you see online, you are comparing yourself and your life to an IMAGE of a person and a life, not a comprehensive reality.

  1. It can distract you from functioning in a more efficient and fulfilling way…

The average person spends about an hour and 40 minutes on social media. If you’re spending more time than the average person online, you might want to think about how that time could be better allocated.

That extra hour of social media time could be used learning a new hobby or skill you have always wanted to try, finally getting around to reading that book your friend lent you, having a meaningful conversation with a friend or family member over coffee, taking an exercise class…you catch my drift.

When you are on your deathbed, do you want to look back with pride at all the meaningful experiences you had and relationships you nourished? Or do you want to look back and see a person who relentlessly checked their phone for Instagram likes. Let me guess, the former? Yeah, me too…

  1. It can impair social connection IRL and your real life relationships…

Speaking of fulfilling and nourishing relationships, your social media use might be negatively impacting them. Big time. If you’re checking your social media when you’re out to dinner with your partner or a friend, you are setting up a roadblock for interpersonal intimacy that can truly damage the connection.

Is the connection to your phone more or less valuable than the connection to the people in your life? Nothing can take the place of human connection IRL.

Your social media presence is not an indication of a life well lived, but the healthiness and fulfillment of your relationships are.

  1. You may experience FOMO which makes it difficult to feel grateful for what is happening in your life in the here and now…

FOMO impacts mindfulness, that is, your ability to focus your awareness on the present moment and how you are thinking and feeling within a moment that is actually happening to you, right now.  Reduced mindfulness heightens our anxiety, and fixating on where we are not instead of where we are is never the best use of our time. Your life is happening to you right now in your body and in your environment. Life is not happening to you on your friend’s trip to New York.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, you may be experiencing negative mental health impacts of too much social media use. If you are already vulnerable to experiencing anxiety and depression, excessive social media use may do more harm than good.

Strategies can include taking social media breaks for days or even weeks at a time or allocating a set number of time per day to check and utilize social media, or creating a schedule for your social media use, rather than randomly looking to your facebook to comfort you in a moment of boredom or loneliness (because I promise you, even if it helps in the moment, it won’t help in the long run).

Real life doesn’t happen in an instagram filter, so don’t let social media become a barometer for your happiness. Nothing can take the place of authentic human connection and real life experiences. If you find yourself negatively impacted by your social media presence, it might be time to put your phone down and work towards living your best life for YOU, rather than curating one for others to see on social media.