Social media brings a lot of positive benefits into our lives, from enabling us to interact, collaborate, keep in contact with friends and even connect with people on the other side of the world. At just the touch of a button we can visually show the world what we’re doing, where we are, and what we’re eating, all in real time.
It has changed the way we communicate and share information, offering us a virtual reality full of communities and networks. Yet what about the reality that social media brings to our mental wellbeing? Most people would be at least acutely aware of the effects social media can have on our mood—suddenly feeling sad, anxious, lonely, depressed and wondering why we’re feeling all these things. To find out what you really need to know when it comes to social media and our mental health, we chat to Lysn psychologist, Noosha Anzab.
It can lower your self-esteem
Social media is essentially a curated version of real life, minus the bad times and any flaws. With a host of editing apps available at our fingertips, the majority of social media users have likely edited at least one photo in their time. This usually means the what you’re seeing is an unrealistic view of a person’s life, all positive and celebratory occasions and a filtered version of the person themselves. Our self esteem is affected from social media in two ways—one from comparing our lives to those of others which can intensify feelings of inferiority and two, from vanity metrics (getting likes and follows). We post a photo, wait for the likes and if the picture doesn’t live up to expectations, we will start to question things about ourselves.
It can make you feel lonely
Social media was created to make us more connected, yet ironically enough, it can actually make us feel more disconnected and lonely. When we see others interacting with each other in real life, it’s easy to notice that we’re not doing the same. Humans are extremely social creatures and we need each other for human interaction. We respond positively to in-person interaction, whether it be eye contact, touching, tone of voice and laughter. Unfortunately, we do not get these social cues from social media and over time it can make us feel isolated, which in turn can have a myriad of physiological effects.
It sets unrealistic expectations about life
Social media is the highlight reel of ones’ life, where we portray the 5 star holidays, the designer outfits and the close knit group of friends. It’s very rare that we will post when we’re having a bad day, when we don’t have makeup on or a photo of the hostel we stayed at. When we are constantly seeing things look a certain way, we start to expect things to be a certain way (even if this is on a subconscious level). Social media can create unrealistic expectations about life because it paints an idealised picture of what life should be.
This is likely a familiar feeling we’ve all had—you suddenly feel empty after reading a particularly upbeat social media post. You might feel jealous of that person’s perceived success and in turn feel bad about yourself. As humans we are inherently competitive and we like to show off, so it’s easy to feel envious of another. Social media can make you feel irrationally jealous which might just seem annoying, but jealousy can have harmful effects over time. Studies have shown that envy and physical pain actually use the same area of the brain, so it can physically hurt to feel jealous!
It’s highly addictive
According to a study, people are spending more time on social media each day than they do on eating, drinking, and socialising combined! This finding shows the huge power that social media can have over us, with our faces glued to our mobile phone screens rather than anywhere else. Social media is highly addictive because we feel a dopamine rush when we get likes, comments and follows. Social media allows us to feed our egos and talk about our favourite topic—ourselves! Humans usually spend around 30% of a conversation talking about themselves, but on social media posts it can be up to 80%. FOMO is also a big factor contributing to that addiction, with our curiosities wondering if there is something better happening on the screen rather than in real life.
What you can do about it:
Learn to limit your time on social media and evaluate how it makes you feel. As a general rule, social media should make you feel uplifted and connected, but if you find yourself susceptible to some negative effects, think about how much time you might be spending on it. Also look at who you’re following and how they might make you feel.
Do a cull of any people that might make you feel upset, or those ones that seem to be constantly boasting about their lives, which can bring about feelings of jealousy or isolation. Understand that social media is a curated version of life and what we see on there is not a direct correlation to real life. The key is to try not to compare yourself to others, especially when it comes to social media. If social media is getting you down, choose other activities that might make you feel better about yourself, such as arranging to spend time with friends in real life.
If you’re finding it is a little addictive, try to give yourself a social media ban, whether it be for one day, a week or a whole month. It’s easier to do this if you delete the apps from your phone, then re-download when you’re ready for social media again. If social media is making you feel anxious or depressed, consider seeking the help of a professional. Services like Lifeline and Beyond Blue all provide free support by way of over-the-phone counselling with trained experts. Services like Lysn also provide access to psychologists via phone or video chat, which can be accessed from the comfort of your own home.