The capabilities and functionalities of social media are absolutely awe-inspiring. I mean, these platforms allow us to upload our thoughts and our experiences to the web in a matter of seconds; they enable us to have instant conversations with people on the complete opposite side of the world; and they facilitate upkeep of some of our most dear relationships, which would easily fall apart otherwise.
But that which glitters is not always gold. There are downsides to social media, even harmful effects on your health if you aren’t careful. “Although social media has done wonders to connect people all over the world, its pervasiveness and addictiveness does have an impact on mental health,” Dr. Bryan Bruno, Medical Director at Mid City TMS, explains. Here are a few reasons why, followed by a few helpful solutions:
1) Constant comparison of yourself to others.
“Social media users have more access to others’ photos and will naturally compare themselves to them. It’s constant, and it can lead to low self-esteem and potentially depression,” Bruno explains. “Receiving ‘likes’ and praise online can literally affect your brain. Activity in the brain’s region known as the nucleus accumbens increases when users get more online engagement. This region is the part of the brain’s reward circuitry and although it will light up when you see results you like on social media, activity decreases when you see things you don’t. This can lead to decreased brain activity and increased susceptibility to depressive thoughts.”
So, how can you combat this downside of social media? Well, you can take the wheel by first recognizing social media as the highlight reel that it is. What I mean is we all paint ourselves in a positive light on social media. We only post flattering pictures and redeeming or commendable statuses and tweets—often hiding the flaws, the not so envious parts of ourselves. Acknowledge this truth, keep it in mind while you scroll, and do what you can to break the mold. Start sharing real photos and life updates. And be a positive role model for all of your followers.
2) The need to know what’s going on.
There’s also a great deal of FOMO (or fear of missing out) involved, as explained by Bruno: “Social media can remind you you’re missing out on something, which can make you feel abandoned and depressed. It also involves you in issues and discussions you might not otherwise be in, which can be overwhelming. Studies have shown that there is a link between how much time an individual spends on social media and physical symptoms too, like headaches and shortness of breath caused by the rushing hormones in the brain,” he says.
The workaround for this one is to engage with a purpose. Only sign on to social media when you have a purpose, whether that be to share some good/bad news, to chat with a relative, or to post a selfie. This’ll help to stop that endless scrolling and, in turn, prevent you from experiencing a whole lot of FOMO. For those times that you do scroll through your feeds and feel anxious or jealous, return your focus on your life. Think about all you have going for you, maybe even right down some of your gratitudes, and then try to feel happy for instead of envious of that person.
3) Online engagement before bed.
And finally, the time many of us spend on social media right before bed is nothing but harmful, due to blue light and overstimulation: “A common tendency for many social media users is to check in before bed. A phone’s light can stimulate the brain when it should be preparing for rest, and then disrupt your circadian rhythm, potentially leading to issues of insomnia,” Bruno explains. “Sleep disruption and sleep deprivation have been proven to directly relate to mental health issues; insomniacs are 10 times as likely to have clinical depression and 17 times as likely to have clinical anxiety. Sleep deprivation will cause the brain’s amygdala to have greater responses to negative stimuli than a properly rested and restored brain. This implies you have less control over your emotions, which can lead to depression.”
The solution to this problem (if you have it) is simple: don’t scroll before bed. Keep the devices out of the bedroom. Buy a new alarm clock. Replace this bad habit with a better one. Do whatever it takes to stop engaging on social media right before you go to sleep. It might seem like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but trust me, I’m not. Or you know what, don’t trust me—you heard it from Dr. Bruno!