Imagine waking up in the morning and reaching for your phone, scrolling through your social media feeds before getting out of bed. You start to feel a sense of anxiety as you see posts of people living seemingly perfect lives, achieving great things, or having fun with friends.
You compare your own life to theirs and feel like you're not measuring up. As you continue to scroll, you realize that hours have passed, and you haven't even gotten out of bed yet.
Social media has become an integral part of our lives, connecting us to people and events globally. However, the constant bombardment of posts and updates can hurt our mental health, leading to increased stress levels and negative outcomes.
In this blog, we will explore the dark side of social media and discuss coping strategies for managing its use to promote mental well-being.
Is social media controlling us?
Our daily lives now include social media in every aspect. The way we interact with the outside world has drastically changed, from scrolling through Instagram feeds to checking Twitter for the most recent news. Given that billions of people use social media platforms daily, it is obvious that they have a significant impact on our lives.
Imagine a group of friends who have been out of touch for a while. Social media allows them to reconnect and catch up on each other's lives, regardless of physical distance or time zones.
However, social media can have a profound impact on how we perceive ourselves and our place in the world. We see curated images of people leading happy and successful lives. In extreme cases, social media can contribute to negative mental health outcomes, such as anxiety or depression.
In the workplace, employers may use social media as a tool for networking or promoting their brand, but employees may feel pressure to engage in online networking or present a certain image on social media. This can contribute to added stress and anxiety, especially if employees feel like they are constantly "on" and must present a perfect image of themselves to the world.
Increased Stress Levels and Negative Mental Health Outcomes
The widespread use of social media has been associated with several detrimental effects on mental health, emphasizing the need for people to be aware of the possible hazards and to create mitigation techniques.
1. Social Comparison can lead to social comparison, where users compare their lives with others, leading to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.
Example: Comparison to her friend's designer bag on Instagram caused Neha to question her worth, leading to low self-esteem and dissatisfaction. This affected her mental health.
2. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) can make users anxious or stressed about missing out on events or experiences happening in their social circle.
Example: Seeing pictures of his friends on vacation, Raman felt like missing out on the fun and not being successful.
3. Cyberbullying makes users experience harassment, threats, or abusive messages online. It can be especially harmful to mental health as it can feel like an attack on one's character and identity.
Example: Aarav's new haircut post received negative comments and insults, leading to anxiety, low self-esteem, and social isolation.
4. Information Overload can be overwhelming, with an endless stream of news, updates, and notifications. This constant bombardment of information can lead to anxiety, stress, and a feeling of being out of control.
Example: Frequent social media checks for updates are overwhelming Gargi and hindering her focus on other tasks.
5. Sleep Disturbance results from using social media before bedtime. It can also disrupt sleep patterns and contribute to poor mental health outcomes.
Example: Late-night scrolling has been disrupting Raunak's sleep, causing fatigue and reduced productivity the following day.
6. Addiction can be addictive, leading to excessive use and neglect of other important activities. This can lead to a sense of guilt or shame and contribute to negative mental health outcomes.
Example: Excessive social media use has led to Tamanna experiencing social isolation and constantly feeling unhappy.
Negative Impact of Social Media
Social media has revolutionized communication and brought people together, but it has also had a detrimental impact that cannot be overlooked. Social media has developed into a haven for the dissemination of false information and the emergence of mental health problems.
Social media use may have detrimental effects on mental health, including elevated levels of anxiety, despair, and feelings of loneliness, according to a growing body of studies.
Several research and statistics that illustrate these effects are shown below:
The 2018 study by the Royal Society for Public Health found that social media usage increases anxiety, depression, and poor sleep, and negatively impacts youth's self-esteem and body image.
The 2020 Journal of Medical Internet Research study linked social media use with increased depression and anxiety in adults, particularly when used to handle stress or negative emotions.
The 2021 American Psychological Association survey revealed that 78% of adults experienced pandemic-related stress from social media while 43% felt overwhelmed/anxious, and 36% burned out from excessive use.
There are several notable Indian studies on the topic some of which are as follows:
A 2022 National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) survey revealed that social media led to stress, depression, inadequate sleep, and poor academic performance in over 63% of Indian students.
The 2019 Indian Journal of Psychiatry study revealed that excessive social media use among Indian adolescents caused increased anxiety and depression symptoms in both genders.
A 2022 National Library of Medicine study found that social media negatively impacts the mental health of adolescents through sexting, privacy concerns, education, and online interactions.
Some examples of how social media can increase stress levels are as follows:
"Scroll-a-Thon" Challenge: A competition to see who can go longest without checking social media highlights the addiction and time spent on these platforms.
"Filter vs. Reality" Experiment: Applying filters to photos creates unrealistic expectations and leads to feelings of inadequacy.
Pressure to Post: Social media can create pressure to constantly post, leading to stress and burnout, especially for business or professional purposes.
Privacy Concerns: Sharing personal data on social media raises concerns about privacy and security, leading to stress and anxiety about being hacked or stalked.
Online Trolls: Social media breeds anonymous hurtful comments, negative feedback, and persistent trolling, causing anxiety, low self-esteem, and stress.
Comparison Trap: Social media displays achievements, and lavish lifestyles, inducing comparison, feelings of inadequacy, and low self-esteem.
Coping Strategies for Managing Social Media Use
Social media may be like a never-ending buffet of information, and just as overconsumption of food at a buffet can cause physical discomfort and stress, so too can excessive use of social media.
Social media may link us to people and information we might not otherwise have access to, but if we're not careful, it can also result in tension, worry, and addiction. So moderation is crucial, just like at any buffet.
Coping mechanisms can facilitate well-being by assisting in the control of social media use. Here are some pointers for keeping up a positive relationship with social media, from taking breaks to establishing boundaries:
1. Use Social Media for Good
Social media can serve as a powerful tool for inspiration, education, and building connections. By intentionally following accounts that inspire and inform you, and connecting with like-minded individuals who share your interests, values, and goals, you can maximize the benefits of social media for personal and professional growth.
2. Set Boundaries and Limit Time
Setting boundaries and limiting your time on social media is essential for maintaining a positive connection with it. Set a daily schedule for when and how long you'll use it. Avoid looking at it right before going to sleep, right after waking up, during meals, or at other crucial times.
3. Take Breaks
Regularly disconnect from social media to refresh your thoughts and restore vitality. Use this time to read, spend time with family and friends, or engage in an activity that you find enjoyable. If more time is required, think about putting your mental and emotional well-being first.
4. Be Mindful of Your Emotions
Observe how specific accounts or postings make you feel and change how you utilize them as necessary. Take a step back and engage in self-care whenever you start to feel stressed or overburdened. Keeping this in mind, don't be afraid to take a break or unfollow accounts that aren't helpful to you.
5. Engage With Intention
When you do engage with social media, do so with intention. Ask yourself why you're using social media at that moment, and what you hope to gain from your time online. Engage with content that aligns with your values and goals, and avoid getting caught up in drama or negativity.
6. Practice Empathy
Social media can easily become a place for negativity, hostility, and division. However, practicing empathy towards others can counteract this. By trying to see things from their perspective, even if you don't agree, you can avoid getting caught up in negativity and contribute to a more positive online environment.
7. Prioritize Real-life Connections
While social media can facilitate connections, it's important not to neglect in-person relationships. Make a conscious effort to prioritize face-to-face interactions with loved ones and focus on building strong connections outside of social media. This can help foster deeper relationships and provide a more well-rounded sense of social support.
8. Seek Support
If you're dealing with mental health issues, don't hesitate to seek help. Reach out to trusted friends, family, or a mental health professional for support. Remember, you don't have to suffer alone and there is no shame in seeking help for your mental health.
9. Be Selective
Be selective about the content you consume on social media. Follow accounts mindfully that bring joy and positivity to your feed. Curating your social media experience can support your mental well-being.
10. Physical Interaction
Prioritize physical interaction with loved ones as a way to maintain your mental health. Plan a picnic in the park, join a book club, or find other ways to connect with friends and family outside of social media. Building and maintaining in-person relationships is crucial for overall well-being.
Role of Social Media Companies and Society
Social media has dominated our lives in the current digital era. Social media can hurt our mental health, relationships, and general well-being even though it has many beneficial qualities. Therefore, it is the duty of social media firms as well as the general public to encourage responsible social media use.
We can maximize social media's benefits while reducing any possible drawbacks by encouraging thoughtful use of the platform. Let's collaborate to develop a more positive and effective internet culture.
Social Media Company Initiatives
"Screen Time" feature on iPhones: It allows users to set time limits on certain apps, including social media apps. By setting limits, users can ensure they are not spending too much time on social media, which can lead to addiction, distraction, and decreased productivity.
Facebook India's "We Think Digital": To promote digital literacy and safety among the youth in India, Facebook has partnered with various organizations to conduct workshops and training programs on digital safety, online privacy, and responsible social media use.
Instagram India's "Unlabel India": Instagram India has collaborated with several creators and organizations to promote body positivity and self-love, increase awareness of body shaming, and encourage users to embrace their own identities.
The Royal Society for Public Health's #StatusOfMind report: It intends to shed light on both the beneficial and detrimental effects of social media on the mental health of young people. The research offers advice to social media businesses and decision-makers on how to enhance the online experience for children.
Indian government's "Let's Talk" campaign: It aims to promote early intervention and lessen the stigma associated with mental health. The program offers information for anyone who wishes to learn more about mental health as well as a toll-free helpline for those who need it.
Live Love Laugh Foundation's "It's Okay to Talk" campaign: An NGO focusing on mental health, it aims to raise awareness about mental health issues and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. The foundation has also launched a digital platform called "The Happy Place" to provide mental health resources and support to people.
Social media has undoubtedly hurt mental health, from increasing feelings of anxiety and depression to lowering self-esteem and creating addiction-like behaviors. However, it's important to recognize that social media isn't all bad, and there are ways to manage its use to mitigate these negative effects.
As we move forward, we must continue to educate ourselves and others on the potential harm of excessive social media use and prioritize research into understanding its effects on mental health. With continued awareness and intentional use, we can create a healthier relationship with social media and prioritize our well-being in the digital age.