It’s no secret that social media connects us like never before. In an instant, we can snap pictures and post our whereabouts (think that selfie from your backpacking trip in Europe) and also keep tabs on what our friends are up to. I love social media. It has been an integral part of my professional life and is a great way to keep in touch with my loved ones. But it is not without its problems.
In the past few years, there has been public and medical concern about such topics as cyber-bullying and too much screen time (particularly for young people). As a psychotherapist, I’d like to address one more issue as it relates to mental health and social media: that of internet loneliness, depression, and feelings of low self-esteem.
Research has shown links between near constant posting with lower levels of life satisfaction; it seems that perhaps the more we tweet, hashtag, or share, the unhappier we are. There are numerous reasons why this could be the case: maybe some individuals turn to Facebook when they’re feeling low or in need of validation or support. Who doesn’t get an instant pick-me-up from “likes” on their photo? Maybe someone is feeling lonely, so he/ she posts a status in an attempt to reach out for connection. Also, social media is often used as an outlet for boredom or stress, which would explain the discontentment reported by the participants surveyed in the study.
Incessant browsing can be a problem, too.
Have you ever found yourself looking at the wedding photos or family blog of someone you don’t know? I know I have! While it’s true we can get creative inspiration from sites like Pinterest, spending too much time or mental energy on what other people display online can drain us and also bring feelings of inadequacy when our life doesn’t seem as put together, our body as toned, or our family as perfect as those we see through the iPhone screen. We also may feel lonely or excluded looking at pictures of other people having a good time without us.
So heavy social media usage can be an indication of loneliness, but is it a cause of it? Probably not. Still, the connection is strong enough that I think we ought to be mindful of how we use these platforms as they relate to our own mental and emotional well-being.
What You Can Do
If you find yourself feeling down when looking at other people’s blogs or profiles or feel jealous of them, make a conscious effort to stop comparing! Eleanor Roosevelt said that “comparison is the thief of joy.” Remember also that we usually put our very best self online for display. I’ve heard it said that Facebook shows the front door, or the desirable, attractive side. Everyone has messiness, everyone has problems, and what we see on social media is a skewed, incomplete version of reality. So much of it isn’t real!
Another thing to do if you find yourself online too much is to seek out face-to-face interactions. It’s easy to sit home and sulk when we’re struggling, but I challenge you to call up a friend and talk with your voice instead of your fingers. Resist the urge to mindlessly surf, go for a walk, create something artistic and new, or find another way to connect with people who care about you.
Overall, I encourage you to take an honest look at your relationship with social media. Do you use it as an escape? Does it bring you closer to people or further from them? What tweaks can you make in your daily routine to have it benefit it and not hurt you? Use your best judgment to utilize Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms wisely.