Social Media: Friend or Foe to our mental health
So, it looks like social media is here to stay, and whether it’s “good” or “bad” for our mental health is related to one thing: how it’s used! For that reason, it’s important to understand both the positives and negatives of social media, and how to use it responsibly and productively.
Starting with the positive side of things, social media connects people! This is a no-brainer. It helps us maintain existing relationships, create new ones, and rekindle old ones by sharing all our life experiences, while also keeping up with others. Social media allows us to connect with individuals who have similar interests, find support networks, and organize events, activities, and groups that may otherwise be impossible. Secondly,social media can help create a sense of belonging and build self-esteem. I follow several pages on Facebook that share heart-warming acts of kindness (and lots of puppy videos), as well as transparent and honest accounts of others personal hardships and successes- the kind of stories that just make you feel good inside. “Love What Matters” on Facebook is a personal favorite. We can identify with these pages because they create the realization that, “Hey! I’m actually not the only one that’s experienced this!” Social media also provides an outlet for creative personal expression where we can easily showcase our music, film, photography, artwork, and writing for others. Lastly, social media encourages learning and discovery by giving fast access to all kinds of information. Anything you could ever need or want to know is at your fingertips with social media (Did you know a shrimp’s heart is in its head?). Social media lets us develop new interests, introduces us to new ideas, and helps us deepen our appreciation and understanding of how others think and live all over the world.
Now, for the cons. Unfortunately, many of the same things that make social media great also make it potentially dangerous. For example, anonymity allows cyberbullies to victimize others without having to take responsibility; just as social media can bring people together for constructive reasons, it can also bring people together for very destructive reasons; and the quick spread of information also means fast access to false and unreliable information. Additionally… get ready, this is a long one… Social media can become an addiction, lead to a fear of missing out (FOMO), and serve as a means of comparison. WOW. I’m as guilty as anyone of switching mindlessly between apps on my phone. We’re constantly connected to others’ lives and can feel the need to attend (and post about) every event, or else feel insecure, jealous, and isolated. We may compare our success and happiness to that of the people we follow, while ignoring the fact that people generally put their best foot forward on social media. We generally don’t post about spending the whole weekend at home eating Cheetos and binge-watching Netflix, or share that unflattering photo from the Christmas party last year. Social media often presents an edited version of what’s actually going on, neglecting to share the real struggles and insecurities we all have. Lastly, concerning ourselves too much with social media can make us miss out on what’s going on in real life! How many times have you been to an event and seen people watching it through the screen of their phone rather than watching it live, right in front of them!? Living life through digital devices has a way of taking away from actual experiences- the sights, smells, and sounds of being fully present in the here-and-now.
Here are some tips to allow you to better enjoy the pros of social media, while avoiding the potential dangers. It’s all about balance.
1. Monitor yourself while on social media. How do you feel after being on it? How much time are you spending on social media? Avoid content that does not make you feel well, and take a minute to review the content and tone of what you’re posting before actually doing so. Are you focusing on the negative? Our online presence is an extension of our life offline, and our posts often reflect our real-life health.
2. Identify your offline, larger life goals, such as your career or schooling, relationships, and personal development. Does your social media use facilitate your goals? Or get in the way?
3. Take a break from social media! Spend time offline with friends and family, and live socially. There’s just some things you can’t do online- taking a walk, going to eat with friends, actually petting a puppy.
4. If you find yourself feeling jealous or having FOMO, it might be a good time to unplug and find other sources outside of your online life to build up your self-esteem. Volunteer or participate in an organized hobby or sport. Develop real-life connections with others that share your interests.
5. Children and teens are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of social media. For parents, it’s important to explain to your children your concerns about their social media use, as well as listen to theirs. Establish rules accordingly from these concerns using patience and understanding, and monitor their social media use, such as the content they are consuming and the amount of time they spend on the internet.
Written by Brooke Hudgins, MS, LAPC
Licensed Associate Professional Counselor