Can Facebook Mess With Your Mind and Mood?
Is social media dragging you down? A clinical psychologist offers insight into why social media can hurt your mental health and how you can minimize the impact.
Do you find yourself checking Facebook or surfing your Twitter feed several times a day (or every hour, or more)? Social media can keep you connected and relieve boredom — but it can also make you feel addicted, depressed, or distracted from other important things.
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It’s a good idea to give some thought to how you use it and how it affects you. People also sometimes wonder: Could using social media harm my mental health?
Every day, 63 percent of Americans log into at least one social media site, often logging in multiple times a day, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.
Part of what makes social media so appealing, says clinical psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD, is that it offers you positive reinforcement when other users “like,” comment on or share your posts, updates or photos.
While social media use does offer positive reinforcement, it has a dark side, too. So it’s important to acknowledge the downside and take steps to control it so that it doesn’t start to control you.
Here are five things to watch out for — ways in which social media can sometimes have a negative impact on people’s mental health.
On social media, people tend to show off only the best parts or moments of their lives.
Dr. Bea says this tendency gives others an unrealistic view of what life is really like and makes some people feel that their life isn’t as good. Over time, the result of constantly comparing your life to some else’s can sometimes lead to diminished self-worth.
The real-time nature of social media sites compels many users to check in on an ongoing basis — because they fear missing out on what others are posting or doing. Studies show that fear of missing out (FOMO) can sometimes increase feelings of dissatisfaction and anxiety.
“Checking behavior is designed to reduce anxiety, but it actually ends up driving it,” says Dr. Bea. “People check in to reassure themselves, but reassurance can be like a drug with a short half-life.”
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh studied the social media habits of about 1,700 adults between the ages of 19 and 32. They found that those who used social media frequently were three times more likely than others to have trouble falling asleep.
When people post pictures of their nice vacations and possessions, it sometimes evokes feelings of envy or jealousy in others. These feelings, which can range from rage to humiliation, also sometimes lead to a decreased sense of self-worth.
Again, we may feel like our lives don’t measure up in comparison, but we forget that we’re only seeing the good things in other people’s lives — they are less likely to post about problems or bad news on social media.
Social media can sometimes glamorize the use of drugs, alcohol and reckless behavior, Dr. Bea says.
The risk here is highest for younger people because the pre-frontal cortex — the front part of the brain responsible for decision-making — isn’t fully developed until age 25, making those younger than 25 more likely enticed by bad behavior they see on their social media feeds.
If you are spending more time on social media sites than you like, think about how you can take control. Dr. Bea admits it can often be hard to break the cycle. He suggests putting yourself on a schedule of sorts. Try only checking in at specific time intervals and for only a specific amount of time each day.
“If you feel the negatives of social media use outweigh the positives or find that you can’t limit your use, stopping altogether may be best,” he says.
You can also try to reach out to friends and family and get together in person instead of online. Meet for lunch, take a walk together or just sit and chat — it can do wonders for your mental health.