Ever consider how your social media habits affect your mental health?
Not surprisingly, the use of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, can positively or negatively influence your mental state depending on how much energy you devote to crafting a personal narrative, making social comparisons, or keeping up with an endless friends list. In fact, the friends you choose to invite into your virtual networks influence your day-to-day mentality, and periodically cleansing these contact lists is a recommended strategy for maintaining mental wellness in the digital age.
Social Networking in the United States
In 2019, a national survey reported that over half of American adults were already using the social media platform Facebook. Since the coronavirus outbreak at the end of 2019, social media connections have only increased, with a staggering uptick of people connecting through social media in many parts of the world. Through these online contacts, or “friends,” online users exchange information in a way that shapes perceptions towards their own lives, whether or not this process is recognized. Interestingly, the number of friends acquired online ranges widely, from only a few people to in the thousands, with the average being in the mid 300s (2014 data).
Regardless of where your friend numbers fall on the social contacts spectrum, it is worth repeating that if you are communicating via these platforms, your mental state is being impacted with every scroll.
Social Media & Mental Health
The effects of social media on mental health have been documented with both positive and negative outcomes noted. For example, while Facebook and other digital outlets provide platforms for engagement among distanced friends and family, social media and mental health data reveals that the frequent use of social networking sites may also lead to depression and feelings of inadequacy.
Excessive social networking has even been compared to drug addiction due to the dopamine-related psychological rewards received when engaging in both drug and social media consumption. As noted in other addictions, indicators of unhealthy interaction with Facebook (and other sites) include when use continues despite negatively impacting other aspects in life, when a user’s mental health is sacrificed (think “doomscrolling,” or constantly surfing through stressful information), or when online interactions are the only kind of relationships that an individual has.
Despite the paradox surrounding digital networks and the common emphasis on negative effects, positive attributes of social platforms do exist.
Benefits of Social Media
Social networks are not all bad, and some of the benefits of social media have come to light during recent stay-at-home orders and COVID-related lockdowns, namely by providing social outlets during times of physical isolation. Additional positive effects of social media on mental health originate in social media’s ability to do the following:
- Provide distanced friends and family a means of connection despite distance.
- Give a virtual space for support groups to encourage each other while working towards common goals (i.e. diet, fitness, or sobriety).
- Present research opportunities for health or medical issues among already formed support groups (i.e. the coronavirus survivors).
- Support community goals with the organization of city-specific missions and projects.
- Grow businesses by allowing direct interaction with consumers.
In short, social websites provide an unprecedented way to connect with and impress upon a variety of people with minimal effort. The flip side occurs when the use of platforms begins to dominate a person’s life or negatively affects their perceptions or mental state.
Negative Effects of Social Media
Numerous studies have researched the negative effects of social media on mental health with findings often depicting that the more time spent online, the more likely the occurrence of depression, anxiety, and fear of missing out (FOMO). Specifically, the extended exposure to glorified versions of other people’s lives often causes viewers to continuously compare lifestyles, resulting in dissatisfaction with one’s own perceived reality. This unhealthy pattern sticks with a person long after logging off, creating adverse viewpoints of their world.
Additional impacts of networking that contribute to the psychological dangers of social media include opportunities for the user to experience the following:
- Cyberbullying from peer groups, friends, or acquaintances.
- Overwhelming time consumption leading to addiction.
- Perceived social isolation.
- A lack of real-world encounters.
- Oversharing and damage to reputations.
- Susceptibility to fraud, scams, or unsafe communication.
Benefits of staying off of social media, or of deleting it entirely, may include improved in-person relationships and less pressure to represent a standard.
If abstinence from social networking sounds extreme or the benefits of deleting social media do not outweigh the perks of staying digitally connected, minimizing exposure to unnecessary influences is still possible with a social media cleanse, and there is no better time to simplify networks than on November 17, National Unfriend Day.
National Unfriend Day
National Unfriend Day was coined by comedian Jimmy Kimmel in 2010 to inspire Facebook users to remove the contacts in their friend list who are not true friends or who are adversely impacting their day with unwanted noise. While this may have started as a comedic bit, it has become an annual reminder to protect virtual spaces and the influences allowed in our inner circle of virtual communities.
Given the amount of information willingly disclosed on social networks, it makes sense to reduce the readers of this information down to a trusted group. In turn, less information from fewer people is flooding timelines and feeds, and some value is returned to existing connections, allowing for a personal social media detox of sorts.
How to Do a Social Media Cleanse
Cutting down on contacts and cleansing your social connections involves an analysis of who is bringing joy to your life versus those who are merely there or that bring you down.
The easiest way to start this process is by deleting acquaintances on your friend list that you don’t really know or won’t miss seeing. An alternative strategy involves unfollowing people that you truly don’t enjoy viewing updates from, even if that person is an actual friend or family member. While this may be difficult at first, the value of disconnecting from continuous updates of situations that poorly impact your mental health encourage happiness in the long run.
Additional tips for healthier social media interactions include:
- Stick to an allotted time allowance on social media per week.
- Adjust settings on your phone to minimize the temptation to engage by:
- Turning off notifications.
- Placing your phone out of sight for a few hours a day.
- Putting your phone on silent or airplane mode.
- Taking a total hiatus by deleting social applications and connecting with people offline.
The value of high quality versus a high number of relationships is easy to overlook. National Unfriend Day serves as a pertinent reminder to not only continuously assess the connections allowed in your life but to also evaluate the effect their presence is having on your mental health.
Finding Mental Health Help
Understanding how social media affects relationships and mental health can help prevent experiencing the negative components of online networking. If you find that your mental health continues to suffer for any reason, the Blackberry Center is dedicated to providing safe, quality mental health care in the central Florida area.