Ever feel anxious or insecure after browsing through your Instagram feed? Are you constantly checking to see how many people have liked your latest Snapchat story or Facebook post?
Let’s face it: social media is a stress and anxiety trigger for many of us. In fact, according to a systematic review, social media can have a negative impact on your mental health and well-being. More specifically, it creates unrealistic expectations and standards that are nearly impossible to meet.
“Social media portrays the ideal image of what people want the world to see of them,” says therapist Jason Drake, LCSW. “We know it takes multiple attempts to stage that one perfect picture and as a result, what we view is not in fact the reality of that person's life.”
With a rise in screen time and social media usage in recent months, the pandemic has escalated the problem. Read on to find out how social media impacts your mental health, and what to do about it.
The validation trap: Are you tying your sense of self-worth to your social media status?
The need to “measure up” overrides the rational thought of how much effort goes into that perfect picture. And the likes and comments add more fuel to the fire, reinforcing the need to strive for that staged, ideal image.
The validation that comes along with social media is the root of the addiction. It’s the rush you get when you post selfies and all the positive attention that comes along with it. But that “high” sensation is fleeting: Once it passes, you want to feel it again, and the negative cycle continues. Essentially, we are living in a culture that breeds social comparison and narcissism — and this is greatly affecting young adults.
On the flipside, for the people who don’t get hundreds of likes, their self-esteem takes a hit and makes them feel unworthy. In severe cases, there may be cyberbullying which can cause low self-esteem and mental health issues.
“Striving for the ideal image and going after something unattainable creates a cycle of anxiety and depressive symptoms that negatively impacts your ability to function on a daily basis,” Drake explains.
4 tips to create a healthier relationship with social media
Ready to take your power back and combat the negative effects of social media? Follow these expert tips:
- Set boundaries and limit your screen time
“It's important to control the media, rather than let the media control you,” says Jason Wilkinson, marriage family therapist. The impact of social media is directly connected to your use of social media.
He recommends choosing one or two social media platforms and knowing why you're choosing to use them. Is it to be in touch with friends and family? Is it for business contacts? What's the purpose?
It’s also helpful to create a daily schedule for social media use and social networking. Come up with an amount of time that you're willing to spend on social media over 24 hours. Set a timer on your phone and stick to it. This will not only prevent you from getting sucked in, but will make you more mindful of your habits.
- Be selective about your friends and followers
Yes, it’s time to cleanse your social network. “Be intentional about the energy you allow in your social media feed,” says psychotherapist Jeni Woodfin, LMFT. “If someone's posts are bringing you down, time to hit the unfollow button.”
Are there influencers who contribute to your distorted body image? Also, do you have friends who boast about their accomplishments and "fabulous" daily life? Think about social media users who trigger your self-doubt and anxiety symptoms.
And on the opposite end of the spectrum, fill your feed with social support, positivity and joy, Woodfin adds. Create a social media experience that leaves you feeling happy and balanced before you put your phone down.
- Participate in activities that do not involve social media
Many young people have a fear of missing out. But FOMO is no excuse for being glued to your screen when you're socializing.
Be fully present and engaged with your real life, rather than your virtual one. Social interaction and social connection in the real world is important. The more time you spend looking down at your phone, the more you miss what’s happening in the moment.
The bottom line: When you’re out and about, put the phone away!
- Disconnect before bedtime
Your sleep quality and mental well-being are closely linked. And too much social media at night is scientifically proven to disrupt your rest, causing mental health problems and symptoms of depression down the road.
“Save the bedtime stories for fairytales and stay off your social media feed right before bedtime,” Woodfin explains. “Set yourself up for a successful night sleep and listen to a meditation podcast instead.” Your mind and body will thank you!
In the age of COVID, times are hard enough, and overall life satisfaction in the United States is at an all-time low. That's why it's important to spend less time worrying about what we can't control and more time focusing on what we can. And social media is a great place to start.
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