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How Social Media Affects Mental Health

Social media keeps us constantly connected to the world around us. While having a community — even in a cyber world — can be beneficial, many people are not aware how social media affects mental health. Retweets, likes, and mentions can activate the reward center of the brain, reinforcing the need to stay continuously engaged. However, constant engagement on social media platforms can take a heavy toll on mental health, leading to depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.

What is Mental Health?

Mental health is a state of being that includes the ability to feel and process emotions in a positive and healthy manner. When a person has a strong foundation of good mental health, they understand how to use positive and healthy coping mechanisms, form social relationships, handle stresses and difficulties in everyday life. Positive mental health allows people to set goals and achieve them, be productive, and cope with stressors.

How Does Social Media Affect Mental Health?

How social media affects mental health is by activating the reward center of the brain. Every time there is a like, the brain is flooded with dopamine — a “feel good” chemical that creates feelings of reward and pleasure. This rush of reward and pleasure motivates a person to repeat behaviors — even if those behaviors aren’t particularly healthy. In short, social media is designed to be addictive.

According to the Pew Research Center, 81% of teenagers and 69% of adults in the United States use social media daily. Seeking validation via likes and comparing life to carefully curated posts puts a large amount of the population at an increased risk for depression and anxiety, among other issues.

Social media can have a negative impact on mental health by allowing the cycle designed by the platforms to break or disrupt important healthy habits. For instance, the use of social media disrupts the sleep cycle when the urge to check posts is stronger than realizing the importance of regular sleep habits. Fear of missing out drives people to spend more time than ever on their phones searching for anything that will bring any sort of satisfaction. Studies have proven that the anxiety, depression and stress from social media also lead to physical problems such as nausea, headaches and muscle tension.

Furthermore, social networks are expansive. Especially among younger people this large network of people in social media feeds can leave individuals exposed to cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is another way how social media affects mental health and is one of the leading contributors to feelings of depression and suicidal ideation among teenagers and young adults.

Signs That Social Media is Hurting Your Mental Health

It may not always be obvious if social media is affecting a young adult’s mental health. In fact most people do not realize the impact that social media has on their emotional and physical well-being. However, there are some clues to look out for if you are concerned about the effects of social media on mental health.

Some signs that social media is negatively affecting your mental health include the following:

Disengagement from in-person relationships — Time spend on social media can be all-consuming, sometimes to the point where you neglect your real life relationships. If you can’t remember the last time that you spent time with your friends and family outside of an app, it can be a sign that social media is hurting your mental health.

Lack of sleep — The need to check on likes, retweets, or respond to alerts can disrupt the sleep cycle. Furthermore, the light from the phone can disrupt circadian rhythms leading to an increase in depression and anxiety symptoms. If you’re not getting as much sleep as your body needs, it can have an impact on your psychological and physical well-being.

Poor self-esteem — Constantly comparing your real life to what you see on social media can lead to feelings of inadequacy and poor self-esteem. Though it may seem obvious that the images you see are a curated highlight reel, they can still invoke feelings of envy, dissatisfaction, and jealousy. Poor self-esteem is another way how social media affects mental health.

Poor impulse control — Constantly checking your phone for alerts from social media can lead to poor impulse control. The round-the-clock access to your social media feed can impact focus and concentration, as well as make it difficult to obtain from engaging in impulsive behavior.

Unhealthy coping mechanisms — Not only can social media be used to cope with feelings of boredom, sadness, or loneliness, but it can also give you access to other unhealthy coping mechanisms. Furthermore, you may use social media to distract you from negative emotions rather than processing them in more healthy ways.

How to Curb Social Media Use

If you think you may have a problem with your social media use, there are steps that you can take to reduce the time spent online. It is important to focus on your time, and allow for healthy habits, responsibilities and personal interactions to take precedent over social media. 

  • Don’t take your phone to bed with you. If you use your phone as an alarm clock, silence notifications.
  • Use the Do Not Disturb feature on your phone. You can do this periodically throughout the day, to help you focus more on school or work responsibilities. 
  • Disable notifications from social media apps. Disabling notifications will limit the number of disruptions in your daily life.
  • Ask yourself why you want to open an app. Are you bored or lonely? Are you checking on a friend? Do you want to post a picture?
  • Keep track of how long it has been since you checked an app. Make a conscious decision to take a 15 minute break before you open an app. Over time you may want to extend that time to 30 minutes, then an hour.

Being aware of how social media affects mental health is often the first step in restoring your psychological well-being. If you are still struggling with social media use and it is still impacting your mental health, it may be worth taking some time to ask yourself some questions and reach out for help. Determining your motivation for social media usage could open your eyes to ways to control it more.

Mental Health Treatment in Los Angeles, CA

If you think that your social media use is contributing to feelings of depression, anxiety, or other mental illness, it is important that you get the help you need. The experienced treatment professionals at Riviera Recovery know how social media affects mental health and can help provide you with the evidence-based tools you need to restore your mental well-being. For more information about our mental health services, or to learn about our Los Angeles sober living homes, reach out to our admissions staff today.

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