Over the past decade, social media has become a common part of our lives. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and a host of other start-ups hold our attention throughout the day, providing us with information, social interaction, entertainment, and more. However, we are now learning what impact this new technology has on mental health. Research has consistently shown that there is a high correlation between social media use and depression, so it’s important to understand what social media depression is, and how it can affect you.
Is Social Media Hurting Your Mental Health? Social media expert: Bailey Parnell from TEDx Talks
Is Social Media Causing Your Depression?
Depression is a serious mental health problem and it can have a multitude of causes. Social media may be a cause of your depression and it can have several different effects on you. Depending on the user, social media can cause depression through information overload, observing the lives of other people, and neglecting your personal and professional life due to distraction through the feeling of wasted time.
According to the Child Mind Institute, children who are heavy social media users are up to 66% more likely to be suffering from depression. If you are a heavy social media user, social media may contribute to depression. Consult with a professional if you are experiencing depression. It is possible that you may be experiencing social media depression.
Signs and Symptoms of Social Media Depression
Different forms of depression usually have a common set of symptoms. These symptoms include feelings of extreme sadness, loss of interest or appetite, thoughts of suicide, and more. Social media depression also comes with many of these symptoms and paired with other signs, are the result of excessive or unhealthy social media use.
Feeling constantly distracted can be a sign of unhealthy social media use. It’s perfectly common to have days where you feel detached or distracted. This can be caused by being tired, hungry, or a number of other things. But, if you constantly find yourself unable to focus at work or focus on your family, because you keep checking your news feeds, you may be using social media excessively. Repeated use of social media causes your brain to become dependent on the rewards systems put in place by social media networks, making it harder to concentrate or pay attention outside of social media.
A prolonged loss of focus in the long term can be a sign of social media depression. Humans are naturally goal oriented and will work to achieve those goals. Even if you have a few days where you feel aimless or lost, overall this is natural. But excessive social media use can create a feeling of being lost, making you lose focus of your goals. Often times, it is because we feel shame when our lives don’t measure up to our friends on social media. Lowered self-esteem causes us to lose the motivation to achieve our own goals. It’s important to remember that the posts we see on social media are often highly curated, exaggerated, and sometimes even fake.
3. Loss of Time
Social media companies make their money by the
People experiencing social media depression are prone to spend even more time on social media, feeding into their loss of motivation for things they do in their normal lives. Paying attention to the time you spend on social media is vital because your depression may be a result of too much social media.
Many people feel anxiety because of social media. This is usually related to the huge amount of information thrown at us from these sites. From advertisements to the news to natural disasters. Humans weren’t designed to handle this amount of information. At some point, it can become too overwhelming and can cause you anxiety. As we persist and stay on the sites, it makes the anxiety even worse. The lingering effects of anxiety from social media use and information overload can discourage us from doing things we normally love and is a symptom of social media depression.
Many of our interactions with social media involve images of other people’s luxurious homes, extravagant vacations, and a seemingly perfect life. This leads many users to become frustrated and dissatisfied with their own lives and is the root of envy in others. This envy is unhealthy for a number of reasons.
Psychology Today writes that being envious of others is a warning sign of social media depression. Many of these lifestyles aren’t real, or are hugely exaggerated, making what we see truly unobtainable. By believing that these are attainable and ideal goals, we can set unrealistic expectations for ourselves, or worse, lose motivation altogether.
It’s no surprise that many of us hop on Instagram before bed, but sometimes we get stuck on these social media feeds for hours. Constant lack of sleep with no other cause can be a sign of excessive social media use. Lack of sleep is also a common symptom of depression. If you or someone around you is constantly losing sleep due to long periods of social media use, you may be at risk of social media depression.
Cyberbullying is a real problem and a true danger to those who use social media. Cyberbullying.org, states that cyberbullying is related to thoughts of suicide, anger, frustration, and several other mental health issues. It’s much more common among teenagers, but it is equally harmful to adults.
Cyberbullying can range from spamming unwanted messages to death threats. This makes it difficult for researchers to study. Social media use is highly correlated with cyberbullying since it’s an easily accessible platform for both bullies and victims. Cyberbullying can contribute to a multitude of mental illnesses and is a result of social media depression.
Real Relationships vs Virtual Relationships
One of the best parts of social media is the easy access it gives us to other people. We can reconnect with old friends, keep in touch with distant relatives, and meet new people that can enrich our lives. While there is a lot of debate on this, experts at the Anxiety and Depression Association of America believe that real relationships are more important to social development than virtual ones.
With adults, there is a risk of prioritizing virtual relationships over real ones, of losing the vital face-to-face interaction of the real world, and of increasing social isolation. However, social isolation and loss of true human connection is an increasing danger in young children today because they are now prioritizing virtual relationships over real relationships.
The Dangers of Social Isolation
Social isolation is highly correlated with depression, and social media has the potential to make it worse. With many of us turning to social media instead of real people when we’re bored, the risk of social isolation is increasing. Social media depression promotes self-isolation, or self-perceived isolation, making it even more difficult to have healthy social relationships.
1. We Need Human Contact
Humans are social animals. We live in groups, have fun with others, and work with others. While alone time is perfectly healthy, human contact regulates our mood and overall mental health. When we become isolated and don’t interact with people, we risk depression, anxiety, feelings of resentment, and more. Unfortunately, this can lead to choosing virtual relationships, which could make things even worse. Turn to those close to you in life, like coworkers or family, and try to have in-person interactions.
2. Isolation Drives Social Media Use
It’s far too easy to replace human interaction with social media, due to convenience. Chatting with friends on social media can create a positive feedback loop where social media drives isolation and drives social media. We can get stuck in a continuous loop of reading friends posts, creating our own posts, chatting about current events, and reading opinions about current events. Social media is addictive and is now considered to be a child’s first addiction.
“Facebook, Twitter, and other companies use methods similar to the gambling industry to keep users on their sites.” The same individuals who work at the companies that hire experts from Las Vegas to recreate the psychological gambling machine are raising their kids tech-free. Silicon Valley parents are even sending their kids to private schools that don’t use technology but use chalkboards instead.
Social media addiction can dig you into a hole of social isolation that gets harder and harder to get out of. This can lead to social media depression, making social interaction, personal productivity, and good mental health difficult to maintain.
3. Social Media Lowers Your Self-Esteem
We grow as individuals through learning and interacting with those around us. Conveying our ideas, thoughts, and even receiving critical feedback aids in personal growth and development. When we lose social interaction and stop connecting with those around us by replacing genuine human connection with virtual relationships, it can hinder our self-improvement.
Unfortunately, a lot of us spend more time with our online personas than our true selves. This results in cognitive dissonance. Furthermore, we want to be desirable to those around us, meaning we can feel undesirable if we don’t interact with anyone. Social isolation can reduce self-esteem and is a contributor to social media depression.
4. Social Media Isn’t Always an Outlet
It’s easy to feel like we can always express ourselves, have true connections, or even just easily pass the time through social media. These are true sometimes, but it’s important to remember that social media is not always the best outlet for self-expression. By turning to social media for personal expression and interaction, we ignore like-minded individuals in our community.
Instead of joining a local group, taking action, and fostering a cause that you are passionate about, you may find yourself lost on social media, fighting and arguing your viewpoint with individuals. This leads to frustration. You may be caught up in racing thoughts instead of taking action, causing you to be unproductive. Social isolation can push you towards social media as your only means to express thoughts and ideas leading to increased anxiety and social media depression.
Managing Social Media Depression
1. Consider Having a Social Media Fast
If people can fast from food for health benefits, it may be wise to consider fasting from social media for health benefits as well. Removing social media apps from your phone for a period of time can help you get rid of the compulsions to check your news feed. You can apply this to all social media platforms or any particular one that you feel you need to avoid.
Fasting from social media can be as short as a day and can even be as long as forever. However, when you decide on this, make sure that your friends and family are aware. If social media is your primary form of communication, don’t forget to give your cell phone number to the key people you want in your life.
2. Develop an Alternate Hobby
If you find yourself lost in a pattern of social media and depression, you need to find a new hobby. Instead of spending time scrolling through your Instagram, Facebook or Twitter feeds, find a hobby that you love. Support a cause you are passionate about. Instead of talking about your interests on social media, take action! Remember, things that you are passionate about aren’t supposed to make you depressed.
Interests can include cooking, photography, sports or volunteering at a local animal shelter. Spending time on what you are truly passionate about will foster self-development and help you gain mental clarity. If you participate in local groups, you can make real friends and not just friends online. Replacing your bad habit of always checking your social media accounts and turning it into a productive one will allow you to enjoy your life.
3. Know that Social Media Only Highlights the Best Parts of People’s Lives
When you always find yourself feeling sad because you think that your life isn’t as exciting or rewarding as that of other people, understand that friends on social media are only their online personas. It’s how people want others to see them. This image does not include the small problems and insecurities that people encounter on a daily basis. When you realize that fact, you will begin to understand that everyone is just like you, with their own set of failures and victories.
4. Keep a Gratitude Journal
What benefit does a person get when they spend their energy filling their minds with other people’s mundane activities? None. Although some people have the goal of entertaining others, most of your social media friends display ordinary daily life activities that don’t have any bearing on yours. Remove yourself from this time-wasting obsession by focusing on your own life.
Start writing in a gratitude journal. Every morning, list at least three things you are thankful for. It doesn’t have to be grand; it can be as simple as waking up to a sunny day or eating a delicious breakfast. A gratitude journal can help you focus on the positive aspects of your life that often go unnoticed.
5. Understand that Life is Never a Competition
Life is never a contest on who has more money or who is better looking. Social media’s original purpose is about connecting the world and making it easier to stay in touch with friends and relatives. When you find yourself evaluating your life because of other people’s success, remember that this is your life to live. You only have one life. Time is precious. It is your sole decision on how you want to live it.
Developing a Healthy Relationship with Technology
Technology and social media have had huge impacts on society. Most of these impacts are positive, like access to information, an easily connected social experience, and a plethora of other benefits. However, this doesn’t mean we don’t have to work to make sure we interact with technology in a healthy way. Here are a few ways to develop a healthy relationship with technology.
Use Social Media in Moderation
Despite the reality of social media depression, it’s still okay to use social media. It’s an easy way to stay up-to-date with friends and loved ones, and to learn new information. Instead of using it as a major pass time, try to use it functionally. Login to facebook only to find a specific post, or check Instagram when you want to see a specific page.
Set limits for yourself, so you don’t become immersed, and so you don’t lose hours of precious time doing things that you actually love. This will let you get the full use of social media without running a risk to your mental health.
Take Advantage of the Benefits of Technology
Technology has so many advantages that we don’t even use. Many of us are slow to backup our data to the cloud, or to create group messages for important team tasks. By using all of the benefits of technology and social media available to us, we can learn to see it as a powerful tool, rather than as a replacement for human interaction.
Leave Behind the Disadvantages
There are many disadvantages of technology that we can leave behind. We can become addicted to social media, obsessed with checking our email, swamped with notifications, and more. Fortunately, most Facebook notifications aren’t vital to our well being and personal growth. Silence your notifications, check your emails at set times during the day, and put your phone in the do-not-disturb mode to make sure that you use your technology and not the other way around.
Understanding Social Media Depression
Social media is a new and exciting phenomenon that we’re still learning about. Experts agree that social media depression is real, and we’re still in the process of learning about how social media needs to be integrated into our lives. By learning about how depression and mental health interact with social media, we increase our ability to interact with it in a healthy, sustainable way.