According to Statista, as of 2019, the average daily social media usage of internet users in the US amounted to two hours and 53 minutes. Now, if you don’t think this amount is actually bad – I don’t blame you. When I saw “almost 3 hours” per day I didn’t think it was too much either. But when I started to put into perspective, and thought what if I spent 3 hours a day doing anything else – then this time became quite a lot. What if instead of spending my time on daily mindless Instagram scrolling I started writing the book I always wanted to write? Or learning a new language or developing a new hobby?
You might be thinking: “Yes, I could do all of the above but I don’t see a problem being on social media. That’s where I get my inspiration and connect with friends”. So I would like to invite you to reflect if social media is not really affecting your mental & emotional health. And the reason for this invitation is because social media anxiety disorder is real and it is a mental health condition that is similar to social anxiety disorder. In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders in the United States and have increased 52% since 2017. Researchers have found that using social media obsessively causes more than just anxiety. In fact, they found that using too much internet can cause depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), impulsive disorder, problems with mental functioning, paranoia, and loneliness.
And all of the above is consequence of more than just the pressure of sharing things with others, it is also about how you may be comparing your life with others you see on Facebook, Instagram or TikTok. Many people see that someone on Instagram who has a great job, travels a lot, has a spouse or partner, and beautiful home and they feel happy for them. But, others can feel jealous, depressed, or may even feel suicidal about their own life if it is not as “perfect” as those they see on social media.
Social media has changed the way we live our lives. From the way we get our news to the way we interact with our loved ones. Social media is everywhere and we’re all slowly becoming addicts. Whether it’s scrolling down our bottomless Instagram feeds, or posting the perfect meal photo before eating, social media has a detrimental effect on our mental health. So below I am sharing 5 ways that social media could be negatively affecting your mental health without you even realizing, and what you could do instead:
The way you are using social media is probably not in your favor
We need to be more intentional how we use social media. We never get the car keys and start driving without a destination. Or when you do that the intention behind it is to calm down, or feel inspired. But when you reach that goal, you stop wandering around and drive back home. How many times do you grab your phone and open Instagram without an intention or objective and immediately start the mindless scrolling? Well, that’s when the (un)conscious social comparison happens and when we jeopardize our well-being. It’s hard for us to be truly happy if we constantly bombard ourselves with other people’s lives and concern ourselves with how we measure up to those around us. When we derive a sense of worth based on how we are doing relative to others, we place our happiness in a variable that is completely beyond our control.
What you can do: Create a list of 5-10 things you would like to learn/gain from social media. For example, discover a meditation practice that sticks for you, or learn how to be more productive, or how to write a book. After you have created your list, go follow the accounts that are aligned with the topics you picked and unfollow all the ones that are far away from teaching you something or adding value to your life. We should start being more intentional about social media and leverage it to learn things we always wanted to learn but “never had time” for them before. After all, it’s our daily habits that unfold the results.
Social comparison can be affecting your well-being
When we start putting value in what is important in our lives according to what other people have and do, we give up the power of creating our own happiness – in some level we lose control of our own lives. We all know that social comparison can do very little to our self-esteem and well-being, so it’s important to take some time to reflect how much comparing yourself to others on social media happens in your day to day life.
What you can do: Practice gratitude. As simple and as cliche as it sounds, to feel grateful for what you are already have is extremely powerful and effective when it comes to improving your well-being. For every “session” you spend on social media, set a timer for 10 minutes to create a list of 10-15 things you are grateful for. It could be to have access to water when you flush the toilet or brush your teeth, or your health, your family or something you did that day for yourself. Like American author Melody Beattie once wrote:
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”
Social media is addictive
Deep inside we all feel we should spend less time on social media, but for some reason it’s really hard to do so. The reason is because social media is addictive, the same way, for example, gambling is. It’s the same neurochemistry that keeps us going back for more mindless scrolling that leads gamblers to empty their wallets into slot machines.
What you can do: Make it as hard as possible to access social media from your phone and computer. Turn off notifications and logout from all your accounts, so every time you want to check Facebook you need to enter your email and password (good luck with that by the way). If you have a smart phone, drag all the social media applications to the last screen or create a folder and save all the apps there. Don’t even name the folder.
The light and amount of content is affecting your quality of sleep
If you sleep with your phone right next to your bed, your quality of sleep definitely needs improving. We all know that having enough sleep is fundamental for our overall well-being and happiness. However, not only the light from our devices keeps our brain on high alert, but being bombarded by the type of content social media offers right before going to bed, stimulates our brain too much preventing us from having a good night’s sleep and truly resting.
What you can do: Like our beloved Arianna says, escort your phone out of the bedroom before you go to bed. You can turn up the volume in case you use your phone as an alarm, so when it rings you can hear it, or just go old school and buy a proper alarm – it’s worth it. If escorting your phone out of the bedroom is too big of a step for you, keep it in a place beyond arm’s reach. Ultimately you want to avoid looking at your phone when going to sleep and do something that slows your brain.
Social media might be replacing your closest personal connections
How many times have you travelled somewhere or spent the day in a different neighborhood and posted on social media in hopes someone you know is also there, instead of calling them directly and asking if they want to meet up? Well, I confess, I have done that several times. In recent years the amount of time we have dedicated to screen time has corresponded with a similar decrease in the amount of time we have dedicated to nourish and maintain our closest personal connections.
What you can do: Next time you open social media choose instead to go to your contact’s list or messages and call a friend or family member for a glorious catch-up or a quick check-in. The happiness you derive from an authentic connection with another person will be far greater than a social media post, trust me.