In many ways, social media is meant to replicate how humans interact with each other. Connecting with familiar faces, co-workers, friends from the past, and those with shared interests is fun and interesting. It also helps make people feel as though they’re part of a community. Many have even met their spouses or found new job opportunities through social media apps.
Despite the benefits of using social media, the saying “you can get too much of a good thing” applies here. Ironically, being on social media too much can actually increase feelings of loneliness and isolation. The risks of developing anxiety and depression lowered self-esteem, and unrealistic expectations go up. Additional hazards include greater chances of encountering cyberbullying and becoming more narcissistic.
Social Media and Mental Health
Too much exposure to social media may even intensify certain mental health conditions like schizophrenia and psychosis. Some of the effects can mimic symptoms associated with withdrawal from antipsychotic medications like Seroquel, including an increase in paranoid thoughts. Individuals with these types of conditions may be more likely to interpret others’ online behaviors negatively.
Another group that can be especially vulnerable to the mental health effects of social media use is young adults. Content and interactions from various sites and platforms can influence how youth perceive themselves and their environments.
Knowing there’s a potential dark side to using social media doesn’t mean that you have to abandon it altogether. There are ways to gauge when it’s becoming too much and ways to use social media sites in a healthier manner. Here are some of the warning signs of unhealthy social media use and tips for forming better habits.
Potential Warning Signals and Behaviors
The jury is still out on whether social media is addictive. But there are signs that can indicate when it’s starting to harm your mental well-being.
Are you spending more time online than offline with friends or using social media as your main source of socializing? Do you use other people’s posts and content to compare yourself to them?
Feeling that you’re less than or don’t have as good a life as others can be problematic. While it can be normal to have these feelings occasionally, ask yourself whether they’re prompting you to make unhealthy choices. If you’re constantly ruminating about not living up to people’s expectations or experiencing changes in sleep and eating habits, there may be a problem.
Warning signals can include focusing too much on others’ reactions on social media. Checking in or posting too often to see how many likes and shares you get can distract you from responsibilities. Symptoms of this phenomenon could include lowered school or work performance or neglecting things like housekeeping and self-care.
Abandoning hobbies to seek attention online and not taking time out to relax and reflect are other symptoms. Participating in high-risk activities to have something “better” or more outrageous to post is another danger sign. Being bullied or taunting others online is perhaps an even more serious indicator that it’s time to make some changes.
Ways to Form Healthier Habits
You may notice that some of the people in your online networks take social media breaks. While not everyone announces when they’re going offline for a few days (or more), some do. Either way, making a conscious effort to reduce your time online can help. Even though it can be difficult at first, there are things you can try.
Limit Your Use
You might start with an app that tracks how much time you spend on social media sites or record it yourself. This way, you can see where you want to make changes. You might begin with a small goal like cutting out an hour each day. Eventually, you can progress to an entire day or weekend without social media.
If you find your phone too distracting, turn off notifications from social media apps. Shut off the phone when you want to concentrate on offline activities and be in the moment. You may also find it helps to remove social media apps from your phone altogether.
Intentionally Engage in Offline Activities
Once you’ve gotten into the habit of scheduling and limiting your time online, it’s easier to experience real life. You can get out in nature by exercising outdoors, learning how to garden, or walking with a pet or family.
Now that the Covid-19 pandemic is waning plan to meet one or two friends for coffee or join a local activity group. By increasing your face-to-face interactions, you may find yourself depending less on sites like Facebook or Instagram for your social needs.
Volunteering, reading, or taking an elective course at your local community college are additional ways to ground yourself. Experiencing more life outside of the highlights people post online can reveal those snippets aren’t necessarily real. They can often represent what individuals want others to see or think about them.
Posts from celebrities and public figures may be unrealistic, overstated, or even altered to accentuate only the positive. Remember that comparing your appearance or life to others who maintain polished public personas can be harmful. It can help to read or look at content that represents situations closer to reality.
Be Selective With Your Content
On the flip side, seeing and experiencing too much negativity on social media can make you unhappy. It can also increase your anxiety about life in general. Perhaps you follow a snarky celebrity or a friend who’s always making sour observations about their day. Online content can make you feel more pessimistic, similar to watching too much news about what’s going wrong in the world.
Turning off the news is a solution some people adopt, and this can also apply to social media. Is following a page, a person, or a content site causing you to feel annoyed, anxious, or down in general? Try unfollowing those influencers and content sites for a while.
If you find that this helps, make a resolution to set virtual boundaries. You don’t have to engage with people and content that aren’t positive influences for you. It also helps to become more mindful of what kind of content you’re posting and how you’re engaging with others. Part of having a healthy online community experience is creating one.
Social media has many benefits. You can reconnect with old friends and acquaintances. You can keep up with the news and gain insights into other sides of individuals’ personalities. It’s easier to show friends and family who don’t live nearby what you’ve been up to. Online apps can fulfill needs that can’t be met during times of social distancing. The key is to not let them be the only means of human connection.