Over the last few decades, the world has become connected in ways no one could have imagined a century ago, when having a telephone in the home was a relatively new phenomenon. In many ways, online communication has made our lives better.
Thanks to platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more, it’s now easier than ever to stay in contact with family and friends, even those who live in other states or countries. It’s also incredibly easy to connect with new people, or to reconnect with people you’ve lost touch with over the years.
Social media offers the opportunity to mass share information with large groups of people, saving you time when you have a major announcement, like a new job, an upcoming wedding, or the birth of a baby. It also allows you to receive information that you might not have had otherwise, simply because you may not be on everyone’s short list to call or receive an announcement.
In addition, social media platforms allow users to express themselves in a variety of ways—through photos or videos, for example. You can share talents like singing or playing instruments, or brighten someone’s day with a personal video message.
Like any new technology, however, there’s a flipside. Although there’s no definitive way to prove that utilizing social networks causes anxiety, depression, loneliness, or other mental health concerns, as these could be caused by a variety of factors, studies suggest a correlation between the use of social networking sites and depressive symptoms.
This is particularly concerning for those who already suffer from depression or other mental health disorders. Here are several ways that using social media could impact your mental health.
One of the biggest potential pitfalls of social media is the ways in which we use it to communicate. Although we can now connect much more expediently with others, digital communications are limited in a variety of ways.
Humans communicate not only in words, but through tone of voice, facial expressions, hand gestures, body movements and more. Much of this is lost when communications happen by text, voice, or even video.
In addition, the number of people you’re connected to doesn’t necessarily equate to meaningful, personal relationships. By their very nature, social media communications are typically more superficial than in-person interactions.
Further, the amount of time spent engaged in online activities can reduce time dedicated to face-to-face interactions, and the trade-off isn’t socially, emotionally, or mentally equitable. This, in turn, can lead to a lack of satisfaction, as well as feelings of loneliness and depression.
Like most animals, humans are hardwired to take the path of least resistance. If you can get food from the grocery store instead of hunting or gathering for it in the wild, it makes sense to conserve your energy, from a survival standpoint.
In other words, instant gratification isn’t always a bad thing. However, when it comes to social media, the expectation of instant gratification can often lead to disappointment.
Round-the-clock connectedness has led to significant changes in how people communicate. Remember when you had to leave a message on an answering machine and wait for someone to get back to you?
These days, we know people have smartphones on them everywhere they go, and many people get alerts when messaged, so there’s an expectation to immediately respond. When you don’t receive a speedy reply, you may start to wonder if the person is avoiding you, if they’re angry, or if they simply don’t like you, rather than assuming they’re just busy with their own life.
This is a symptom not only of expecting instant gratification, but of the disconnect in relationships that occur when more time is spent having virtual relationships than in-person interactions, where such fears could quickly and easily be assuaged.
Skewed Perceptions and Unhealthy Comparisons
It’s true that people can lie in real-world interactions. We do it all the time.
However, it’s a lot easier to lie online, about everything, including the way you look and the quality of your life.
Think about the last time you saw a “woke up this way” photo that revealed messy hair, bleary eyes and skin still greasy from last night’s cold cream. Despite the fact that this is probably how most of us wake up, you’re much more likely to see perfectly tousled hair, natural makeup and flattering lighting in such photos.
This isn’t real life, but it’s promoted as if it is, and when you see nothing but perfect bodies and incredible vacation pics, it’s easy to feel like your life just doesn’t measure up. Social media can make us think that others are smarter, wealthier, more attractive, happier and better off than we are.
Unfortunately, this is a false narrative that you can never measure up to, so it’s not surprising that such comparisons can contribute to or even lead to mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.
Fear of Missing Out
The fear of missing out, or FOMO, is just an extension of skewed perception and unhealthy comparison, whereby you assume that if you do what other people are doing, you will be as happy and fulfilled as they appear to be. Again, this is a false narrative, because so much of what we see on social media is staged. Unfortunately, assuming you’re missing out on all the fun other people are having can leave you feeling lonely and depressed.
It is estimated that the average person spends over two hours each day on social media in the U.S. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but when combined with other internet usage (browsing, streaming, etc.), television viewing, and so on, it can consume the amount of time available for face-to-face interactions.
This can not only impact your health in a variety of ways (eye strain, headaches, back pain, sleep disruption and more), but it could negatively impact mental health, exacerbating depression and other disorders, or perhaps contributing to the onset of low self-esteem and feelings of loneliness, anxiety, depression and more.
If you’re suffering from anxiety, depression, or other mental health disorders, you don’t have to go it alone. Contact the qualified and caring professionals at All Points North Lodge today to learn more about the resources available to you.