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Is social media ‘negative’ for your mental health? Let’s find out

Published on:6 October 2021, 11:10am IST
Social media has become a part and parcel of our lives, but there’s a thin line between enjoyment and addiction that can cause several mental health issues.
Geetika Sachdev
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social media
The recent temporary shutdown of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram led users to feel restless. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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Priyanka Pradhan (29), a Delhi-based sales professional can’t stop herself from checking Instagram right upon waking every morning. It gives her a “rush”, and officially kick-starts her day. After doom scrolling on social media for over an hour, she gets off her bed and begins the chores for the day. Between breaks, she again squeezes in some time to send a couple of ‘memes’ during the day, and catches up on updates from friends. The evenings (post work) are again spent on mindlessly scrolling through feeds, until she crashes for the night.

social media
Social media addiction is real, and dangerous! Image courtesy: Shutterstcok

Pradhan is definitely NOT alone. Does this sound like you? We are so heavily dependent on social media that we don’t know what to do “without it.” A case in point is the recent outage of popular social media apps like Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp. Most people felt “restless” and really didn’t know how to deal with the shutdown. 

You might consider this ‘normal’, but guess what? It really isn’t! In fact, excessive use of such platforms is connected with our declining mental health. 

“There’s no denying that social media has helped us connect well with our friends and family, but it has become a crutch for times when we are alone. The reason I say this is because we don’t sit with ourselves, and reflect on the day or all that happened. We quickly turn to our phones to fill in any kind of ‘void’ that we experience and that’s where the problem lies. Their excessive use is linked with high levels of anxiety and loneliness,” shares Tithi Kukreja, a Pune-based psychologist, with HealthShots. 

The act of mindlessly scrolling through feeds

Yes, we know you don’t mind anything wrong with mindlessly scrolling through feeds. But how many times has it happened that you don’t even realise what you’re doing? Doesn’t it happen that you reach out to these platforms almost instinctively? Well, this is a harmful practice that can lead to social media addiction. 

“For most people, using these platforms is to get instant validation, either through comments, shares or likes. The instant gratification gives rise to a dopamine rush, which makes us go back to it, every single time. But it’s also important to understand that your perception of yourself (or self-image) sometimes gets destroyed, when you start comparing your life with others,” adds Kukreja. 

As per research by Penn Medicine and McLean Hospital, social media is one of the biggest reasons for anxiety and depression. There’s another study that is being conducted by Rodgers Behavioural Health, which looks at how depressed adolescents who have eating disorders have a low self-image because of Instagram. 

The filters and careful curation of content also instills a feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out) in people. If you remember the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, it isn’t you who has the reins, but the social media networks. You see what they want you to see; and the fact is you only see people live a life that you think is amazing, even if the reality isn’t starkly similar. 

Also Read: Social media, mental health, and covid-19: The good, bad and the ugly

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Spending too much time on social media can hamper interpersonal relationships. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Has excess use of social media led to a decline in interpersonal relationships?

“It certainly has. Even when we spend time with our friends and families (in person), all we can think of are our social media feeds. We do not engage with people face-to-face. Instead, most of us are living in an isolated world and struggling. You might be connected to thousands of people on social networking platforms, but how many friends can you turn to beyond the screens,” says Kukreja.

Also Read: “I won’t allow social media to rob me of my peace of mind,” says Mirzapur actor Shriya Pilgaonkar

Social media and its ill effects

It may sound bizarre but a bad mood can spread quickly on social media, according to researchers from the University of California. After assessing the emotional content of over a billion status updates from more than 100 million Facebook users between 2009 and 2012, it was found that bad weather increased the number of negative posts by 1%. Moreover, one negative post by someone experiencing incessant rain influenced another 1.3 negative posts by friends living in dry cities. 

In 2014, certain researchers in Austria found out that participants reported lower moods after they scrolled through Facebook for 20 minutes, as compared to those who just browsed the internet. That’s because after the initial dopamine rush, most people thought of ‘scrolling’ as a waste of time. 

Another study published in the journal Computers and Human Behaviour found that those who use seven or more social media platforms were more than three  times as likely as people using 0-2 platforms to have high levels of anxiety symptoms. 

Furthermore, another study conducted in 2016 that involved 1,700 people found a threefold risk of depression and anxiety among people who used the most social networking platforms. Some of the reasons include cyber-bullying, a distorted view of other people’s lives, and much more. 

Also Read: Spending too much time on social media can cause depression, says study

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Free yourself from the clutches of social media. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Are there any tips to deal with this?

Here are some tips that might help you: 

  • Track social media usage
  • Step out to exercise or read a book
  • Embrace and accept yourself; the instant validation on social media won’t help
  • Do not go cold turkey at all; social media for about 10 minutes a day (per platform) is considered healthy
  • Spend time with friends and family in person 

Geetika Sachdev Geetika Sachdev

An independent writer and journalist, Geetika loves sharp and fresh humour, just like her coffee! If not writing, you'll find her cafe-hopping and raiding the best book stores in town.