Social media is everywhere you look, from products with dedicated Facebook pages to politicians and celebrities with twitter accounts. Most of us use social media for what it was intended to be used for – connecting with people we don’t see every day. We use it in moderation and as a way to coordinate activities across multiple social groups such as friends, family, coworkers and acquaintances. For some, it becomes a weird parallel life with total strangers. But is social media inherently good or bad for your mental health?
Here are some ways social media is both good (and bad) for us:
Social media is incredibly addictive. It is so addictive, in fact, that researchers created a scale, the Berge Facebook Addiction Scale, to measure how addictive social media is. Research shows that around 63% of Americans log onto Facebook daily, with most of those logging on multiple times a day. While most people keep a tab open for Facebook all the time to alleviate boredom, the constant positive feedback from likes and comments on posts can make it difficult to step away from the site for long periods of time. People want to be validated and praised, and that is easy to achieve on a site where you can easily create a bubble of like-minded people and close friends who reinforce your own bias and beliefs.
Everyone’s Highlight Reel
Social media has essentially become every user’s highlight reel. It only shows the things we want it to show. We never or rarely show ourselves in a negative light. We post pics of ourselves having a great time in interesting places. We post pics of ourselves that accentuate our attractive qualities or at least minimize our unattractive ones. It becomes very easy to unfairly compare your real, day-to-day life with other people’s highly edited one. We don’t see their horrible bed hair in the morning or smell their pungent morning breath. Instead, you see meticulously crafted avatars that represent what we want to be or look like rather than the real people we are.
People get depressed or become unhappy because they feel that they are missing out on life. They feel that people are having fun without them. You might be having a great, but very normal, day and then see a friend on a trip to Paris and suddenly feel your mood drop out from under you. You start asking yourself questions like, “Why aren’t I in Paris?” “Why am I not wealthy/successful enough to take two weeks off and go to Europe?” You start making false assumptions as you have no idea what they sacrificed to be able to go on that trip. Maybe it was a once in a lifetime trip they spent their savings on because they learned they have cancer. The thing is, you don’t know the whole story behind the trip. Instead, people make an unfair comparison between themselves and somebody else.
Social media can lead to multitasking, which lowers productivity and increases errors as the human mind finds it impossible to focus on two things at once. Our work suffers because we are constantly distracted by tweets, notifications and messages. Our train of thought is constantly derailed by a constant stream of information.
In the last decade or so, bullying has entrenched itself in the internet arena, from common comments trolls to people you know from school or work bullying you over social media. We are all connected through our phones, computer, tablets and television that we can easily connect to other people. Malicious people will use that incredible resource to make other people’s lives miserable for their own entertainment.
It isn’t all bad, though. Social media has allowed us to share in the enjoyment and lives of our friends, even though we are separated by oceans and continents. Our friends and family can check in with us and get text and photo updates of the milestones in our lives they might otherwise miss out on. You can instantly congratulate folks on their successes and express condolences on their losses. You can make friends with people and share a connection you might not otherwise have been able to meet. You can quickly share ideas and knowledge all over the world. Groups allow you to indulge in your hobbies with other like-minded folks you would have been unable to connect with a decade ago. You can sell things to a wider customer base than ever before.
Despite the pitfalls and temptations, social media really can have a positive impact on your mental health if you indulge it in moderation. Don’t get too caught up in keeping up with the Jones’s and their too perfect highlight reel.