According to social media platform reports on the current number of active users in 2020, there are 231.47 million social media users, meaning 70% of Americans are actively using sites monthly. In 2020, the average number of social media accounts per person was eight. Eight separate accounts, eight separate apps, eight separate streams of content consumed daily. We are living in the age of social media. You’ve probably found this blog on a social media post, either from Arise’s Instagram page or from someone sharing this post on Facebook.
Social media isn’t a bad thing, but it can become consuming and sometimes too much of anything can become unhelpful. The average daily time spent on social media in the U.S. is 2 hours and 8 minutes. If we assume that someone wakes up at 7am and goes to bed at 11pm (a full 8 hours of sleep), they would be awake for 16 hours. This means that the average person spends about 12.5% of their day on social media. Thinking about my own social media use, as a millennial living through a pandemic who is passionate about social connection and creative content creation, I probably spend 25% of my day on social media. You might relate to the 12.5% or you might relate to the 25%, but either way – how does our time on social media impact our mental health?
As humans, we are naturally social creatures. We thrive when we have established healthy relationships. Having social connections can decrease anxiety, stress, depression and increase self-worth, joy, comfort, as well as prevent isolation and loneliness. In today’s society, many of us rely on social media for those connections, especially during this pandemic. However, online relationships are not a replacement for in-person human connection. Our brains require in-person contact to trigger hormones, such as oxytocin, that increase our feelings of happiness. Although the intent of social media is to bring us closer together, spending too much time on social media can increase loneliness and isolation leading to increased feelings of anxiousness and sadness.
Let’s explore how this happens, the signs it’s happening, and how to have a healthy relationship with social media.
How does spending too much time on social media impact our mental health?
Online relationships can amplify the lack of in-person connect. While we are scrolling on our feeds or DMing with our online friends, we feel satisfied. However, once we log off or put our phones down, we become more aware of the lack of our in-person relationships.
Social media can amplify feelings of inadequacy. This inadequacy can be about ourselves, our appearance, or our lives. Seeing manipulated images of bodies, can make us feel insecure about our own. Seeing someone else’s “highlight reel” of their life, can make us feel envious of what they have or dissatisfied with what we have.
Consuming content can amplify FOMO (fear of missing out). Seeing others “living their best life” on social media can impact our self-esteem and increase anxiety, because it feels like we are missing out on things in our own lives.
Each one of these effects of using social media can lead to even more social media use. We can try to make up for the lack of in-person relationships by prioritizing our online relationships. We can try to combat feelings of inadequacy by posting more and sharing more on our social profiles to get more likes for validation. We can give into the FOMO and let it compel us to compulsively check for new posts. More social media use can lead to increased anxiousness or sadness because it can cause us to neglect our basic human need of connection, real connection.
What are some signs that social media could be impacting our mental health?
Spending more time on social media than with in-person friends. It can be easy to do this, especially in a pandemic, but reflect on how much time you are spending connecting with friends by Facetiming or talking on the phone vs how much time you are spending scrolling on social media apps.
Finding yourself comparing yourself negatively with others on social media. This can look like comparing our houses, jobs, bodies, and even emotions to the ones we see others present on social media.
Being distracted at work or during class. We all know that itch we get to check our phone “really quickly,” that can turn into minutes or hours of scrolling at work or during class.
Posting something “exciting” or “controversial” just for likes. We have seen Youtubers do this for views many times, it’s often called “click-baiting.” We can find ourselves doing the same thing for likes or comments, posting something because we expect it to get a reaction and not necessarily because it’s something we’d like to share.
Losing sleep from scrolling for hours at night. This can feel like a familiar scene to a lot of us, getting in bed early and planning on going to sleep and then we pick up our phones. Before we know it, hours can go by.
Experiencing an increase of feelings of loneliness, inadequacy, and stress. How do you feel when you log off? How do you feel when your phone dies? How do you feel when you reach the end of your feed?
What are some ways you can pursue a healthy relationship with social media?
Cutting back on time spent on social media. A 2018 study* found that reducing social media use by just 30 minutes a day can reduce feelings of loneliness, anxiety, depression, sleep issues, and FOMO. To reduce time you can set time limits for social media apps in your phone settings, turn off your phone at a certain time, and turn off social media notifications.
*Study referenced: Hunt, Melissa & Young, Jordyn & Marx, Rachel & Lipson, Courtney. (2018). No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. 37. 751-768. 10.1521/jscp.2018.37.10.751.
Find other ways to spend your time. We can often log onto social media when we are feeling bored. Next time you find yourself feeling the need to fill time, try doing an activity that doesn’t involve your phone such as journaling, puzzles, or moving your body.
Invest in your offline relationships. You can set aside intentional time to spend time with friends each week, join an in-person group or club, or start volunteering. These things may feel awkward at first after spending an excess amount of time on social media but remember that you are trying to give your mental health what it needs – human connection.
A healthy, positive relationship with social media is possible by checking in with what our mental health needs and intentionally changing our habits. It can feel daunting to cut back on social media when it has become integrated into the society around us, but you don’t have to do it alone. Reach out to your friends, read articles, or start seeing a therapist to help you walk through what it looks like to have a positive relationship with social media and how to invest in in-person relationships.
Here’s to pursuing connection and fulfillment aside from scrolling and likes.
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