Social media has become a prominent fixture in the lives of many people, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. It offers various benefits, such as staying connected with family and friends, finding information and entertainment, and expressing oneself creatively. However, it also poses some risks and challenges for mental health, such as inducing negative emotions, disrupting sleep, and exposing users to cyberbullying and misinformation. In this article, we will explore how social media affects mental health, both positively and negatively, and provide some tips on how to use it wisely and mindfully.
The pros of social media for mental health
Social media can provide opportunities to enhance the mental health of users by facilitating social connections and peer support. According to a 2020 study1, social media can help people cope with stress, anxiety, and depression by enabling them to:
- Communicate and stay up to date with family and friends around the world
- Find new friends and communities that share similar interests or ambitions
- Join or promote worthwhile causes and raise awareness on important issues
- Seek or offer emotional support during tough times
- Find vital social connection if they live in a remote area, have limited independence, social anxiety, or are part of a marginalized group
- Find an outlet for their creativity and self-expression
Social media can also be a source of learning and inspiration, as users can access various educational, motivational, and entertaining content. For example, they can watch TED talks, listen to podcasts, read blogs, follow influencers, or join online courses. Social media can also help users discover new hobbies, skills, or passions, such as cooking, gardening, photography, or coding.
The cons of social media for mental health
While social media can have positive effects on mental health, it can also have negative effects if used excessively or inappropriately. Some of the potential drawbacks of social media for mental health include:
- Making users feel bad about themselves: Social media can induce feelings of envy, inadequacy, or low self-esteem by exposing users to unrealistic or idealized images of others’ lives or appearances. A 2019 study2 found that frequent exposure to appearance-related content on social media was associated with higher levels of body dissatisfaction and appearance comparison among young women.
- Messing with users’ sleep: Social media can disrupt users’ sleep quality and quantity by keeping them awake at night or interfering with their circadian rhythms. A 2019 study3 found that people who used social media more than two hours per day were more likely to have poor sleep quality and less sleep duration than those who used it less.
- Increasing users’ stress and anxiety: Social media can cause users to feel overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed by exposing them to negative or distressing news, information overload, cyberbullying, trolling, or hate speech. A 2018 study4 found that higher levels of social media use were associated with increased symptoms of anxiety and depression among adolescents.
- Reducing users’ attention span and productivity: Social media can distract users from their tasks, goals, or responsibilities by tempting them to check their notifications, messages, or feeds constantly. A 2015 study5 found that heavy social media use was correlated with lower academic performance among college students.
How to use social media wisely and mindfully
To avoid or minimize the negative effects of social media on mental health, users need to be aware of their online habits and behaviors and make some changes if necessary. Here are some tips on how to use social media wisely and mindfully:
- Set limits on your time online: Decide how much time you want to spend on social media each day and stick to it. You can use apps or tools that track your screen time or block certain sites or apps after a certain limit. You can also schedule specific times for checking social media, such as in the morning or evening, and avoid using it during work hours or before bedtime.
- Turn off notifications: Cut down on distractions by keeping apps on silent mode or turning off app notifications. This way, you won’t feel compelled to check your phone every time you hear a beep or see a pop-up. You can also disable push notifications for email or other apps that are not urgent or important.
- Unfollow or mute accounts that don’t make you feel good: Be selective about who you follow on social media and what kind of content you consume. Unfollow or mute accounts that make you feel unhappy, insecure, angry, or bored. Follow accounts that are educational, inspirational, entertaining, or challenge your way of thinking.
- Keep things in perspective: Remember that social media is not a reflection of reality but a curated version of it. Don’t compare yourself to others based on their posts or pictures. Instead, focus on your own strengths, achievements, and goals.
- Prioritize your offline relationships: Don’t let social media replace your real-world social interactions. Make time to connect with your family, friends, and community in person or through phone calls or video chats. Engage in meaningful conversations, share your feelings, and offer support to others.
- Express gratitude: Instead of focusing on what you lack or what others have, practice gratitude for what you have and what you can do. You can use social media to express your appreciation for the people or things that make you happy, such as posting a thank-you note, a compliment, or a positive review. You can also use social media to spread kindness and positivity, such as liking, commenting, or sharing uplifting or helpful content.
Social media can be a powerful tool for enhancing mental health if used wisely and mindfully. By following these tips, you can make the most of your online experience and enjoy the benefits of social media without compromising your well-being.