Living in a society that is so intertwined with social media, it can make it hard not to find ourselves comparing our appearances, careers, and lives in general to other people. Between Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Online dating profiles, Youtube Channels, Tiktok, and the vast number of additional social media sites, there is an obscene amount of pressure to equate one’s online presence with a better life. According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of Americans in the United States utilize social media. Social Media can help to stay connected with loved ones, educate one’s self on the news, find important resources and products, and so much more.
It seems to be nearly impossible for individuals to avoid social media entirely, as it has become such a widely used resource. Social media has been found to be addictive, especially for the younger generations, who have grown up with these platforms. However, these sites are not all negative, nor all positive. Humans are, at our core, social creatures. Having connections with others can relieve stress, anxiety, and depression, and can improve upon one’s self-image and prevent loneliness. Yet, these social media connections are not intended to be a substitute for face-to-face human connection.
There are positive aspects of social media, such as keeping in contact with loved ones, meeting new people and seeking social groups, joining causes and raising awareness on issues, seeking and offering emotional support, discovering outlets for creativity, and finding resources for information and education.
Positive Aspects of Social Media
Connecting with Loved Ones
Social media allows one to keep in contact with loved ones, whether it be family members who live down the street or friends that live on different continents. This provides a way to share experiences with multiple people at once, such as by making a video, posting a picture, or just writing out a life update. This has allowed people to keep relationships going with those who they would otherwise have difficulty keeping in touch with. In the midst of COVID-19’s pandemic, having the ability to stay in touch with loved ones has been especially essential. While family members and friends have been unable to see each other, many groups have established regular video chat sessions, virtual parties for holidays and celebrations, and playing online games together.
Meeting New People and Finding New Social Groups
Social media has also allowed for relationships to form, such as through online dating. There are sites that are specifically used to meet potential romantic partners, as well as sites that offer ways to make new friends. Online dating can be through apps or websites and can be as simple as seeing a profile and swiping right or left, or as complicated as filling out pages and pages of questions that are meant to lead the individual to someone else who is a potential match for them. There are also multiple social groups that can be found for different demographics or areas of interests. This can include support groups, hobby-related groups, and therapeutic groups. This allows people who may otherwise feel lonely to seek out people with similar needs or interests. This can also provide commonalities between people, depending on what type of group is being joined.
Joining Causes and Raising Awareness on Issues
The internet provides a way to raise money for different organizations, such as through requesting loved ones donate as a way to celebrate a birthday or reaching out to family and friends to help contribute to a variety of different funds. Social Media can also be a source to discover and learn about certain causes, such as through seeing articles written about diverse issues, as well as through sharing information about specific organizations with others. Groups and events can be hosted online, such as support groups relating to different causes, as well as invitations to different events.
Seeking and Offering Emotional Support
There are many sites that offer therapeutic services, support groups, substance abuse therapy, and resources for different diseases, diagnoses’, etc. Some people may be able to seek out these sites, while others are able to help loved ones connect with these resources. This also offers job opportunities for therapists, doctors, trainers, all who are able to conduct their businesses through online platforms. These platforms are often advertised through different social media applications.
Finding Resources for Information and Education
There is access to a wealth of knowledge on the internet. Going online allows one to get information on any question or subjects that they may have questions regarding. Many accounts offer information to educate others on mental disorders, social situations, political topics, and so on. They may also offer support for others, inspiration, and tips. In addition, social media can provide advertisements for different educational tools, such as college courses. While taking courses online, there is oftentimes a need to utilize a wealth of online resources, whether it be for emailing classmates and professors, finding references for articles, or accessing journals to conduct research.
Negative Aspects of Social Media
While there are a number of positive points regarding social media, there are also negative aspects to consider, such as feeling inadequate, dealing with fear of missing out (FOMO), isolation, depression, cyber bullying, and self-absorption.
Feelings of inadequacy
What individuals post on social media can be well thought out and manipulated. Pictures and videos can be edited or posed, text posts can be revised ahead of time until expertly written, and any negative points can be left out on purpose. This can make relationships look flawless, people’s lives look exciting and adventure-filled, and individuals look inconceivably striking. This can cause one to deal with self-loathing, comparing their day-to-day lives with these perfected narratives. These feelings can also be related to not having a large community online, such as from not having many ‘followers’ on a page, not getting the amount of ‘likes’ or comments on a post, and feeling rejected on dating sites.
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
Seeing others post about different events and gatherings can cause others to feel left out. This could be a group of friends getting together for a get-together and posting pictures, going on vacation and sharing information about the experience online, discussing online information about a new friendship or relationship, or talking about a holiday that was celebrated with loved ones. This can lead others to feel that they are missing out on events or experiences. This may be from things they were invited to do but were unable to due to other obligations, things individuals wish they could do but cannot, due to lack of funds, or events that they were simply not invited to and are feeling left out. The images that are posted online can promote unreachable expectations, leading to giving oneself these unattainable goals.
Many individuals are now relying so heavily on social media that they end up isolating themselves, feeling that social media is a replacement for regular social interaction. Research has found that reducing social media usage can actually lessen feelings of loneliness. Individuals can also find themselves comparing their social media to others, which can lead to feeling alone. This isolation and relying on social media can lead to social anxiety and deteriorating social skills. According to Brian Primack, the director of Pitt’s Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health, there are three ways that social media is able to exacerbate perceived social isolation. These three ways are:
1. Using social media displaces authentic social experiences, as the more time one spends online, the less time they have for interactions in the real world.
2. Characteristics on social media can intensify feelings of exclusion, such as through seeing pictures of friends having fun at an event that they were personally not invited to.
3. Exposure to idealized versions of others’ lives on social media can bring out feelings of envy and distorted thoughts that others lead happier, more fulfilling lives.
Primack encourages individuals to limit screen time if the amount of time spent on devices may be linked to social isolation. John Cacioppo, a renowned social psychologist and neuroscientist looks at biological impacts of loneliness in humans and animals. Cacioppo found that social isolation can be linked to increases in the stress hormone, cortisol, inflammation in the body, hardening of the arteries, and diminished executive functioning, learning, and memory. Cacioppo emphasizes that it is not necessarily bad for one’s health to have solitude, but rather that the sense of loneliness or social isolation is what can be disruptive.
A study conducted in October of 2015 found that depression can be reduced greatly by regular face-to face social interactions. In addition, researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University found that limited face-to-face social contact nearly doubles an individual’s risk of having depression. Individuals who have regular connections in person with family and friends report less symptoms of depression, when compared to those who speak to family and friends over the phone, through text, or through email instead of in person.
Social media can be accessed by 94% of young people. These platforms can be used to write harmful comments and messages to others, to exclude others and post inappropriate photos or secrets of others, cyberstalking others, spreading rumors, and cat-fishing others. Ditch the Label conducted a survey, finding that 47% of the study population has received harmful comments on their social media profiles, while 62% have been sent harmful messages via private message on social media.
Social media can lead to elevated self-esteem, which can be a positive change for some people, however, in other cases, this change can lead to an individual feeling invincible, vain, and having shallow opinions on others. ‘Influencers’, who are individuals who influence products or services through social media, have at times been found to become overly entitled and feeling like the laws do not apply to them or they can do no wrong. Individuals have been found to become obsessed with how many likes they receive, feeling that what they post is essential. For influencers, they receive praise and negativity constantly. This may mean they are given negative feedback or it may mean they are admired and told many positive things that others appreciate about them. In 2011, Twitter published 95 million tweets daily, 40% of which were classified as ‘pointless babble’, meaning that they were details about the authors themselves and their personal lives.
Psychology Professor Larry Rosen at California State University believes that technology can cause emotional imbalances, which can display as symptoms of psychological disorders. Basically, while there are not necessarily more advanced cases of narcissism being found, there are an influx in cases found.
How to Improve Upon Social Media Usage
Since we know that social media can negatively impact mental health, it is important to look at different ways to ensure that social media usage is used in a healthy way, as well as to best combat negative symptoms.
Reduce Time Online
1. Cut back on phone usage, such as setting timers to cut off phone usage, downloading an app to keep track of time spent on social media, keeping phone on do-not-disturb, and deleting time-consuming apps and games off of the phone. This could help by first keeping track of the amount of time currently being spent on social media sites, then setting realistic goals for how much time would be sufficient for apps.
2. Leave your phone, tablet, computer out of your bedroom, so as not to get distracted by it when it is time to go to bed and to keep yourself from mindlessly going on your phone.
3. Become more self-aware of anxious symptoms, specifically when spending time on a phone or other technology, and using these symptoms as a reminder to take a step away from devices.
4. Try to be social while in group settings, concentrating on eye contact and conversation, without relying on a phone as a safety net.
5. Turn off notifications related to social media, so as not to go on these apps as often.
6. Limiting times allowed to check your phone. If you find yourself compulsively checking your phone, try to cut back by making sure you only check it every half hour, then every hour, then every few hours, depending on how often you need to be checking.
7. Delete social media apps from your phone, making you less likely to log on as often.
Consider Your Goal for Social Media
When logging onto social media, there are many different reasons that one could be utilizing the resource. For some people, they use these sites to stay connected with loved ones, share personal news with friends and family, or see what is going on with certain people. However, other times these sites may be used out of boredom or even to see how many people have liked or commented on posts that were previously shared. It can be beneficial to really look at what one is hoping to gain by going onto social media, in order to see if this is a productive and mentally healthy option, or if it may do more harm than good.
A few things to consider with this is whether social media is being used in place of real life experiences, and if so, making the effort to spend time with people in person rather than checking in on social media. If these sites are being used out of boredom, it may be helpful to pick up a hobby or find an activity to participate in. It can also be important to think about what kind of feelings one is experiencing when utilizing social media, whether it be positive thoughts, such as being happy for loved ones who are excelling in their lives, or feeling left out due to others posting about events that were not made known to the individual.
Spending Time with Friends in Person
As social beings, it is important to set aside time to be with people we care about in person, instead of only interacting virtually. This can be done by reaching out to old friends and making plans to get dinner with one another, planning a trip to see one another, or finding a common activity to participate in together. If there are not friends in particular that have been positive parts of one’s life, it could be time to search for new ways to make friends, such as joining a club, finding a new hobby, joining a support group, or participating in an enjoyable form of physical fitness. If finding that there are people that are positive influences in life, but that these people are not in one’s inner circle, it could be beneficial to reach out to them and see if building up that friendship is possible. Finally, it can be good to put one’s phone down and interact with those around, even if these people are strangers. This could be at a restaurant, in public transportation, in the grocery store, etc. This can lead to forming new connections and feeling more socially connected.
Combatting Harassment through Social Media
If one finds themselves being bullied there are some things that can be done. For instance it can help to read through the terms and conditions of the site, take screenshots of any harassment or bullying that has been occurring, and sending this to the social media site directly in order to report the behavior. Additionally, many sites offer ways to easily ‘report’ a comment or picture that may involve bullying or be offensive in some way. Many sites have ‘friend’ or ‘follow’ options and individuals who are found to be displaying bullying behavior are able to be blocked, unfollowed, unfriended, etc. If bullying is not handled by the site, even after reporting harassing behavior, it may be a good idea to consider closing the account for safety or even reporting any threatening behavior to local authorities.
Social Media can be a great resource for keeping in touch, meeting new people, joining causes and groups, and offering or finding emotional support. However, it is important to keep in mind the negative aspects of social media and to ensure that it is a positive resource, rather than harmful. For more resources and one-on-one support, feel free to check out our website at the link listed below. Online-Therapy offers a free program that gives users access to 25 CBT-based worksheets, a personal journal, an activity plan, tests, and yoga and meditation videos. For those needing additional support, our basic program incorporates daily therapists comments Monday-Friday on worksheets, as well as the services offered through the free program. The standard plan incorporates all services offered through the basic plan, plus one session per week. The premium program offers all services included in the standard plan, plus an additional session per week. In order to get started, please visit us at: https://www.online-therapy.com
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