How social media affects your mental health is a question we should all be asking ourselves. Checking my social media has become as important as checking my emails. It’s a daily thing, and it is useful. But is there a point where social media is unhelpful, or even harmful? Increasingly, research is saying that there is a destructive side to social media use that can impact our mental health.
How Social Media Affects Your Mental Health
Our mood and style of thinking work together. Sometimes for our benefit, and sometimes against us. One key hallmark of depression is hopelessness. There is no point, even to things that once made us happy. This style of thinking is thought to be influenced by neurobiological states that are commonly observed in depressed individuals. For instance, when thoughts are heavily biased towards negative, hopeless themes, people report feeling less able to work, engage in healthy relationships and take care of their physical needs.
Social media encourages comparison. However, not always healthy, realistic comparisons. All we see are people looking happy, doing great stuff or seeming very successful. It can feel like this is reality. That everyone is happy and finding success easily.
What we don’t see are the hidden truths. The photoshop edits, the failures, the crippling self doubt. But what if we did? People may experience less depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts. A 2015 study found that 67% of young people questioned felt worse about their lives because of social media. Read more on the study here https://www.healio.com/news/psychiatry/20201005/social-media-use-may-play-important-role-in-youth-suicide-expert-says
In anxiety, the thought patterns activate the threat centers of our brain. This threat kicks off a chain reaction of physical and psychological events that we experience as anxiety or panic. Anxiety is often linked to the idea that something bad will happen. The feelings it creates in our bodies are the same kinds of feelings we would get if we were being chased by a tiger in the jungle. Only now there is no tiger. Instead, the threat is that we are not enough, we are not liked, we might fail, we might be rejected.
Moreover, social media provides a ready source for lots of things to worry about. As well as a trigger for the kinds of perfectionistic tendencies that regularly mess with our mental health. Read more about perfectionism here https://cincoranchcounseling.com/the-price-of-perfectionism-and-4-ways-to-set-yourself-free/ Social media is also a way to escape, avoid and numb feelings. Getting drawn into endless scrolling can be a way to temporarily calm the anxiety. Unfortunately, this escape strategy only makes the anxiety worse in the long run (see the last section of this blog for more on this topic).
Eating Disorders and Body Image
Social media is a prime platform for diet culture to infiltrate your mind. From being sold quick fixes like diet teas, detox plans and supplements to workout routines from so-called professionals that promise the impossible. It is very challenging to remember while scrolling that much of what we see is contrived with lighting and angles, digital perfected, filtered or even flat-out fake. It’s no surprise that people struggling with an eating disorder are likely to be negatively affected by the information flowing to them through their feed. Read more on how social media influences eating disorders here https://clementineprograms.com/social-media-trigger-eating-disorder/
However, our friends with eating disorders are not the only ones suffering. A study by FHE Health found that 87% of women and 65% of men compare their bodies to the bodies they see on social media. And of those, 50% of women and 36% of men rated their bodies less favorably than the social media bodies. Read more on this study here https://fherehab.com/news/bodypositive/
All this comparison is unhealthy. It is unfair to what our bodies really are and how real bodies look. Many people are drawn into the diet culture and compare. The result? Often poor eating habits, mood problems, unhealthy relationships with food and weight gain.
The world can be a tough and confusing place. Our phones and social media provide an escape. When we feel anxious, our bodies will drive us to things that help numb, distract and escape. For example, some might escape through alcohol, food or shopping. Things that give a quick hit of nice feelings. We want to feel better, but without dealing with the anxiety itself, we become hooked on the quick hit of nice feelings.
Furthermore, social media, technology and smartphones can work in this same way. Rather than talk to others, be alone with our thoughts or deal with a difficult issue we’re facing we can scroll away, get drawn into the pictures, sounds and excitement of someone else, something else. In the long run, the quick hit of nice feelings becomes a problem in itself to overcome.
What Can You Do? 3 Ideas For Improving Your Relationship With Social Media
Is social media not the fun thing it use to be? Try these 3 approaches to rebalance your relationship with it:
1. Follow/Unfollow Wisely
Firstly, is seeing the stranger you follow with the impossibly thin waist and perfect round glutes making you feel better or worse? It’s not inspiration if it doesn’t leave you feeling hopeful, alive and worthy. Be brave enough to mute or unfollow. Good news is that not every page or influencer is about shaming and unrealistic standards. So, seek out the pages of people who are giving healthy messages. Not the quick fixes, body shame or starvation.
2. Take Breaks
Secondly, take some time to be in the world, without a screen between you and everything. Leave the phone in your bag, pocket or even at home sometimes. It’s usually a healthy step to limit the amount of time spent on social media, particularly if your mood is struggling. Set yourself time limits. Use your phone’s timer to introduce balance.
3. What’s Your Why?
Finally, ask yourself why! Understanding why you scroll is a valuable skill and a great step to a healthier relationship with social media. Are you bored? Procrastinating? Lonely? Is there something you’re looking for? Are you feeling relaxed or tense? Be more in tune with your motivations for scrolling. This will help you set new intentions leading to better mental health and wellness.
Begin Mental Health Counseling in Katy, TX
Are you ready to feel like your best self? The therapists at The Counseling Center at Cinco Ranch can help! We provide counseling for kids, adults, couples, and groups. To begin counseling in Katy, TX, follow these three steps:
- Contact our office to set up an appointment or to learn more about counseling for body image, depression, anxiety or addiction
- Meet with one of our caring therapists
- Find ways to let go of unhealthy habits and live your true authentic self!
Other Therapy Services We Offer
Here at The Counseling Center at Cinco Ranch we offer counseling services in areas including: counseling for kids, counseling for young adults, teen counseling, couples counseling, eating disorder treatment, men’s issues, women’s issues, anxiety treatment, depression therapy, trauma counseling, family therapy, and group counseling. Our therapists strive to regularly post blogs. We provide helpful information on a variety of mental health topics. To learn more about our therapists and our counseling services, please reach out to the Counseling Center today!