Social Media and Mental Health

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As the United States continues its efforts towards containing the coronavirus, Americans are still encouraged to practice social distancing and limit unnecessary gatherings. As a result, many people have turned to social media and other digital platforms to stay connected. More than seven out of ten Americans use some type of social media. Social media is a safe and beneficial way to stay in contact with friends and family, and reduce feelings of isolation; however, some people may experience unintended consequences.

Connection in a Time of Physical Distance

Physical distancing from others is critical to stop the spread of coronavirus. Social isolation has become a concern for many, especially the elderly, individuals who live alone, and those considered at high risk. For this reason, there has been a rise in digital platform usage in the United States across all age groups. In fact, many individuals report that social media is an important tool to help combat loneliness and promote positive well-being.

Another benefit of social media is its ability to reach a large majority of the population. Public health organizations and government agencies have used social media to spread information about personal safety and promote positive health behaviors. Several platforms have teamed up with the Center for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to promote public safety.

The Potential Harms of Social Media Overuse or Misuse

For some, social media can have negative effects on well-being. Negative effects can come from overuse  – spending too many hours on a platform or when interactions result in negative emotions, such as stress, anxiety, anger, or depression.

Overuse is difficult to quantify. According to the American Psychological Association, teenagers who spent more than two hours per day checking their text messages, emails, and social media accounts were more likely to rate their mental health as “fair” or “poor.” Signs of overuse include cutting into work time, feeling a need to immediately check your phone when notifications come in, and feeling anxious when you cannot access social media.

Overuse of social media can have a negative impact on in-person relationships. Users who spend excess time checking social media in the presence of friends and family can become disconnected from those individuals, even when they are physically together.

For some individuals, social media creates comparison stress. Seeing others’ vacations, life highlights, and achievements may lead to feelings of envy, jealousy, and lower self-worth. Fear of missing out, also known as FOMO, is another contributor to social media stress. Seeing others have fun or at a social gathering can cause feelings of anxiety or loneliness. These are all signs of social media misuse.

Ways to Improve Screen Time

Used properly, social media can be a safe and reliable way to avoid feelings of isolation. Here are some suggestions if you struggle with overuse or just want to improve your social media habits.

  • Move social apps off the home screen of your phone. Creating an extra step to open the app may help reduce the urge to check as often.
  • Turn off social media notifications. Notifications prompt you to open the app, even when you do not have a direct message. Avoid unnecessary distractions by turning these app notifications off or on silent.
  • Give yourself time limits on social media. Many apps provide insight into app usage. Use this as a benchmark to improve your overall daily screen time.
  • Take inventory of the apps you use and remove ones that do not promote your well-being. If you notice a certain app causes you stress or simply takes up too much of your time, consider deactivating that account or deleting the app from your phone.
  • Browse with mindfulness. Remind yourself that what you see on social media is not the full picture. In many cases, people post only the highlights of their lives and experiences. We all go through hard times and no one’s life is perfect. Unfollow pages that cause you anxiety or lower your feeling of self-worth.
  • Use social media to support other areas of your life. Connect with your family members, community, and individuals with similar interests. Grow a network that promotes happiness and support.

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