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Ahhh, social media. There are absolutely benefits to it. We can’t deny that it enables us to easily connect and keep up with people from all over the world that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to. It gives us a way to be more present in each other’s lives through sharing pictures of our families, having a little a laugh with funny memes, and sharing important updates with our loved ones.
However, as with most things, there’s also a downside to social media. This isn’t groundbreaking news. There are plenty of research articles and blog posts out there that discuss the feelings of loneliness and isolation that social media use can cause or contribute to.
I’m writing this post in case you haven’t been interested in really researching this topic as I have. I won’t inundate you with facts and figures as I’m sure you’ve experienced one of the points discussed later in this article. That’s evidence enough.
I also will not advocate that you completely cut social media out of your life forever. That’s unrealistic, and as I mentioned earlier, there are benefits to social media. What I am going to do is give you the meat and potatoes of this issue (basically misuse of social media) and cut out all of the fluff in the hopes that it motivates you to examine your relationship with social media and tweak it where needed so you can get the most out of it.
How Social Media Can Negatively Impact our Mental Health
It Can Add to Our Stress Levels
Ever log in to one of your social media accounts with the intention of just taking a quick look at what’s happening in your social circles, and before you know it, you’ve spent at least 30 minutes reading completely useless articles like “Who Murdered the Jamisons?” or some curious title like that. Omg, who DID murder the Jamisons?! It just sucks you right in.
That literally happened to me this morning. Now, I know myself enough to recognize that I get easily distracted so I usually try to avoid hopping onto my accounts in the AM. But, I was completely overwhelmed today with everything I needed to get done and what I tend to do in those instances is procrastinate.
So I picked up my phone and started scrolling through Facebook. That’s when I stumbled upon the Jamison article. Who are the Jamisons, you ask? I have no freaking idea, but I needed to know what happened to them! Mind you, I read the article and I still don’t know who murdered them or how, but I have a bunch of crazy ass theories about who might have.
While “researching” the case of the Jamisons, I finally had a moment of clarity, realized that I was wasting my time, and forced myself to put my phone down. And do you know how I felt? Still overwhelmed and now guilty on top of it. I wasted 30 minutes of my precious time that I’ll never get back reading some stupid article that added no value whatsoever to my life. I had less time to get all my crap done and I was even more stressed out than I was 30 minutes prior.
Social media makes it way too easy to squander our valuable time, and wasted time equals stress.
It Can Cause Us to Set Unrealistically High Bars for Ourselves
Most of us are hard enough on ourselves already. Take a stroll down social media lane and it may cause you to be even harder!
Pictures of perfectly posed celebrities, friends on world travels, and happy families in matching outfits. It’s enough to drive you to the couch with a bag of cheetos feeling sorry for yourself.
You begin telling yourself that you need to start working out twice a day, book a trip to Europe even though you have no real desire to go, and wonder why you can’t seem to get your kids to keep their pants on for one measly picture, let alone an entire photo shoot.
It’s nuts! We know that celebrities spend hours getting ready for their selfies and take hundreds of pics to get just the right one. They have access to resources that everyday people don’t – top fitness trainers, nannies, personal chefs, make-up artists, and so on. Yet, we still think their appearance is a realistic goal because all we see is the result of all of those things. We don’t see behind the scenes.
Here’s the scarier problem – studies have shown that many people post fabulous pictures on social media to make their friends and family jealous AND it usually works. This is really troubling. This is essentially saying that we want the people whom we care about to feel upset that they don’t have what we have – and what we’re showing probably isn’t a true representation of what we have anyway!
I’ll tell you a little story to demonstrate. A friend of mine saw a picture on Instagram of her ex-husband standing in front of a black Range Rover. I don’t remember what the caption said, but it was written in a way that led you to believe it was his car. We were so puzzled because we knew this guy was DEAD broke. We came to find out that the Range Rover was NOT his car. He just snapped a picture with it hoping people would think it was his.
Let’s say you were one of his IG followers. You know him from back in high school, but you have no idea what he’s up to now. You don’t know his poor financial situation. You see the picture and you think to yourself, “We’re the same age. He seems so successful. Why am I not able to afford a car like that?”. But in REALITY, it’s not at all what you think it is and you’ve lost sight of the fact that most people can’t afford a Range Rover!
On top of that, if people are posting these great pictures, and it’s an exaggeration of their experiences, they’re suddenly finding that they need to keep up with themselves. Forget about keeping up with the Jones’ (which is exhausting enough), you’re literally competing with everyone else AND yourself in an unhealthy way.
Sounds like fun, huh?
It Can Increase Feelings of Loneliness, Isolation, and Sadness
When you log into a social media app, it has the power to consume you. Your mind is in that world, completely unaware of what’s going on around you. You go down the rabbit hole.
You may have noticed that when you finally emerge to your reality for air, you feel down. But you just participated in SOCIAL media? Why do you feel lonely?
Jenna Clark, a Duke University psychologist and her colleagues (ok so there is some research-related material in this post!) termed this phenomenon “social snacking”. Social snacking is when you are “stalking” other people’s profiles, or more nicely put, when you are perusing profiles, pictures, updates, comments, but not commenting or reacting to anything yourself.
While you’re doing this, your mind is occupied with what you’re looking at. I personally find that my mind goes numb after a little while! You completely forget about any bad feelings you may have been experiencing beforehand. However, when you walk away from it, you feel worse because you wasted time and you feel lonelier than before. You have just observed everyone else hanging out with friends and family, going on adventures, and sharing fun experiences; All the while you are watching from the sidelines.
Is that really how it is though? No, probably not. More than likely, everyone else is doing the same thing you are.
For instance, last month I went with Adam and the boys to Hoboken. It was a beautiful day so we wanted to get out. As we walked along the water, admiring the NYC skyline, I glanced over to the nearby park. Two teenagers, a boy and girl, sat next to each other, each completely in a trance with their respective cell phones.
Now, imagine that this boy and girl had taken a selfie together in front of the skyline a few minutes earlier, posted it on a social media platform, and captioned it, “Having the best time with my best friend on this gorgeous day!”. One of their “friends” is sitting at home, bored with nothing to do, and he sees this post. He thinks to himself, I have no life, no friends.
This poor kid thinks that his friends are out having the time of their lives while he’s sitting home alone. In reality, they’re just sitting on a park bench looking at everyone else’s stuff on social media and wondering why their day isn’t as exciting as all of these other people’s days.
Get what I’m sayin’? If you really think about it, it’s not hard to see how social media can contribute to feeling lonely.
It can Make Us Feel Like We Need Constant Validation
Imagine this: A woman, let’s call her Jane, posts a selfie on Facebook. It’s a picture of her in a bathing suit at the Caribbean resort she’s staying at. But instead of feeling satisfied that she shared this picture with her network to enjoy and leaving it at that, she compulsively checks how many people have liked her picture, who has liked her picture, and who has commented.
Jane is on an amazing vacation with some of her closest loved ones. Everyone is having a great time, but she is so consumed with taking the perfect picture and getting validation from social media, that she is missing out on a lot of the fun.
After about 2 hours of checking, she finds that she has only racked up 15 likes and a couple comments. In her mind, it takes a much bigger reaction from her social media network for a picture to be a “success”. She feels disappointed, even more insecure about how she looks, and silly for posting a picture that she now feels is unimpressive.
I’m not gonna lie – I’ve been guilty of this. Most of us have been here at some point, and some of us are here way too often.
So many of us have created a false sense of security with the circle of “friends” on our social media accounts. However, how many of the people on our list of hundreds of friends are truly our friends? How many of them genuinely care what we are up to or how we’re doing? A small percentage, I assure you.
So why are we seeking validation from them? It makes us unhappy. Even when it doesn’t, those times when we get an overwhelming positive response to something we’ve posted and we get our high (Yes! See? This experience IS awesome!), why do we need a bunch of people to tell us that what we’re doing is worthwhile?
We shouldn’t be measuring our self-worth by what other people think about us. We shouldn’t let the opinions of others add or take away from our life experiences. If you’re doing something that you want to do and having fun, or if you’re wearing an outfit that you feel beautiful in, then let yourself feel that way!
We don’t need to ask our “friends” if we deserve to feel what we’re feeling.
Alright, back to what I was saying earlier – social media does have benefits. The caveat is that it all depends on how you are using it; Not if you are using it.
A study was conducted around this very idea.
Two groups of college students were examined – a group of new Freshmen and a group of Seniors. On the surface, you could see that there was a correlation between the number of Facebook friends a student had and how they were socially adjusting to their college environment.
You might think, Oh, there you have it. The more time one spends on social media, the less socially adjusted they are. Makes sense.
But, this correlation was only negative for the Freshmen – the more friends they had on Facebook, the more trouble they had adjusting. In contrast, the more Facebook friends the Seniors had, the more socially adjusted they were.
So what gives?
Well, it turns out that the Freshmen were using Facebook to keep in touch with their high school friends. The more time they spent doing this, the less time they spent forming new relationships with their fellow college classmates.
The Seniors, on the other hand, were primarily using Facebook to keep up with the friends they had made in college. Adding these friends as “Facebook” friends was just another way for them to enhance their relationships with their college classmates.
So you see, it’s all about how you’re using it!
If you have a fulfilling life where you see good friends frequently, are surrounded by family, and are able to do the things that you enjoy, then you probably aren’t looking to social media to fill a void. In this case, social media is just another way for you to stay in touch with your friends and family.
If you do have a fulfilling life, but still find yourself feeling bad after looking through Instagram, then you’ve probably just lost sight of what’s important to you. It’s time to take a little break from the social media world and get back to focusing on what’s truly important to you.
Last, if you don’t feel fulfilled at this time in your life, that’s ok! But I wouldn’t look to social media for an answer. Take some time to reflect on what who you are – what you like, what you don’t – and try to find a new hobby or a way to connect with people in real life.
Remember, you are good enough. Period. Don’t depend on social media to tell you that. Live your life, do what makes you happy, wear what makes you feel confident, and spend time with good people.