Social media is pervasive in our society. Just about everyone is familiar with social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. They have become part of our society to such a degree that most of us have an online personality as well as a private personality. We spend hours of time watching our friends and families’ momentous occasions, such as births, birthdays, weddings and vacations, as well as countless images of furry friends and fun meals. Although reaching out to friends and family members through social media sites can make us happy, numerous studies have now been done that show the negative effects of social media as well. Research has linked social media to feelings of envy and insecurity, low self-esteem, social isolation and even depression. Researchers have shown that when Facebook users feel envy of the lifestyles of their friends on Facebook they are far more likely to report feelings of depression. Although it can be a positive resource, Facebook can be a platform where we can compare our own lives and accomplishments to others. This can have a detrimental effect if we compare ourselves and our accomplishments to others and find ourselves lacking some of their joys and endeavors.
Research has also shown that the longer people spend on Facebook the worse they feel. This is particularly true with those who are prone to depression or are already depressed. Depressed people often don’t want to leave the house or socialize, and Facebook and other social networking sites offer a way to passively participate in socialization. However, when those who are depressed watch all of the positive posts from their friends and acquaintances, it can make them feel worse about themselves. This can create a negative cycle with social media. Many people surf social media sites such as Facebook to escape their own lives and depressive symptoms. However, when they are bombarded by what is generally only the most positive moments of other people’s lives they can begin to feel jealous, envious and inferior. These feelings only worsen the negative self-image and lack of self-esteem found in those who are depressed.
Psychologists are concerned about the negative cycle that occurs when long periods of time are spent on social media. Focusing on other’s successes brings negative feelings about oneself. But that is not the only problem with social media. Not only can this negatively impact people with depression or those who are prone to depression, but time spent on social media is time that could be better spent doing other things. Those who are depressed need to focus on self-care. This means that as much time as possible should be spent in positive ways, not doing things that may make them feel worse, such as looking at pictures of other people’s lavish vacations or new babies. Better ways for depressed people to encourage their own emotional health are activities such as exercising, eating right and in-person socialization. Researchers have found that the most frequent social media users report a decrease in socialization and an increase in loneliness, one of the major factors for depression.
So how do we deal with social media in a healthy way? Below are some ideas and tips to help get social media back in perspective and balance real life with virtual life.
- Ask yourself why you use social media: With websites such as LinkedIn, many people use social media to build professional relationships. This is a healthy way to market yourself professionally. Facebook can be used to stay connected to old friends or those that live far away. If social media sites such as these become ways to socialize without seeing people it may be a good idea to step back and think about why you actually use social media.
- Limit your time on social media sites: If social media is making you feel bad about yourself, it could be time to cut back or even stop. It may be a good idea to add up the time you spend on these sites each day, and even write down how you feel after each social media session. This could help you reduce your problems with social media.
- Make real connections to friends and family: If social networking is making you feel more depressed or lonely, consider a different way of connecting. Sending private messages or changing to text messages or phone calls can help you be more connected. This way you can become connected to real people instead of just people’s online personas. Schedule time for real in-persona socialization outside the virtual world. Strong, positive social relationships are highly correlated with increased self-esteem and connectedness, as well as lowered depression and anxiety.