Social media is practically a part of all of our lives. It’s a way of connecting with family and friends, sharing our experiences, meeting new people and lately, has even become a career platform! With something that can bring so much good, why does it affect our mental health so badly?
I’ve never been a confident user of social media. I’m part of the generation who used MSN, Bebo, MySpace, however, I avoided these. Being online wasn’t something that interested me a lot, so when it came to Facebook, I was less familiar with social networking platforms than my peers.
There are so many different types of social media users, and over the years, you begin to notice patterns. I only noticed how weird it was that one day, I recognised someone that was a friend of a friend on Facebook, and it felt like I knew that person because so much was shared online. Only then, did I realise the true impact of social media.
Social media affects our mental health negatively in various ways. Ultimately though, it’s about being judged. It becomes a place for people to show off the best bits of their lives (which are often edited) which often makes you compare yourself. It started with something as simple as the number of “friends” you had. It was a popularity contest which it still is to some extent. It becomes about how many followers you have versus how many people follow you. That level of pressure isn’t healthy.
Often, it becomes a trade. A follow for a follow. A like for a like. In principle, that’s fine. But if we look at it on a deeper level, you see that it in fact is all a manipulation. Do people actually like the content you’re posting or do they just want to gain? Do you actually like the content that you are seeing? It stops being about actually connecting, but more about how you are appearing to others.
Then of course, it’s the case of showing how good your life is. Even if you don’t post regularly, you can’t help but see what other people are posting. You see their job, their relationship, their luxuries and that can lead to a lower self esteem for yourself. Take for example, you haven’t yet passed your driving test, and you see a bunch of people from your school posting pictures of their certificates. Or perhaps you are single, but you see on your feed a load of people getting engaged. That can lead to all sorts of disparaging feelings about yourself.
You’ve also got the news. Major stories spread like wildfire on social media. Suddenly having your thoughts cluttered with scary information that you can do nothing about can be overwhelming and lead to anxiety. Personally, I avoid watching the news because of how negative it is, but then of course, I see most of it anyway.
On a similar level, teenagers are exposed to challenges or dares. There can be pressures online that feel inescapable. There have been instances of certain drinking challenges which has led to people’s deaths. As an adult, it’s easier to turn away from these things but as a teenager, it doesn’t seem that simple. These are your peers and it’s hard to break away from the crowd. I don’t know if you ever experienced it, but while I was in school, there were regularly chainmail texts that would threaten something bad happening if you did not forward it. The first time I received something like that, I was terrified! Logically, you know it’s stupid but there’s always that “what if” at the back of your head. Peer pressure has always been an issue but even more so on social media.
That then leads me to my next point of cyberbullying or catfishing. Social media presents the perfect opportunity for bullies as they are in no danger themselves and feel as though they can target others without any negative consequences. That fear of being targeted online can lead to a lot of anxiety. It might be hurtful comments or even direct messages that can bring emotional pain.
As you can see from all of the above, there are a lot of ways that social media can impact your mental health negatively. So how do we combat this and take care of our mental health? Here are some basic tips:
Block or report anyone who is leaving hateful comments
Don’t post personal information
Take breaks from social media
View it as a way of connecting with like-minded people and use it as it was meant to be used, don’t worry about the numbers.