Do you need a social media break?

July 06, 2017 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

Have you ever felt bad after looking at Facebook or Instagram? Do you find yourself checking social media sites throughout the day … and comparing yourself to others?

Online social networking has changed the way we communicate and interact. Sure, social media has its advantages. It can help us feel connected without having to leave our homes. It can help us share ideas and educate each other. But sometimes, it can make us feel pretty lousy too.

Growing research suggests that the prolonged use of social media can actually harm mental health — especially in young people.

In a recently published report by the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), a group of 14- to 24-year olds were surveyed about how different social media platforms impacted their health and well-being.

The findings indicate that some of the most popular social media platforms — namely Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat — increased feelings of inadequacy and anxiety among the group. Instagram, an image-based social app with over 700 million users worldwide, had the most negative impact on mental well-being, followed closely by Snapchat.

Use of the popular social media platforms was associated with high levels of anxiety, depression, body image worrries, sleep problems, cyberbullying and FOMO (the fear of missing out).

Time spent online is also a factor. Young people who spend more than two hours a day on social media sites are more likely to report poor mental health and psychological distress, including symptoms of anxiety and depression.

While many questions about the effects of social media on mental health remain unanswered, what we do know is that social media is not going away anytime soon. Facebook, as the biggest social networking site, currently has more than 1 billion active users.

And it isn’t all bad. In some cases, social media can strengthen social ties and serve as an outlet for self-expression and self-identity. The social and emotional support derived from online networking can often boost mental health.

The problem comes with heavy social media use, which means less face-to-face interactions with friends and family, and more shallow interactions online — which can lead to increased feelings of loneliness and depression.

Social media use can also lead to false perceptions of others’ lives —including physical appearance, popularity and other characteristics. You may see others as happier and more successful than you, which can cause feelings of jealousy and inadequacy, particularly if you are already depressed or anxious.

If you get to a point where social media is bringing down your mood, you may want to take a break from it. Here’s how:

  • Get offline! Turn the computer off, put the phone down and do something else.
  • Get moving. Go for a walk, hit the gym, try yoga, swimming, dancing, or any other type of exercise.
  • Deactivate your social media account (you can always reactivate it later).
  • Unfollow friends who tend to post things that make you feel bad.
  • Remember that social media isn’t a representation of reality. It’s an area where people often present a biased, positive version of reality – often showing only the most attractive side of their lives.

We need to continue to look at mental health through the lens of our digital age. After the recent RSPH survey, experts are now urging social media firms to take steps to protect young users, such as placing a warning on images that have been altered, and alerting users with pop-ups when they’ve been online for too long.

As parents, we need to closely monitor our kids’ use of social media, and teach them how to use it responsibly — to promote mental wellness, not the other way around.

Feeling depressed? Get support from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

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