Mental Health

Why social media is bad for our mental health

What a wonderful day! I am sitting in my room trying to write this article, while desperate rays of sunshine are trying to peak through my window. I am tensed, trying hard to focus, at the same time fighting an urge to scroll Instagram feed one more time. What if someone posted something new...

No, - my inner voice responds, - You should keep writing; it’s your passion, and it’s your work, that’s why you are where you are. Keep working.

After a few minutes of writing I finally give myself a permission to look at my phone. Guilt is still there, as well as relief. Phew, I didn’t miss out on anything.

Sounds familiar? Welcome to the social media addicts club!

Of course, I oversimplified the situation, but I am sure, anyone who uses social media on a daily basis, will get the point.

Why is social media a problem?

Limitations of social media:

  • it distracts us from doing what we are supposed (planned) to do;
  • it creates unrealistic expectations and perceptions of how our life should be;
  • it gives us a reason to compare ourselves to others and feel bad about ourselves because of #2;
  • it makes us feel we don’t exist outside social media;
  • social media is built the way everyone wants those “likes”. We often think that if we are not approved by others, we are not good enough.

Now, let’s talk about each one of these individually.

Constantly distracted by social media

Distraction is one of the worst aspects of social media, I find. The more we use our phones, the more addicted we become. Many times we use our phone as a form of escapism from the situations we don’t want to face, activities that are important, but we don’t want to do it now, etc. In that case social media comes secondary, it’s not the cause of the problem but the drug we use to avoid solving the problem.

How to help yourself: recognize those patterns, when you feel an urge to check your phone, ask yourself why. Do you have more important stuff to do, that probably you don’t want to or scared to do for some reason? Answer the question and think about possible options, how you can improve it by maybe creating a smaller tasks or different, easier and more enjoyable tasks to help you get closer to your goals.

Limit your social media time. Say, you’ll only check your phone twice a day, and stick to the plan. This goes together with #1, because if you use social media as a form of escapism, you’ll have a strong urge to check it during the day even if you established rules.

Unrealistic expectations 

Unrealistic expectations make another dangerous aspect of social media that impacts our mental health. Many times, we are caught by beliefs that majority of people on social media live perfect lives. It’s because not many people talk about their problems online. It is more popular to show highlights of your life as oppose to lows. In fact, nobody wants to see others struggling. It’s like looking at the nice pictures of beaches and fancy hotels; nobody likes to look at the old, almost "dead", houses. It doesn’t mean they don’t exist though.

It’s important to realize that social media is only a platform for sharing whatever people want to share, it is not about all aspects of life. So, by looking at the pictures, videos or messages we should always remember that it’s only one moment from someone’s life. Most likely, the best one.

Comparison

Comparison naturally comes from our constant observation of everyone’s lives on social media. At times we get so caught up by what we see, that we forget to live our own lives. We start to think that people do better than us, that they are more successful, richer, healthier and, therefore, happier. Comparison usually leads to envy. Envy either makes us depressed or encourages us to do the same thing to achieve "good" results, even though we don't really know if that is exactly what we want.

It's important to remember that what we see is (again) not the reality, it’s not a full picture of people’s lives. We see only the bright side that often seems greener.

We should live according to our own standards, based on our values. In order to know our values, and what is important to us, we should be in tune with ourselves, we have to spend more time with ourselves in nature instead of scrolling through social media feeds.

Who am I without social media

When we constantly check our phones, and our presence in the world is defined by our presence online, then we might have hard times functioning in real life. Basically, every time when we are not online, we feel like we don’t exist, that we are forgotten, or we are not a part of the society. It comes from false thinking that “life is online”, “all people are online”, etc.

Try to spend more time outside social media, with real friends or doing real activities. You do exist, if you are not present online, you will exist even if social media doesn’t. Work on being ok, knowing that many people online work there, and there’s much more to life, than a created image. Look outside your phone. Be present where you are now and enjoy those moments, that you spend in nature or wherever you are.

Searching for approval

And finally, if we post something on social media, we often expect an approval from others. We are waiting for people to pat us on the back, whether it’s for our looks, our house or anything else. We give one single comment a power to make or ruin our entire day, and in many cases, we let others define whether we are good enough or not.

The best thing you can do is to take a break from social media and see, how you’re going to feel without it. Spend more time building your self-esteem and self-compassion instead of building your online presence. Talk to yourself as if you are your best friend. Tell yourself what you like about you. Pat yourself on the back. Remember, that people online are most likely to stay online, pay attention to who’s surrounding you in real life and ask them, what they think about you. If it’s real friends or family, they will tell you things about yourself, that are important for you to remember. Everyone has something good about them, and we should focus on that. People who are close to us in our everyday life matter much more that online followers, that don’t really know us.

Is it that bad?

If used wisely, social media can be a useful tool for inspiration, communication and entertainment. But if you give it too much power, you will have to deal with consequences. So be careful with overspending your time posting pictures and scrolling through feeds. Give it a part of your time, but don’t let it consume you completely.