We all have those FOMO moments (fear of missing out) when we see someone’s snapchat story of a party we didn’t attend, scroll past an instagram of friends posing without us, or see statuses about events we couldn’t make it to. It becomes addicting to watch the stories, like the instagram photos, and scroll through the various social media feeds that seem to be embedded within our lives. It can be so addicting that, depending on our personal backgrounds, it can become harmful to our mental health if used excessively.
Although social media sites like Facebook have their benefits in small doses, the constant checking of apps like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram have the potential to create extremely negative internal thoughts and depressing feelings. This is especially common in young adults, and increasingly so in individuals with pre-existing depressive thoughts or social anxiety. The big question is: WHY?
Why is this the case?
- This constant access to social media sites makes us more likely to compare ourselves to people on Facebook, whether they are a close friend, someone that we may have met once in our lives, or even someone we knew years ago. We end up formulating idealized images of people that may or may not match up with reality.
- We get caught in a cycle of “liking” photos, being bothered by getting “unfriended,” and posting photos when we’re the happiest even if that’s not how we always feel. It’s a constant game of “How can I look like I’m always ‘thriving’?”
- Long periods of time spent on social media sites can take away from in-person social interactions, physical exercise, and other activities. They have the potential to decrease social bonding and increase feelings of loneliness and isolation in those most vulnerable.
The Science Behind It
The nearly competitive act of counting how many likes we get one week compared to the next, and comparing ourselves to our “online” friends becomes a threat to our mental health, especially our self-confidence, which in turn can make us feel sad. What’s more, aspects of physical social interactions such as eye contact, hugging, and laughing are as amazing in theory as they are in persson because they physically make us feel good due to chemicals like dopamine–a natural substance that plays an important role in pleasure and reward–that fires away in the brain when we’re in good company.
As you may have guessed, we aren’t getting as much of this through a screen, especially if the constant cycle of content on social media isn’t something particularly welcoming.
How can we prevent it?
There’s a saying that all things can be good in moderation, and that’s certainly applicable to social media! It’s not ultimately necessary to delete your social media accounts, but if you start to have negative or depressive feelings when spending time on these accounts, it may be time to consider cutting back the hours you spend logged-in and evaluate the reasons why you get on to begin with.
Learn the Difference between Reality and Fantasy
We tend to glamorize the lives of our peers. It seems that nowadays everybody is “so happy” and “#thriving”, but just because we see pictures or statuses about our friends’ so-called ‘fantastic” lives doesn’t mean they are always true. We have to realize that their lives aren’t perfect all the time, and that what we see isn’t always the truth. A picture is worth a thousand words, but it doesn’t always tell the whole story. Remember that.
Embrace the Non-Social Media World
The ability to be constantly connected at the touch of a screen isn’t always a blessing. Sometimes, it can be downright annoying. Instead, embrace the beauty of in-person interactions in real time. Sometimes a few physical friends are much better than the hundreds of online friends and “likes” that social media platforms offer.
Remember, social media isn’t evil. In fact, it can be an awesome networking tool that allows you to create opportunities, and it offers quick access to important news.
It only becomes a problem when too much of our time is inundated with social media that our mental health becomes compromised. It is important to notice if and when this happens and to give your health the attention it deserves. Social media will always be there for you, but real life people necessarily won’t. So take a break from the screens, turn off the tweets, and try to experience the world in a non-digital way.
By: Laurel Thompson