The harmful effects of too much social media use have been popularly documented and are even quite frankly, a bit cliché at this time. But these effects are real and measurable, and mental health experts and authorities have begun in earnest to bring forth actual data that shows that an addiction to social media is indeed harmful not only for teens and young adults but for people of every age. The data has also shown that the excessive use of social media will directly impact negatively on the mental health of its victims.
Social media on its own has provided a much-needed escape for all types of people. Introverts and extroverts use social media for entirely different reasons, as do individuals with a predilection for narcissism. As we have all found out, social media platforms like Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and Snapchat can easily go from an interesting pastime to a full-on, wake-up-in-the-morning-and-check-your-phone addiction. It is a very slippery slope with these apps and therefore it is important for us to ask questions about the effects of constantly, compulsorily exposing our minds to the social spaces. We will look at the data of the behavioral changes that we don’t need an experiment to see and why there is a major mental health risk from overdosing on these apps.
A study has found that the excessive use of Facebook triggers more sadness and less well being, both on a moment-to-moment basis and over the long term. This is because it offsets a sense of social isolation, ironically and the feeling of being socially isolated (perceived social isolation), is very bad for our mental health, even more than real social isolation. Another study found that people who use social media heavily reported a higher incidence of perceived social isolation. Not surprisingly, the more time people spent on these sites and apps, the more socially isolated they perceived themselves to be.
Comparing our lives with others
One of the reasons for which people feel most socially isolated with the heavy use of social media sites is the strong tendency for them to compare their lives with their friends, involuntarily. The timeline provides a tool akin to a compass, that tells you how well you’re doing (or how worse off you are) in comparison to your friends. And this comparison can bring feelings of depression and unnecessary pressure. In fact, studies have found that even when we perceive ourselves to be doing better than our friends, and thus further ahead in life than they are, we still feel bad about it subconsciously, which ultimately spirals down to that feeling of being socially isolated. It does not matter to our subconscious brains that we know that a good number of the things posted on social media by our contacts and friends may not necessarily turn out to be accurate or consistent with real life. As long as there is that subconscious comparison going on every time we log on, there will always be the attendant feeling of inadequacy or overachievement, which leads us to believe we are isolated.
One of the things we don’t need data or a study to determine the results of our heavy use of social media is the pure green envy that it brews. Comparing your life to the lives of your friends (as described by their probably carefully doctored social media profiles) is one sure way to begin to get dissatisfied with your own life, and then slowly begin to feel envious of other people’s lives as an escape from the reality of yours. The actual fact is that in real life, the thing for which people are envious may be unreal or a deliberate smoke screen.
Anyhow, envy leads other social media users to share more aspirational content of themselves, and in the process of trying to one-up others, they could make horrible mistakes. Like throwing all their savings into a particularly expensive vacation when they could have got the same experience at a much cheaper destination.
Also, a study has identified envy to be the link between the excessive use of social media and social media-induced depression, the need to project a life that matches the perceived standards set by other friends.
The Vicious Cycle
Just like people who are addicted to drugs, we may get the feeling that returning to social media will help us feel better about our lives or the fact that all our friends are doing better than we are, and so we log in again, powerless to stop our fingers from selecting the app. But going back to Facebook will work in the direct opposite direction, and even when we know this, we still go back in hopes that we will feel better. It’s a downward spiral.
The effects of excessive social media use show themselves in every facet of our lives. We may want to pretend that we don’t see it, but it is there. We sleep very late because we’re thumbing our phones, and we have a terrible day the next day. We wake up in the morning and the first thing we do is reach for our phones. Someone whom we do not know drops a silly comment on a photo of us and we feel inadequate for weeks. All these tiny pressures affect our mental health and well-being. Cutting back on social media may be incredibly difficult, but if we want to remain socially functional and emotionally and mentally well, there is no alternative.