Impact of social media on mental wellbeing
As discussed in previous articles, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.
Social media has become a useful tool in the world we now live in.
It allows people to stay connected with friends and family, to share their life events, participate in online events, raise awareness on important issues of societal concern and to even conduct business and make money.
However, excessive social media use can have a detrimental effect on people’s mental well-being.
Social media use effect on.
Overuse of social media applications on gadgets and devices can result in;
- Distraction from work and school Social media can become a constant distraction from work and school responsibilities. The constant flow of new information can keep people checking their updates and interfere with tasks that need them to focus. Distraction due to mobile phone usage while driving is increasingly becoming a cause of road traffic accidents.
- Reduced attention span.
Some social media applications, particularly those that show very short videos (less than 30seconds each) can result in short attention spans even in adults. This makes it difficult to sustain attention to do tasks that need longer focus such as reading a book or attending a meeting or lecture. Some studies have found that adult human attention spans worldwide may have now been reduced to as little as 12 seconds. This change is mostly due to social media overuse.
- Possible addiction.
Many people have become addicted to their phones. They find it difficult to spend even a few hours away from their gadgets and they may find themselves constantly checking their devices for new updates even when the phone or gadget has not alerted them to any new messages. The novel nature of information that constantly flows in social media feeds can have the effect of raising dopamine levels as drugs of abuse would do and we can literally become ‘addicted’ to our social media sites.
- Poor sleep.
For many people, mobile phones have become a constant digital companion. The first thing they interact with when they wake up and they often fall asleep with the phones in their hands. Many phones and gadgets emit blue light which interferes with people’s ability to sleep and the constant flow of new information on social media feeds can keep their minds preoccupied and active even late into the night.
This results in poor sleep and difficulties in functioning during the day.
- Low self-esteem.
Many people post the great aspects of their lives on social media (holiday pictures, picture perfect family portraits). This gives a false narrative of how life is generally and can make some people feel less confident about their own lives. Social media often makes people compare themselves with others and research has shown that for some time after spending time on social media, many people feel “less than” compared to others.
- Social disconnection and loneliness.
Ironically, social media applications which are supposed to help people become more social can have the opposite effect.
People can end up spending more time interacting on virtual platforms and less time talking and interacting with their family and friends in real life and eventually lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection. Social media overuse can also make people self-absorbed and less conscious of the needs of others in their lives. In an increasingly over-connected world, people are sadly becoming more and more disconnected emotionally. Human beings are relational by nature and they can never eliminate the need for real life human connection even in the digital era they are now in.
- Anxiety and depression.
There is a link between excessive social media use and higher rates of anxiety and depression. Also, those who already have challenges with depression and anxiety may use social media excessively as a way to escape difficult emotions. Studies have shown that reducing social media usage even by just 30 minutes a day can result in improved mental well-being.
- Effects of cyber bullying.
One of the causes of increased anxiety and depression with social media use is cyberbullying. Because of the relative anonymity of most social media sites, sometimes people can become hostile to others, give discouraging, insulting or even abusive comments without thought to consequences. Social media has also become a platform for sharing of private, sexual materials, either photos or videos, of another person without their consent.
How can people limit the negative effects of social media on their mental well-being?
- Reduce time online.
It is critical that people gain control over the time they are spending mindlessly scrolling through social media feeds. People need to make a deliberate effort to limit their usage and to monitor social media usage in young people particularly. They can set times where they switch off their data, or use applications that track and report their social media usage to them to help give feedback when it is becoming excessive.
People cannot eliminate social media completely, it has become a part of their lives and can be useful for communication and for their businesses but they need to regain control over how they use it.
- Taking social media breaks/vacations
It can be useful to spend prolonged periods of breaks on certain social media sites to regain control of usage and to focus on other aspects of life. Alternatively, one can remove social media applications on his or her mobile phone and only use them with a laptop or desk top computer. This can have the effect of reducing random use during the day.
- Spend more time in offline activities.
People need to deliberately set time offline to make real rather than virtual connections, to spend time with friends and family, to read, to exercise and spend time outdoors and to be more productive while at work and school.
- Sleep with your phone out of reach.
People need to be disciplined about their sleep time and their phones should ideally be out of reach when they sleep to avoid distractions.
Social media notifications can be switched off at night and the phone only left on for emergency communication.
- Address any underlying mental health problems: It is important that people seek help for depression, anxiety and any other mental health concern that may be fuelling excessive social media usage.
If you think that you or someone you know maybe struggling with the negative mental health effects of excessive social media use, please contact your nearest health care provider and get help.
l Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) article written by: Dr Chido Rwafa Madzvamutse, Consultant Psychiatrist.
Feedback: Dr. Chido Rwafa Madzvamutse Whatsapp+263714987729 www.ahfoz.org ; [email protected]