Social media has become, especially for those of us who grew up in the muck of it, such an omnipresent entity in most of our days that it’s hard to imagine a world without it. What would it feel like to go a day, a month, or even a year without posting or browsing? Does that thought bring about a wave of relief, or crushing anxiety? Many of us have quite a love/hate relationship with social media—so what are the potential benefits and pitfalls of this daily activity, and how does it impact our overall well-being and mental health?
About six months ago, I deleted my Facebook. I did this because I felt it was bringing me more pain than joy. After a marathon scroll through the lives of my former co-workers at a suburban hibachi restaurant I worked at in high school, my middle school Geometry teacher, and my third-cousin who has frighteningly “fringy” political leanings, I came out of my social media stupor feeling, for lack of a better word, icky. I should not know this much about people, and they should certainly not know this much about me. I would also find myself comparing my life to the lives of others, or at least how their lives seemed through their carefully curated postings. I would feel intense anxiety over posting too much, because that felt like over-sharing, and also over posting too little, because then it looks like I have absolutely no social life. Though I’m still on Instagram and Snapchat, I decided to cut Facebook out completely—and I haven’t regretted it since.
But let’s start out with the positive aspects of social media. For one, social media can make us feel included and connected to our peers even though we may not see them every day. A 2010 Carnegie Mellon study found that greater social media usage results in increased “social capital” and reduced loneliness. Social media can also make it easier to find role models, or to connect with professionals when we may need help.
On the flip side, there are some inherent pitfalls that come along with what behavioral scientists call “online social networking.” Several studies conducted over the past decade have found a connection between social media use and depression. One of the first such studies, conducted in 1998, found that Internet use in general lead to a decrease in communication with family members and a decrease in size of their social circle, thereby increasing feelings of depression and loneliness.
When the impact of social networking via the Internet is included, this impact increases. A 2012 study found a statistically significant positive correlation between depressive symptoms and time spent on social network sites. It should be noted, however, that since social networking has only been in use for the past several years, conclusive studies have not been fully interpreted and discussed within the scientific community. Additionally, the causal nature of this relationship could not be determined.
One possible reason for this increase in depression is the fact that “computer-mediated communication” often leads to an altered and incorrect impression of the physical and personality traits of others, which thereby leads to incorrect conclusions regarding the moral integrity, physical appearance, educational level, etc. of online “friends.” A 2014 study on undergraduate students at a university in Utah reported that Facebook use is linked to the subject’s perceptions that the lives of others are better and that they are significantly happier than themselves, leading to a conclusion that “life is just unfair.” While perceiving others as happier does not necessarily lead to depression itself, it can certainly worsen symptoms within those already predisposed.
This leads us to another possibly problematic relationship—that of social media and self-esteem. Self-esteem is defined as “the evaluative component of the self; the degree to which one prizes, values, approves or likes oneself.” Therefore, it is clearly important in maintaining mental health and overall well-being. Furthermore, low-self-esteem is related to a number of mental illnesses, most notably depression. One possible reason that use of Facebook and other social media sites leads to low self-esteem, according to one behavioral scientist, is because it provides yet another avenue for self-presentation and narcissism to wreak havoc on your perception of health. His study found that individuals higher in narcissism and lower in self-esteem exhibited much higher levels of online activity and self-promotional content.
So—to ‘book or not to ‘book? To ‘gram and Snap, or not to ‘gram and Snap? Well, it’s really up to you. Ask yourself how you feel after a long social media bout. If you feel connected to others and less isolated, then ‘gram on! But if a long browse leaves you feeling depressed and isolated, remove yourself. Even a short break can do wonders for your self-esteem, and you may find you have a bunch of freed up time as well!
Burke, Moira, Cameron Marlow, and Thomas LEnto. "Social Network Activity and Social Well-Being." Human-Computer Interaction Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, 15 Apr. 2010. Web.
Chou, H. T., and N. Edge. ""They Are Happier and Having Better Lives than I Am": The Impact of Using Facebook on Perceptions of Others' Lives." Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2012. Web. 17 May 2017.
Kraut, R., M. Patterson, V. Lundmark, S. Kiesler, T. Mukopadhyay, and W. Scherlis. "Internet Paradox. A Social Technology That Reduces Social Involvement and Psychological Well-being?" The American Psychologist. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 1998. Web. 17 May 2017.
Pantic, Igor. "Online Social Networking and Mental Health." Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking. Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., 01 Oct. 2014. Web. 17 May 2017.
"Social Media and Psychology | Our Wired World and Mental Health." All Psychology Schools. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 May 2017.
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