5 (Frightening) Ways Social Media Can Destroy Your Mental Health

5 (Frightening) Ways Social Media Can Destroy Your Mental Health

5 (Frightening) Ways Social Media Can Destroy Your Mental Health

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As popular social media platforms are becoming an integral element in the lives of Generation Z users, experts from multiple spheres are actively exploring their effects on individual lifestyles.

While various opinions are voiced regarding the capability of Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to replace a traditional Saturday bar crawl with your friends, these are areas where the negative impact may be of utmost importance to your personal well-being and mental health.

A good example of this is the decreasing attention span making it more difficult for university students to concentrate on large chunks of information. These effects were reported by many customers of our PhD services company who suddenly discovered that a complete or partial social media fast could really boost their academic performance and progress within several weeks.

According to a recent report from the UK Centre for Mental Health, some patterns of social media usage may have a highly adverse impact on the mental health of young users and lead to addictions, compulsive behaviours or even increased risks of suicide. While we would not suggest discarding your online accounts due to these possible threats, it may be a good idea to be more aware of them to help yourself or your friends and relatives if you recognise their signs. It should also be noted that such companies as Facebook were repeatedly caught experimenting with various techniques for the manipulation of their users’ emotional states. As stated by some stand-up comedians, if you do not have paranoia (yet), this does not mean you are not being followed.

This article explores the 5 unobvious ways social media can challenge your mental health.

1. Unrealistic Appearance Standards

The increasing frequency of body dysmorphic disorder occurrence has already forced some social media, including Instagram, to remove augmented reality instruments. This decision was made to prevent some users from applying ‘cosmetic surgery’ to their images. Some earlier surveys in this sphere revealed that multiple cases of mental health issues including increased anxiety and inadequacy were caused by the unrealistic beauty standards set by visually oriented online platforms. This problem can be further intensified by celebrities and beauty bloggers promoting various means of online shopping and cosmetic treatments. The willingness to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ may force many followers into compulsive buying disorders or dangerous experiments with their appearance and body.

The ‘rating’ systems that were eliminated by Instagram in a recent experiment were another part of this problem. For people concerned with their appearance, social media may not be the most supportive place since they can be exposed to negative comments, trolling, and other forms of abuse from other users. However, there may be a complex balance in this sphere depending on the initial motivations to consume beauty content. The users seeking such information to enrich their personal style were less susceptible to potential threats to mental health in comparison with their peers using it as a ‘reference point’ for their own sense of worth. Unfortunately, the line between these two approaches may be a thin one, which is why you should monitor your emotional states when browsing through your Instagram newsfeed.

2. Distorted Life Goals and Aspirations

Another problem related to the use of social media as a reference point is associated with goal-setting and life aspirations. Multiple scientists including experts from the University of Missouri considered these activities as one of the primary antecedents of depression and other mental health problems. While this link may not be obvious, there are some deep connections between these two phenomena.

Social media allows users to observe the realities of ‘top performers’ in some spheres interesting to them. This was not available to previous generations basing their plans and expectations from life on those of their social peers. However, many of these representations are heavily edited to hide some elements of these lifestyles such as sponsorship-based trips or item ownerships. Moreover, modern marketing techniques frequently imply the need to conceal such information and promote influencers as persons who ‘live next door’. This is radically different from traditional celebrity coverage where viewers realise the vast existing gap between them and their favourite stars in terms of income levels and lifestyle options.

This misleading information frequently results in ‘aspirations strain’ cases where people make attempts to achieve unrealistic goals to copy the success of their idols. In combination with the aforementioned appearance standards issues, this frequently increases their risks of damaging their physical and mental health. The popularity of ‘online challenges’ also contributes to this trend making ‘underperformers’ suffer from low self-esteem and depression.

3. Obsessive Attachment to Mobile Devices

A recent study on web-based communication has demonstrated that the use of social media could be linked with the gratification model. This psychological framework suggests that the attachment to such platforms can be addictive in cases when their use is sought as a method of suppressing the sense of anxiety and insecurity. A simple test showing your problems in this sphere is to put away your mobile device from your field of view. If you can easily spend several hours with your smartphone lying in another room without experiencing the urge to check your newsfeed or read some incoming messages, you are perfectly fine (for the moment). Unfortunately, this is not the case for 46% of participants in a recent study. According to its findings, more than half of the respondents spent more than 5 hours daily without being able to put down their smartphones.

As people are looking for positive emotions and affection that they cannot receive from their peers and family members, they become dependent on social media affirmations bringing instant doses of dopamine. However, this attachment is dysfunctional by its nature and results in their obsessive attachment to mobile devices. The intention to check for likes and messages more frequently is also paired with a reducing attention span due to the long-term consumption of brief texts and image-based information. In a long-term perspective, you may experience problems with processing complex ideas, which may further attach you to the ‘smartphone format’ of communication.

These aspects have both direct and indirect effects on mental health since the resulting behaviour changes may further reduce the capability to resolve real-life problems and develop more positive ways of dopamine production. Another good way to identify your problems in this sphere is to use a time-tracking app. Many of those are available for Android and iPhone systems and allow you to measure the time spent on social media. If your mileage exceeds 5 hours, you may want to experiment with various blocking solutions that prevent you from mindlessly checking your newsfeeds or messages during working hours or other periods of time when you require maximum concentration.

4. Lack of Human Connection

It is perfectly OK to use social media to keep in touch with your friends from other cities and countries. However, problems emerge when we tend to use it to replace real-life communication. While Zoom calls and social media messages have been a necessary evil during COVID-19 lockdowns, there exist a number of serious risks associated with these instruments.

On the one hand, they are adversely affecting the quality of face-to-face interactions since your communication with your social media contacts remains uninterrupted as opposed to traditional communication in the XX century. You are updated about every fact of their lives on a daily basis and you effectively have no news to discuss when you finally meet each other in person.

On the other hand, the format of online communication is radically different from traditional interactions. Just think about it:

– You can use your best photos or edit your profile appearance using Photoshop.

– You can make pauses to Google up some information during conversations.

– You can simultaneously write messages to multiple people.

– You can fully avoid awkward pauses and other problems emerging from being a shy person.

In real meetings, this leads to a radical contrast between your real self and your virtual self. As you delve deeper into creating your idealised persona and fail to maintain the same ease of communication in the physical world, you may gradually shift to not going out at all. This radically decreases your quality of life as you miss social contacts, new friends or romantic dates with the persons you like. From a mental health standpoint, this increasing discrepancy between two selves is alarmingly similar to mild forms of dissociative identity disorders. If you suddenly recognise that your last meeting with friends occurred several months ago, you may be exposed to some risks in this sphere.

It is important to keep in mind that text messages cannot substitute the visual, audial, and kinaesthetic information that our brains recognise as ‘social contacts’. As a result, we may be experiencing increasing anxiety and loneliness similar to the feelings of the prisoners in solitary confinement. Having hundreds of open chats on Facebook may actually be less effective for avoiding these feelings than going on a single Tinder date or getting together with your friends for a cup of coffee or a good old pub crawl.

The effect of isolation may be especially dangerous to freelancers and remote workers who order food online and frequently forget about the significance of maintaining a social life. In combination with high levels of mental stress and workloads, they are in the high-risk group in terms of developing mental health issues due to social media overuse.

5. Melatonin Production Issues

Our circadian rhythms controlling sleep quality and body recuperation largely depend on the amount of blue light in the spectrum. While social media are not directly responsible for being exposed to lighting from mobile devices in the hours preceding our ‘bedtime’, they are one of the primary reasons for using them in bed to check those latest newsfeed updates.

The basic solution in this aspect is to install blue light filters on your smartphones and tablets to gradually reduce blue/green wavelengths in the evening hours. For those with a more radical worldview, consider not using your devices for 1-2 hours before sleep and spending this time with your family. The lack of sleep is one of the primary antecedents of such mental problems as depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other serious conditions. If you experience problems in this sphere, act immediately to resolve them.

If you live with other people, a good alternative solution is to substitute your late-night newsfeed browsing addiction with some healthier alternatives. Discuss this issue with them and try to integrate some routine activities in the hours preceding your bedtime. They can include board games, late-night conversations or neighbourhood walks. The main idea here is to substitute potentially problematic habits with alternative activities you really enjoy rather than attempting to simply cut them out of your lives. Your mind does not accept emptiness, which is why not having anything meaningful to do during your evening hours can quickly bring you back to browsing through your Facebook feed.

Final Thoughts

The list of these 5 key problematic spheres does not cover all potential issues caused by the excessive use of social media. It may be difficult for a non-specialist to determine whether some signs such as spending 3-4 hours online on a daily basis reflect good socialisation levels or an unhealthy search for gratification and ‘dopamine hits’. You can experiment with our recommendations for each sphere to see whether your patterns of use create any existing or future problems in your life.

It may also be effective to measure the adverse impact of social media consumption on some socialisation and well-being characteristics such as sleep duration and quality, the sense of self-worth, and overall anxiety levels. Try to identify some qualitative indicators in this sphere and start a diary to see any emerging patterns. If you encounter any problems in these spheres, it may be a good idea to experiment with ‘social media deprivation’ during one weekend by taking a family trip or visiting your friends.

At the same time, we would advise you to discuss such issues with a good therapist if you experience such issues on a regular basis.

With addictive social media use being cited as a widespread trend in many countries, it may be better to solve any problems in this sphere before they develop into serious mental health issues.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and check out some more articles you may like to continue your self improvement journey!

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