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Is Social Media Making You Anxious or Depressed?

December 18, 2023

All that time you spend scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and other social media may feel entertaining. But too much screen time could be contributing to your anxiety and depression.

We’re still working to better understand how an evolving social media landscape impacts the way we interact with other people and how those interactions affect the way we feel. Consider one of the key elements of these social networks – the drive to get clicks or likes. In their effort to drive engagement, these platforms tap into a tendency we all have: to make judgments about ourselves, compared to others.

Mental health risks flow from that very normal tendency. The more time you spend on social media, the more likely you are to make determinations about how you (and your posts) stack up. It’s easy to feel apprehensive or self-critical when you see other people touting their amazing vacations, wonderful partners, perfect children and new cars. The resulting discrepancy fosters negative self-statements, difficulty with self-image, and increased risk for depression or anxiety.

And when you aren’t seeing the excitement of other people’s lives, you may find yourself embroiled in political, religious or philosophical arguments that leave you frustrated, angry or afraid, all normal reactions to these kinds of one-sided messages

If you spend time on multiple platforms, you’re facing a relentless barrage with the potential to wear you down throughout the day.

Fear of Missing Out

One of the dangers of social media is that it constantly reminds us that other people are doing things we long to do ourselves. There’s even a term for this phenomenon – FOMO, or fear of missing out.

It doesn’t help that we all have friends who are particularly good at curating their lives so that they seem perfect. Every post highlights a glorious meal, vacation, relationship or event that leaves you longing for the same.

It’s almost inevitable that you find yourself making comparisons between your own life and the ones you see presented on Instagram. We are intimately aware of the areas where we are coming up short, while simultaneously being told that everyone else is doing great.

These factors contribute to a troubling paradox in the world of social media. We go to these platforms to feel more connected to the world around you but can end up feeling isolated, inferior and frustrated.

Coping Strategies

Among the first things you can do to blunt the negative aspects of social media is to keep things in perspective. Stop comparing your own blooper footage to other people’s highlight reels. Those boastful posts from your friends lack context and details. We do not see any of the anguish or struggle that went into that seemingly beautiful vacation.  Everyone struggles with life’s complications. But most people don’t talk about those difficulties on social media. Other strategies include:

  • Have a plan for social media use: It may be more helpful to focus on specific social aspects – keeping up with your family, close friends or work-related developments. Use those posts as an opportunity to engage in enjoyable or interesting topics by leaving comments and responding in kind.
  • Avoid the “doom scroll:” If you aren’t careful, you can spend an hour or more aimlessly browsing Facebook posts or TikTok videos. Social media companies use algorithms that are very good at keeping your eyes glued to the screen. But that’s not necessarily good for you.
  • Don’t neglect the real world: Social media is an important part of life for many people. There’s nothing wrong with spending time in that virtual world. But your mental health can benefit from breaks. Have lunch with a friend. Go for a walk. Spend some time exercising in the gym.
  • Don’t forget personal connections: Your online time shouldn’t replace your in-person time with family and friends. Social media can be a great tool for maintaining relationships with other people. Just make sure you are following up with offline interactions.

How Much Is Too Much?

There’s no way to put a definitive limit on social media time. But consider it in the context of other self-care activities. It’s probably not healthy to spend more time on social media than on cooking healthy meals, exercising or getting a good night’s sleep. Look for balance in your life.

Also look for signs that your thoughts or behavioral patterns are changing in response to what you’re seeing and experiencing on social media. If that’s happening, step back and consider some changes to your social media use.

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