The first time I ever thought about the potential negative
effects of social media use was when a friend and I were discussing her widowed
daughter. Lisa’s husband had died in a tragic accident, and she was grieving by
spending hours alone in her bedroom, scrolling through her social media feed.
My friend was worried because instead of being comforted by her social media, Lisa
seemed to be getting more depressed as time went on.
“Do you think spending hours looking at all of these happy
families on social media could actually be making her feel worse?” she asked.
That conversation was 10 years ago, before we had research
linking social media and depression. Studies over the last decade have shown that
the more time you spend engaged on social media, the more likely you are to
feel unhappy with yourself and your life.
A study conducted just last year found that adolescent girls
who spend five or more hours a day on social media are three times more likely
to be depressed. According to a 2015 study led by Dr. Erin Vogel at Rutgers,
this is especially true for those who have a tendency to compare themselves to
Many consumers are growing more concerned about their social
media habits, assessing their usage, and changing their behaviors. From turning
off notifications to removing social media apps from mobile devices, they are finding
ways to improve and reclaim control of their relationship with social media.
But not everyone who uses social media is unhappy.
So how do you know if you need to overhaul your social media
habits? A good place to start is by asking these three questions:
How do I
feel about myself when I use social media?
If the answer is that you feel worse about yourself or your
life after using social media, then the odds are that you’re using social media
for upward social comparison rather than for social connection. Upward social
comparison is comparing your life to people who you believe are better, richer,
prettier, more accomplished, etc. than you are.
Upward social comparison is a known happiness killer and can force you
into a downward emotional spiral as you spend more and more time believing you
are not keeping up.
If this pattern describes you, rethink who you want in your
social media community and seek connections instead with people whose life
purpose or contributions you admire, rather than those whose physical
attributes, material possessions, or flashy lifestyle you envy.
Recognize, too, that often those lives you envy are
carefully curated to project that envious image. Using social media to keep connected to
people you actually know, and to facilitate face to face interactions, can help
keep the impact of your social media feed positive.
Am I spending too much time on social media?
Americans average 2 hours and 22 minutes a day on social
media, which is up from 1 hour and 30 minutes in 2012. This increase in time had
to come from somewhere, and research shows that some of our time spent on
social media today used to be spent on sleep and face-to-face interactions with
If you are feeling tired and lonely, you may want to reduce
your time on social media and increase your time resting and engaging in person
with friends, and maybe strangers.
Research has shown that even engaging with people you don’t know makes
If you aren’t sure how much time you are spending on social
media via your mobile device, there are apps and settings on most smartphones
that will assist you in monitoring and limiting time spent on social media.
Am I spending time in the right places?
If your social media environment is full of questionable
content such as hate-filled rants, unkind posts and news from unreliable
sources that increase your stress level, you need to pull up stakes and move. Block,
unfriend, and disconnect from any person or organization spreading
misinformation and fomenting hate. Social media can be informative and
enlightening, but you must first carefully curate your online environment.
If you decide to overhaul your social media habits, let
these questions guide your process. Make sure your activities are centered
around connecting with others, and that your interactions are with good people
and reputable organizations who seek to share accurate content.
Then examine how much time you spend in the digital world
and ask yourself if it is too much. By becoming more self-aware of your social
media habits and cognizant of the potential pitfalls, you can better control
your time spent on social media so that it meets your needs and leaves you
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