Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube…I bet I can tell you something about yourself without even having met you- ready?
On your personal device, you have at least one of these downloaded (or if you are like me, you have more than one of these downloaded). Lucky guess? Truth is, it’s not even luck with these odds. According to DataReportal Global Media Statistics there are 4.7 billion social media users around the world. To put this into context, the estimated global population is around 7.9 billion (United States Census Bureau).
I am sure you have heard controversy over social media use. It’s great for marketing, sustaining long distance or more frequent connections but we’ve also heard it can increase anxiety or decrease your mood -so which is it? The truth is, no one can tell you whether social media is right for you or not or if it is inherently good or inherently bad – that choice is up to you!
So how can you decide? How does social media affect mental health anyway? Let’s look at a few considerations!
Reward and Pleasure - Instant notifications such as a new message or “like” can increase dopamine in our brains. Activating this reward system can reinforce whatever behavior or stimulus initiated such (ex. checking your IG feed) (Harvard University).
Attention and Distraction – Social media apps design their algorithms with the intention to keep you coming back. Like slot machines, if we perceive that checking for rewards comes at little cost and at random, the behavior can become habitual (Harvard University).
Cognitive Overload – As humans, we are not meant to process immense amounts of information first thing in the morning or as much as we have access to throughout the day. Dr. Christopher Schimming states “if you are overwhelmed by more information than your brain can receive, you may develop frustration and detachment from the details your brain is processing” (Mayo Clinic).
Emotional Support – Psychologist, Lara Otte says “social media, if used in the right way, has great potential to inspire and connect people” (Psychology Today). Though social media may not provide face to face communications, it allows us to connect with people we may not otherwise have had the chance to do so.
Self Expression – We get to create our own account on each platform. What you post or how to present yourself is completely up to you. Authentic self-expression provides people the chance to validate their sense of self which can increase a sense of belonging and self-esteem (Nature Communications).
Access to Information – When we are not cognitively overloaded, social media allows us quick ability to learn and be exposed to new topics, ideas and world events. This can help raise awareness and increase knowledge.
To help you take the next step (whatever that may be), let’s look at some strategies that can help you decide whether your social media use is sustaining or draining you.
Reflect. Are you finding yourself feeling empowered and or are you experiencing anxious symptoms, comparison traps or feeling cognitively drained? Reflection is key with social media use. Here are a few strategies you can consider if you want to focus in on your online reflection.
Explore how many hours per day you are spending on each app – does this feel like it reflects you accurately? Are you happy to spend 2 hours a day on social media because it keeps you occupied and entertained, or can you think of another way you’d prefer to spend 2 hours a day?
Track how many times you are picking up your phone to check social media. Was there something specific you are going to look at or were you just between activities for a few seconds and out of habit, needed to fill that space?
What is your purpose with social media? For connection, for marketing? Are you using it for that purpose?
When you close the app, how are you feeling? That you learned something new or made a new connection? Or perhaps you’re feeling like you aren’t doing enough – you need to travel more, land a more glamorous job, or drive a fancier car. Which way do you want to feel? Were you feeling this way before you scrolled?
Tangible skills to decrease your use. If you decided it’s time to cut back on social media (and if you decided it’s not – that’s okay! Skip this part), here are a few strategies you can try! It is important to remember this isn’t always easy, so try just picking one or two!
Set time limits on apps (you can do this through your settings).
Set boundaries on the day or time of day you are accessing apps. Maybe you avoid social media the first and last hour of your day or Saturday's are offline!
Revisit your following / friends list. How are these accounts serving you? Are they giving you what you want out of social media? Are they causing you more distress when you see their content?
Consider solitude. In today’s world, it’s hard to accept slowing down and being alone with your thoughts. Use this time to get to know yourself better. Maybe finding a new hobby you can pull up just as fast will be what works for you!
About the Author
Hello! I am a Psychiatric Nurse and the Health and Wellness Educator for the University of Manitoba! I provide health and wellness information and guidance to students individually or interested groups on campus. I am also the co-coordinator of UM’s SSET program and Healthy U. My areas of interest include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, harm reduction and exploring the connection between our mind and body. Outside of my role, I enjoy going to the dog park and travelling – anytime near the ocean is a plus!