1. It encourages addictive behaviour
It’s predicted that, on average, many of us here in the UK will spend up to two hours a day on social media and this figure nearly doubles when it comes to our weekend usage. For most of us, scrolling through social media is a habit but there is some concern out there that this habitual behaviour could turn into addictive behaviour. A 2011 review paper found that those who spend more time on social media tended to be less involved with their real-life communities and were more likely to seek social platforms out as a place to get validation.1
This type of withdrawal and reward system is quite similar to the behaviour exhibited in other cases of addiction but, interestingly, governing bodies such as WHO haven’t recognised excessive social media use as an addiction yet; it’s difficult to determine the difference between habitual behaviour, and many people don’t exhibit all the symptoms associated with an addition. Nevertheless, if you find yourself constantly thinking about social media, feeling uncomfortable if you’re not on one of the platforms, or anxious if you spend time away from these types of apps, then it’s possible that you are starting to exhibit an unhealthy fixation and it might be time to look at reducing your usage.
2. It helps to boost your mood (in the short term)
Lately there’s been a lot of headlines about the worrying effect of social media on our mood and how it could make us more vulnerable to stress and anxiety (more on this later), but this largely depends on how you use the platform. At Michigan State University, a small study found that active participants on Facebook – those who were responsive to comments and engaged with other users through a group – demonstrated an increase in their wellbeing compared to more passive users.2
This makes sense too, especially when we consider that social media exists to keep us connected with the wider world – if you’re using it in this context, social media platforms like Facebook can actually do a lot to prevent isolation and the emotional baggage that comes with loneliness.
3. It can cause FOMO
FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is one of the leading factors that drive social media behaviours and addictions, and it can have a sizable impact on our mood too! You see, social media is great for staying connected with other people but it also allows you to create an image of yourself that might not necessarily match up to reality. You might scroll through your Facebook and Instagram feed jealously admiring holiday photos, night-out selfies and other achievements and wonder why everyone else seems to be living such fascinating and interesting lives apart from you?
This can then make you feel as though you’re missing out, as though your life isn’t as satisfying as everyone else’s. Of course, this is nearly always not the case but, nevertheless, you will make the comparison and find yourself coming up short, affecting your self-esteem and making you feel more anxious. In fact, some have now started to treat FOMO as a type of social anxiety disorder as it displays very similar behaviour patterns – the fear of being judged and the fear of being criticised by others.
4. It increases your awareness
Social media may affect your mood but it also, undeniably, makes you more aware of what is going on in the world around you and allows you to interact with larger issues. You can make your opinion heard on subjects that you are passionate about, plus you can even get involved in charitable events and start-ups. It also allows you to connect to people who are interested in these problems and events too, giving you access to a wider community that you may not have close by. In this way social media can actually be a good thing, encouraging and bolstering your confidence whilst giving you the chance to be more proactive.
5. It can inhibit your sleep patterns
If you’ve ever read any of my blogs over at A.Vogel Talks Sleep, you’ll know that I’m not a huge fan of taking your devices (smart phones, tablets, laptops etc.) with you to bed. Unfortunately, most of us who use social media have found ourselves scrolling when we should be sleeping. A 2017 study of over 1,700 young adults found that those who used social media in the 30 minutes before bed were more likely to experience poor sleep.3
This could be because of the stimulus that social media apps provide but it could also be linked with the blue lightwaves emitted from their phone screens – these blue light waves can actually inhibit your production of the sleep hormone melatonin, making you feel more awake and alert. Poor sleep is all very well but how does this impact your mood? Well, sleep deprivation has a long history of being associated with poorer moods the following day – just read my blog, ‘How to overcome stress for a better night’s rest’ if you want any more information here.
6. In the long-term, it can lower your mood
Social media might give your mood a boost in the short-term, but research has found that with greater usage, over time, comes greater consequences for our mental health. I’ve already mentioned a few of the factors that could lower your mood – FOMO, poor sleep and obsessive behaviours – but wider research has also tackled this issue and the results have been worrying. One study, published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, found that there was a causal link between social media use and depression.
In this experiment, 143 participants were split into two control groups – one group would continue their social media use as usual whereas the other group would have their time on social media restricted. It was found that a more limited use of social media was associated with fewer depressive symptoms such as loneliness.4
This would almost appear to match a growing trend. Despite their popularity, more and more people seem to be leaving social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook, and have since reported feeling happier.5 Is a total or partial hiatus really the answer, though, or is there a better way to manage our usage of social media?
What is the best way to use social media?
So, as I’ve discussed, social media is far from inherently bad, rather it’s how we choose to use it that matters. The simple truth is that most of us are using social media far too much – it’s estimated that some people are on social media for longer than they spend in bed at night – around 6-8 hours a day! Of course, if social media is part of your job this is inescapable, but for the rest of us if we really want to get the most out of social media, less could in fact be more.
That’s why below I’ve shared some of my top tips for managing your social media use!
My top tips
- Call someone, don’t message them: Social media is a great way of staying in touch with your friends but sometimes it’s a good idea to put down the laptop and pick up the phone. Texting is no substitute for a real conversation and sometimes having a discussion with someone and simply hearing their voice can be very reassuring
- Don’t be believe everything you read or see: You might be staring wistfully at Bob’s holiday pictures in Bali or wandering why Sara’s got a graduate job already – we’ve all been there and we’ve all made the comparisons and found our own lives to be lacking. Just be aware that this is what they are choosing to show you – it’s never the whole truth and, most of the time, the grass really isn’t greener on the other side
- Don’t bring your phone to bed with you: Struggling to sleep? You probably find it quite comforting to have a quick scroll on Facebook before attempting to doze off but trust me; this definitely won’t help you to sleep. That’s why I suggest avoiding your devices before bedtime – try to keep them on silent and out of reach!
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is often recommended when it comes to combatting FOMO symptoms or helping yourself to switch off from social media. It’s an excellent way of helping to manage your mood, teaching you how to observe your thoughts and imparting stress-busting deep breathing techniques to help combat anxiety.