Social media has become a standard part of our lives, and sometimes we don’t even realize how much time we spend scrolling through the various feeds. It’s the last thing many of us look at before we go to bed and the first thing we check in the morning – but does interacting with social media hurt our mental health?
Social Media’s Effect on Mental Health
The Journal of Mental Health found that 70 studies conducted from January 2005 to June 2016 examining the effects of social media on mental health came back with differing conclusions. Some studies claimed social media has a positive impact on people’s lives, while others warned against the possible connection between social media and depression or anxiety.
Ultimately, the study found that social media does affect mental health. Whether it’s a positive or negative impact is determined by how the individual uses the platforms. Finding balance and developing healthy habits for using social media helps ensure it has a positive presence in your life.
Healthy Habits for Social Media Use
1. Schedule Time to Use Social Media and Plan Intervals to Step Away. Balance is the key (as is often the case) to forming healthy habits on social media. Experts recommended setting aside time to browse as well as planning stints to log off and ignore notifications. It’s particularly important to stay off social media when you’re spending time with friends or family and before you go to sleep. It may be helpful to use an old-fashioned alarm clock to wake up in the morning, so you can leave your phone in the other room when it’s time to go to bed.
2. Understand your Purpose when Logging into Social Media and Stick to it. We’ve all gone online to check the time of a birthday party next week and found ourselves, an hour later, watching video after video. Be thoughtful about why you’re logging into a site and sign off when you’re finished. This will also make sure you’re using social media the way you want – to connect with friends or get updates on your favorite band – without letting what other people are posting take over.
3. View Other People’s Posts as Inspiration Rather than a Comparison. Seeing other people broadcast their successes and post picture-perfect moments might make your daily life appear pale in comparison. But remember that these moments aren’t representative of someone’s whole life, and the person posting them is probably struggling with a lot of the same issues you are. Looking at these posts as inspiration to work toward your own goals, rather than directly comparing your life to their Instagram, is a healthier way to use social media. It’s also helpful to be selective about who you follow. If someone’s posts consistently make you feel bad about yourself or leave you frustrated, then consider unfriending or unfollowing that person.
4. Think Before Posting. Really think about what you’re sending out to the world. Before you hit send on a post, consider whether it’s spreading positivity. You can help make your feed an encouraging place by avoiding trolls or online arguments and fostering a community of support and positivity among your friends or followers.
5. Put your Mental Health First. Check in with yourself before using social media. If you’re feeling down, maybe go outside for a walk or grab coffee with a friend rather than spending time online. If receiving notifications throughout the day makes you feel stressed or anxious then it’s a good idea to delete social media apps from your phone or disable push notifications, so you only see alerts when you sign in manually.
Using social media can help enhance your life, but also carries the potential to quickly become an additional stressor, and possibly exacerbate symptoms of anxiety or depression. Using these tips can help you form healthy social media habits that create balance in your life, protect your mental health, and make your social media use a positive force rather than a negative one.
If you feel that social media is impacting your mood more than it should, and taking a break isn’t helping you find relief, consider reaching out and speaking with a trained mental health professional. If you aren’t sure who to talk to or how to start the conversation, you can take a free, anonymous online screening that will provide you with more information about how you’re feeling and connect you with local resources.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2017 and has been edited and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.