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Social Media and our Mental Health

As humans, we are social creatures; we need connection with others in order to survive and in order to thrive. Our connections with others can help lessen anxiety and depression, boost self-esteem, add happiness and security. It can actually add years to our lives.

But not all social media use is entirely positive. Social media platforms are designed to keep our attention. They want to keep us online and regularly checking for updates and can even create psychological cravings. When we get a like or share, it can activate the release of dopamine in the brain - the same reward chemical that follows eating chocolate, smoking cigarettes or winning a bet. The more you are rewarded, the more time you will want to spend on there, even if it’s becoming damaging to other areas of our lives.

What actually drives us to use social media?

A fear of missing out - social media is now so widely used that it can lead us to feeling that if we're not on it, we are going to miss out on something. Perhaps you are nervous that if you're not in the group chat, you're going to get forgotten and not invited to something. If you're not taggable, you're not going to be part of the joke.

A security blanket – for example, if you are out, waiting for somebody, you're on your own or you're feeling uncomfortable - it can feel really nice and grounding to get your phone out, open up Instagram, Facebook or TikTok, and start scrolling. It takes us away from the immediate situation. It takes us away from our discomfort and involves us in something else.

Masking underlying problems – such as anxiety or depression. It's a way of distracting ourselves. Getting those dopamine hits makes us feel momentarily better but perhaps it's masking something else.

Seeking confidence – social media, it seems, gives us this great way of putting things out into the world without having to be face-to-face with people and getting reinforcements, getting likes, shares, getting comments, basically, getting compliments from people that we might not get in real life. And this is lovely but often the way that people do this is by altering what they put out there. Perhaps, they are only showing one side of their weekend, perhaps there's a filter on the way they look. So, although it is a way to boost, build or seek for confidence and self-esteem, it can be founded in something that's not actually real.

So, this month, we're going to be looking into how to get the positives; the benefits from social media, and how to try to lessen or restrict our usage in terms of the drawbacks.

Suzie Booth

Counsellor MBACP.

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