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The Negative Impact of Social Media on our Mental Health

Studies are showing us that there is a link between heavy or substantial social media use and depression, anxiety, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts. The studies categorize heavy or substantial use as 4+ hours a day. You may think that seems an absolutely incredible amount, but if you track the amount of time you use social media each day, you might be surprised by how much that adds up to. And it isn't just heavy social media use which can cause negative impacts, it's any use.

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So how does this happen?

1. Isolation – anytime you spend on social media, means you aren’t interacting with others face-to-face. So, if your use is heavy, that is going to heavily reduce the amount of time you have for in-person connection. If you are connecting with people by just watching their lives rather than actually interacting with them, that could cause us to feel isolated.

2. Inadequacy vs. self-absorption – on social media we often compare ourselves to others. ‘Everybody else's lives look, perfect, everybody themselves look perfect.’ This can leave us asking, ‘why don't I look like that? Why isn’t my relationship 100% happy or why don’t I have the perfectly behaved child?’ This constant comparison with others leaves us feeling inadequate. And linked to this is a potential unhealthy level of self-absorption developing. If we are very regularly posting pictures of ourselves or things we’re doing, and assuming that our followers want to see that every day, it can create an unhealthy level of self-centredness.

3. Fear of missing out - you see others doing things, what seems like all the time and actually, maybe you're not doing things all the time. Perhaps you see that your friend has gone to do something with another friend and they didn't ask you to go along. Previously, we just wouldn't have had this information, we just wouldn't have known that it was going on and actually not knowing sometimes feels nicer for us. Seeing that people are doing things without us can create really difficult feelings.

4. Disrupted sleep - if you’re using social media late into the evening, or before you go to bed, then it's likely going to disrupt your sleep. This can happen in two ways. Firstly, the light from your phone or your tablet interrupts your sleep patterns in the brain. Secondly, if you are stimulated that close to bedtime, if you see something that causes a certain difficult feeling in you, it's going to be difficult to tell your brain to switch off, to relax and go to sleep.

5. Bullying/trolling - about 10% of teenagers say they have been, or are being bullied online or on social media. It creates a space for a constant bullying; before we had social media, if you were being bullied at school or at work, there would have to be a break when you went home. The person would not be able to get to you. That's not the case anymore. You can pretty much, always be reached online. So, it gives bullies another way to get to you and it gives you less of a break. It gives you less time to wind down and if we're constantly being bombarded by something we are not able to rebuild resilience between incidents.

So, try being mindful this week when you're using social media. What feeling does it leave you with. Notice when you use it - if you are with your partner or family members in the evenings, and you're not connecting with each other, if you're both on your phones, on social media, then stop. Ask yourself, what is that about? Why would you rather look at other peoples’ lives on your phone, than engage in your own life? Make social media a conscious choice, be mindful before you open the app. ‘Why am I doing this? What am I wanting to look at?’

Suzie Booth

Counsellor MBACP.

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