What social media can mean for your mental health and well-being

There is no doubt it has its place and there are a lot of positives to social media; it can be beneficial in many ways. One thing it can certainly do is give people a really good sense of connection which is vital to good mental health and well-being.

We can see snapshots of family in faraway places the minute they post them and keep in touch with distant relatives like never before.

ALSO READ: 5 danger signs someone may be struggling with mental health

However, social media can cause problems for people and their sense of mental well-being if they allow it to take over, so here are a few things you might find useful to know.

The most important thing you should remember with social media is that it is designed to be addictive. The platforms want to keep you on there so that you are exposed to advertising, which is how the platforms make their money.

ALSO READ: How to avoid stress and cope better with routine change

Who amongst us doesn’t get a pleasant feeling when something we have posted gets some likes? This is because we feel a sense of reward in the brain, just in the same way we would if we were paid a compliment in real life.

There can be a pleasant sense of anticipation when posting something wondering just how many likes and how much approval our latest snapshot might attract. The people who design these platforms know exactly how to keep you on there!

Lancashire Telegraph:

For those who begin to take the whole thing too seriously, it can really affect one’s sense of self-worth if they don’t receive a favourable response to something they post.

Social media can also instil a fear of missing out; whether that be seeing someone’s latest purchase they are wearing, or where they are and who they are with.

It can give us feelings of isolation and exclusion when we see a snapshot of friends out at an event we had not been invited to, or even told about. Of course, before the advent of social media, we might well never have even known the event was happening.

ALSO READ: How to try and feel better when stressed or overwhelmed

It is important to keep a grip on reality and remember that much of what we see on social media does not reflect reality. Savvy users may well make good use of apps which can whiten teeth and alter their physical appearance almost beyond recognition from the real thing. This creates unrealistic images that are impossible to live up to in real life.

Social media can also be really bad when it comes to bullying and this doesn’t just apply to teenagers and younger people. Adults do it too, often in more subtle ways.

If we take social media too seriously and we start to spend longer on there than is good for us, then we can start comparing ourselves to others in terms of their appearance and lifestyle and any other number of things which may all affect our own self-esteem.

This can be a gradual process that over time can lead to more serious problems.

So, enjoy it for what it is, never take it too seriously and don’t allow it to take over your every waking moment.

Next week I’ll be explaining some simple techniques that you can use to build your mental resilience and improve your mindset.

If you feel you are in a mental health crisis or emergency and may be in danger of causing harm to yourself or others then please contact your GP, the Samaritans on 116 123 or attend A&E.

02

When the News and Social Media Are More Harmful Than Helpful

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Did you watch the news today? So many of my clients, friends, family, and colleagues tell me they avoid the news because it’s depressing and makes them feel helpless. I get it.

After reading about unbelievable traumas from all corners of the globe every day, most of us don’t feel refreshed, optimistic, or energized. Instead, we can easily feel fearful or depressed because our sense of safety and joy in the world is being shaken.

But it’s not just the news that seems to be having this impact: Social media adds to the problem. Watching social media appears to be a surefire way to make people feel inferior, that their lives are boring, or their romantic relationship is deficient in some critical way.

On some level, it may feel like watching the news or engaging on social media is essential to knowing what’s going on and being prepared for the world. It’s a survival strategy.

Our ancestors who paid attention to local and distant news were better prepared to avoid catastrophe and stay alive long enough to reproduce. Their less vigilant peers were not as lucky.

Thus, our tendency to focus on the negativity in the news is essentially inherited. This has more impact today than ever: Four decades ago, we had access to the news maybe twice a day, reading the morning paper and watching the evening news.

About three decades ago, it increased to whenever we opened our laptops. But about 15 years ago, news exposure became almost constant via our smartphones.

Similarly, our evolutionary biases can intensify our reactions to social media. We are evolutionarily predisposed to compare ourselves to others, again as a survival strategy. Even today, humans need others to survive.

On some level, it feels like the group’s opinion of us could mean the difference between life and death. Thus, a feeling that we come up short in comparison to others can induce a kind of survival panic.

Our nation, and probably much of the world, is seriously struggling emotionally. The CDC reported that the U.S. suicide rate hit an all-time high last year. Similarly, also per the CDC, nearly 1 in 5 adults have been diagnosed with depression.

This astounding number is likely an underestimate because we can assume that a significant number of people are depressed but do not talk with a medical professional about it, and thus are not diagnosed. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that 27 percent of Americans acknowledge symptoms of an anxiety disorder, according to a survey by the National Center for Health Statistics.

Medscape revealed that American adults are now vaping and binge drinking at “historic” levels. The American Psychological Association’s 2022 annual Stress in America survey revealed that last year 27 percent of adults reported that on most days, they are “so stressed they can’t function.”

Wow. That’s truly astounding.

As a therapist, I cannot understate my concern. While these trends were exacerbated by COVID-19, most were evident well before the pandemic began.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen no evidence, as in zero, that these trends will reverse anytime soon. While obtaining mental health care is an essential step toward healing for people who are seriously struggling, there are also very powerful actions people can take to help themselves.

It can be difficult to find the motivation for self-care when you aren’t feeling good. There’s no energy for it, which just ends up making people feel worse.

But, if you are willing to power through the initial challenges, it’s easier to continue after you start feeling the benefits. These steps are supported by research. They can help.

  • Exercise. Research suggests that for some people, regular aerobic exercise can be as helpful as medication for mood relief. If you can’t get yourself motivated, engage a friend as a workout partner. Our bodies need to move, and with the advent of technology, we move less than ever. If you aren’t moving, you will be less inclined to feel good.
  • Use technology mindfully. At the moment, when you are feeling bad, it may feel easier to distract yourself with world news or social media because it distracts you from yourself. But notice what you feel when you watch the news or engage in social media. Do you end your viewing session feeling better or worse than when you started? In addition, less tech time means more time for activities that are actually helpful for well-being.
  • Meditate, pray, or do an embodied activity daily. Regular meditation practice can reduce stress, among many other benefits. But not everyone finds meditation comfortable or even achievable. For these people, other activities, like praying, stretching, regenerative yoga, sitting quietly listening to inspiring music, or cuddling a pet may feel more helpful. We must give our bodies time that feels safe and relaxing. Your body takes its marching orders from your sensory experience more than your thoughts. This is precisely why virtual reality is so powerful: You know you are watching something on a screen, but your body reacts as if it’s happening. So, watching the news may feel like a needed distraction from your life, yet your body may become agitated. The catch with all these self-care options is that you must do them daily. They have a powerful, but temporary impact, so they must be repeated regularly.
  • Socialize. Spending time with people we like is a powerful stress reliever. It reduces feelings of isolation and enhances a sense of support and connection. Reach out to others, and make it happen.

Mental health is complex, and no doubt there are many variables contributing to the current mental health crisis: not just relentless bad news and unrealistic peer group comparisons.

Nonetheless, the steps described above can benefit anyone, even those not struggling with a mental health concern. It’s time for all of us to take better care of ourselves; it seems to me that the world is changing, and we no longer have a choice in the matter.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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