Social media is a lifesaver, especially over the past few months where we have used various platforms to connect with family, friends, organise work meetings or simply just to copy viral TikTok dance routines and ‘aww’ over videos of cute, fluffy dogs.
However, not everything is as it seems.
Studies over the years have investigated the negative effects of social media on the young and old alike. However, if you already find yourself feeling a bit down as you scroll through Insta, you don’t need a psychologist or doctor to tell you that.
In 2018, the number of hours worldwide internet users spent on social media averaged 136 minutes a day (Clement, 2019). For many, this may have increased dramatically during lockdown restrictions, as this isolating period of time meant that many of us relied on technology and social media to interact with loved ones, as well as working from home. In 2017, the Royal Society for Public Health described social media as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol; However, this addiction is relatively new and many people who are addicted do not recognise this as a negative. After all, it is good to socialise as it’s good for mental health. Or is it?
Social media is not just about smiley happy families on Insta, cute videos of baby animals and funny TikTok dance routines. No, there is a sinister side behind this façade of happiness. If you struggle to keep away from social media, then you may have already experienced some of the following negative effects of social media...
1. Stress and Anxiety
Social media, especially Twitter, may be a great place to get the latest news… and vent. However, researchers at Pew Research Centre (2015) sought to find out the effects of social media and stress. Out of 1,800 people surveyed, women reported being more stressed than men. Twitter was deemed as a “significant contributor” to this elevated stress as the worldwide connections increased Twitter users’ awareness of other people’s stress.
One can only imagine the heightened stress and anxiety during these uncertain times, with many social media users simply just reading the sensational headlines and not the entire article. The comment section is open for people to offer their thoughts… but reading these comments may also elevate your stress and anxiety. Maybe it is time to take a break from refreshing Twitter for the latest news. Instead, how about busying yourself with a new hobby that makes you happy?
2. Body Image and Low Self Esteem
People have been editing their photos for hundreds of years (looking at you, Queen Elizabeth I). Modern day photography and the age of digital manipulation used to be reserved for professionals who worked for women’s magazine editorials and beauty advertisements; However, manipulating your own photos has never been easier, what with filters, lighting, clever angles and even re-sizing tools on apps that can instantly shrink your waist and jawline and plump up your butt?! Back in the 00s, we knew that photos of models and celebrities were photoshopped, we knew that catwalk models had to starve themselves to become dangerously thin, but it is getting more and more difficult to decipher what is real and what is not.
Girls and young women in particular fall foul of comparing their bodies to the digitally manipulated photos online; There are even filters that go over live videos now! I personally do not edit my body in photos and if I went missing, you could use my photo on TV. That is sadly not the case for many celebrities (*cough* the Kardashians *cough*) and influencers with large followings. It is so difficult not to compare yourself to these “perfect” bodies, but if you become too anxious, then it might be time to click “unfollow.” I prefer to follow corgis and alpacas = less drama and more cuteness!
3. Poor Sleep
Nowadays, we are surrounded by artificial lighting all day and night, which may inhibit the body’s production of the hormone melatonin, which facilitates sleep. In 2017, the University of Pittsburg evaluated 1,700 people aged 18-30 years old on their social media usage and sleep quality; Researchers found a link with sleep disturbances and concluded that blue light, which emits from technology such as smartphones and laptop screens, influences poor sleep quality. So if you struggle to fall asleep, try switching off your phone an hour before you want to go to sleep.
4. Loneliness and Depression
The furlough scheme during lockdown was a time for many to basically be paid to spend more time with their family. However, harsh restrictions on our movement in society was (and is) dangerous and even fatal for many that do not live in a happy household. The decline of the economy comes with job losses, job insecurity and increased worries about personal finances. Photos and videos are carefully selected to project people’s lives in the most favourable light online; This may make people feel even more lonely as they scroll through, comparing their lives to others’.
Depression has DOUBLED since restrictions were first implemented, with twice as many adults in Britain reporting symptoms of depression compared with this time last year (Office for National Statistics). These conclusions are based on a survey of over 3,500 adults followed up over a 12 month period (BBC). One in five people met the criteria for depression in June 2020, compared with one in five between July 2019 and March 2020.
This is frightening, especially as this is only a small sample size. There are many people, especially men, that have not spoken out about their depression. We also need to consider the effects of loneliness on children and teens’ mental health.
Domestic violence has also risen as people are forced to remain imprisoned by their abuser. Calls to a domestic abuse helpline rose by 49% and murder doubled weeks after lockdown was announced (BBC). BBC reported: “Researchers at the Counting Dead Women Project told MPs 14 women and two children had been killed in the first three weeks of lockdown. The figure is the largest number of killings in a three-week period for 11 years and more than double the average rate.”
Social media undoubtedly plays a big part in our lives as we use various apps to connect with loved ones, connect with the world and work from home. However, by being slaves to social media, we may be sacrificing our mental health and wellbeing. If you recognise any of these negative effects, it may be time to put that phone down for a while, unfollow accounts that make you doubt yourself and maybe even delete the app; This may be the healthiest detox you have ever done.
We need to prioritise mental health.