Photo courtesy of Pikrepo.
Photo courtesy of Pikrepo.

Health Corner: Is Social Media Affecting Your Health?

November 25, 2020

Be honest with yourself. How many times a day do you view your social media accounts? 

Do you constantly need to check your phone throughout the day (and sneak looks during class) for the latest new videos or posts? Do you find yourself becoming jealous of your friends when they post about their amazing new experiences? Have you ever lost track of time while pursuing your social media accounts when you should be studying? Do you wake up and check your phone when a new notification alarms while you are sleeping?

Chances are, almost everyone can relate to one of these situations. Social media continues to take the world by storm with the continuing popularity of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, Instagram, and TikTok–just to name a few of the more popular platforms. 

According to the Pew Research Center, up to 90% of adults between the age of 18 and 29 use at least one social media account daily. While social media has some amazing positive aspects that can help support your wellbeing, there are many negative aspects (some that you may not even be aware of) that could put you at risk for potential physical and mental health problems.

Multiple research studies have been conducted focusing on social media and their link to anxiety, depression, addiction, poor self-esteem, poor body image, and loneliness. The dependency on social media and the compulsive need to keep checking one’s accounts has been referred to as “social media addiction.”

This ties to the concept of “fear of missing out” (FOMO), which refers to the idea that someone feels they are missing out on others’ fulfilling experiences. Therefore, they feel the need to continually check for updates. Overuse of social media and unhealthy comparisons can lead to what has been coined as “Facebook envy” and “Facebook depression.” This can also lead to or worsen symptoms of anxiety and loneliness.

People who suffer from conditions such as anxiety, depression, loneliness or stress often find themselves in a negative battle with their social media use. They turn to social media to cope with these feelings. Their frequent use of social media can lead to increasing negative feelings of dissatisfaction or inadequacy in their life, increased self-isolation or FOMO. This can lead to worsening symptoms of anxiety, depression, loneliness or stress, which would lead to increased use in social media, and so continues this vicious cycle.

As far as physical health effects, the risk of obesity is higher as social media use is generally a sedentary activity. Those who compare themselves to others may develop an unhealthy body image which could lead to both mental health and physical health problems. 

Those who like to imitate dangerous, interesting videos that they see on social media are also at risk for harming themselves. Sleep patterns can also get disrupted with social media use since people tend to spend time on social media right before bed and even in the middle of the night.

All this is not to say that all social media is evil and that you are guaranteed to become depressed or anxious no matter how long you spend using it. What’s important to take away from this is that awareness is key and being able to identify if your social media use becomes unhealthy is vital to your health. 

Signs such as distracted by social media at work or school, unhealthy comparisons to others, worsening sleep problems, isolating yourself from your friends or people, or feeling of jealousy, anger, loneliness, anxiety or depression are clues that you may need to step back and evaluate your social media use.

If you do have feelings of depression or anxiety, seek out resources that can help you. For example, counseling is available here at Millikin at The Student Mental and Behavioral Health Office. Other steps to take if you notice unhealthy social media usage is to reduce the time spent on social media sites, spend more time offline with people, and take time for self-reflection.

Social media is a great tool that is available at our fingertips anytime we desire. It has many positive attributes that, if used correctly, can build self-esteem and foster new relationships and opportunities. Don’t let unhealthy social media habits jeopardize your health.

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