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Social Media and Mental Health: Not a Match

Mar 9, 2022

Russ Turner, People Incorporated Training InstituteBy: Russ Turner, Director of the People Incorporated Training Institute 

Feeling depressed? Go on Facebook and catch up with friends! Feeling anxious? Drop-in on Twitter and see what’s going on! No, wait, perhaps not. Consider that a child like me growing up in the 70s would maybe get an hour or so of TV a day (usually viewed communally with other family members) and compare that with how young people live today with each phase of the day recorded and posted for the world to judge.

One study revealed that teenagers typically spend an astonishing 9 hours a day on their devices, much of the time on social media of one sort or another. This is a monumental change in behavior. When we also consider that rates of depression and anxiety are higher than at any other time in history, across cultures, across countries, and across all demographics, the correlation between social media use and mental health concerns is hard to prove. It should at least get our attention. 

The most common behavioral interventions recommended by mental health professionals and researchers for anxiety and depression include taking care of your physical health (eating well, exercising, getting good sleep), connecting face-to-face with supportive friends, engaging in meaningful work and volunteer opportunities, active relation techniques (mindful breathing, yoga, meditation), getting outside in nature, engaging in fun activities with others like music, dance, and sports, and my favorite of all – gratitude practices. Spending hours a day on social media works against the essence of these practices, and it may worsen symptoms. 

As my friends post the best moment of their day or week on their recent trip, that one instant where everyone was persuaded to smile, it’s hard to feel grateful for my current situation of sitting on my couch. At the same time, I’m nervous that the picture I just uploaded isn’t getting many likes, so now I’m consumed with self-doubt and worry about the wording I just used to comment on the post I just looked at – did I use the right emoji?

And yes, the couch, that’s where I am, not outside, where the fresh air and vitamin D will invigorate my physiology and help balance my autonomic nervous system. The movement will improve my mood, produce endorphins that enhance feelings of well-being, and boost my energy levels to tackle my daily tasks. Research has revealed that text-based communication produces stress hormones like cortisol, while face-to-face communication, including the phone, produces the bonding hormone oxytocin. So, is that comments section good for your psychological well-being? Unlike a newspaper or magazine, the feed on a social media platform is literally endless, so the challenge of putting the phone down and going to bed is a very real one. The combination of reduced sleep time and the omnipresence of concern about things like online bullying, absence of likes or feedback, and general concern about one’s online image or brand is not a recipe for a restful night – especially for a young person.

Teenager on digital deviceHere are a few suggestions to improve your relationship with screen time and your mental health: 

  • Always have some screen-free time during the day. 
  • Make it a rule to have no devices at dinner. 
  • Sleep experts recommend turning your phone off and charging it away from the bedroom for a restful night. 
  • Consider deleting social media apps from your phone to make it just a little less tempting to check them all day. If that’s too unbearable, at least turn off notifications so your day isn’t interrupted constantly and set daily time limits on the apps.   
  • Always check your privacy settings to make sure only the people you want to see your posts are seeing them. 

And lastly, next time you want to post something to let a friend know what you’re up to, perhaps do the old-fashioned thing and give them a call. They’ll likely be around when the latest social media app is long gone. 

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