Most of us are guilty of it. When you’re on your lunch break, have spare time between meetings or are just plain bored, you’ll pull out your phone and scroll through social media. Maybe you check it religiously before bed or you look at it while you’re waking up first thing in the morning. Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or another favorite platform, social media can be a great way to keep in touch with friends and family near and far.
Lately, however, there has been more talk about social media contributing to a rise in depression and anxiety, which led us to some questions. Why does social media contribute to depression and anxiety? If social media does have these negative effects, then what do we do to combat them? We reached out to Dr. Yazhini Srivathsal, psychiatrist at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital, for some answers and she shared the below expert insight with us.
How does social media contribute to depression and anxiety?
Social media creates unrealistic perceptions of reality. Dr. Srivathsal explained that the world of social media can sometimes be far from reality. There is a term coined at Stanford University called “duck syndrome.” When you see a duck gliding through the water, at first glance, it looks peaceful and it seems to float effortlessly. However, if you were to look below the water’s surface, you would see the duck using a lot of effort to paddle its way. Along the same line, people on social media may make it seem like they are effortlessly gliding through life, but it is important to understand that what you are seeing is an ultra-filtered version of their life. People tend to post about the good and leave out the not-so-good. For some, seeing this amount of “perfection” across social media has negative repercussions. It can make a person feel like their life is not as fun, exciting or perfect as that of their friends, which causes them to feel like they are not good enough.
Social media can be an addiction. When you post on social media and you begin seeing the “likes” roll in, it makes you feel good. This is because getting a “like” gives your brain a hit of dopamine, which makes you feel good. This “good” feeling is comparable to a high you might get from using a substance. Getting these hits of dopamine, is one of the main reasons that we keep coming back to social media again and again. On the flip-side, if you post and don’t get the number of “likes” you thought you would or happen to get some sort of negative comment, it can put you in a negative state of mind. Social media is used as a coping mechanism. People also often use social media to escape their reality and not feel their emotions. If you are having a stressful day, spending time on social media can be an escape, just like turning to overuse of alcohol or using substances. This might seem like a better idea than over-drinking alcohol to cope, however, buffering your emotions with the overuse of social media is not going to help you in the long run. Therefore, it is especially important to understand why you turn to social media in the first place.
What can we do to shut down the negative effects of social media?
Understand that social media is not reality. Recognize that what you see on social media is only a small percentage of a person’s life. For every picture-perfect moment you see on Instagram, there are probably 100 other not-so-perfect moments that were not shared. Resist the urge to compare yourself to others, as you can never know what is going on beneath the surface. Also, comparing yourself to a celebrity or a professional in a certain field is not fair to you. A model or a professional chef has a big team of professionals who work with them to get these picture-perfect photographs, which are then edited to look even better. Understand that you are enough and learn to love yourself unconditionally.
Set limits for yourself. One way to combat some of the pressures of social media is to set limits for yourself on how often, or for how long, you will go on social media each day. You can even decide to make it fun by challenging yourself to go a day (or a few?) without checking Facebook. Dr. Srivathsal also explains that rather than just limiting all screen time, it is more important to understand how different types of social media affect you and limit the ones that negatively affect your mindset. For example, if you are really into cooking, maybe watching cooking demonstrations or getting inspiration for recipes online is relaxing and enjoyable. Instead of limiting your time spent watching cooking videos, you will want to focus on minimizing your exposure to the social media content that does not serve you or triggers negative emotions.
Log off. Sometimes we end up on social media out of pure habit. On autopilot we grab our phone, tap an icon and begin scrolling. Logging out of your social accounts once you are done checking them can help ensure that when you do decide to check your accounts, you have that added barrier of having to log in.
Don’t be afraid to unfollow. Remember you are in control of who you are following across your social media accounts. If the posts or comments of someone you follow are not contributing to your life in a positive way, it might be time to reconsider your relationship with this person. Try to keep your social media feeds filled with those who you genuinely enjoy staying up-to-date with.
We encourage you to become more aware of your own relationship with social media so you can discover for yourself when it’s time to engage and when it’s time to take a step back.