Our Obsession With Social Media
A Psychological Perspective
Do you ever find yourself aimlessly scrolling through social media to pass the time? Scrolling through countless memes and posts, your eyes glazing over…Does it actually hinder your mental health? We digest countless of messages, posts, videos and opinions every day. We are told we need to care about every single one. Every ‘ping’ of a notification releases a tiny dose of endorphins, which leaves us craving more. But the more we consume, the more it chips away at us. Have you ever completely turned off your phone, or deleted an app and felt a sense of surprising relief? Not because your phone had died – but, because you genuinely wanted to take a break. As a society, we are constantly exposed to everything that is happening around the world, and in our social circles. Social media, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are our common mediums for this. It is important to stay “in the know” – but how much can social media use take a toll on us?
Researchers Naslund, Aschbrenner, Marsch and Bartels would argue it doesn’t; especially, when it comes to seeking help for mental health problems. In their 2016 study, they argued that social media can have a positive impact. It’s a place for people with mental health problems to turn to for help, by posting to seek advice, or find others who are struggling in the same way. The participants they examined stated benefits to posting about their struggles online; it challenged stigma, and they felt a sense of empowerment and belonging. Currently, it has been important to use, when needing to keep up with social ties, as we can’t do that physically. I’m sure many of us have had a good few zoom calls scheduled throughout the day! And, I’ll agree that keeping up with my friends’ lives has been important in helping me feel connected to others. I guess, for those reasons, social media can be beneficial. But can too much of a good thing become bad? Researchers Woods and Scott found that social media use was associated with poor sleep, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Specifically: anxiety and depression were strongly tied with emotional investment in sites. Also, social media use would breed a fear of missing out (FoMO). This, in turn drove people to use their phones late at night, which delayed bedtimes and sleep onset. And, we all know how important sleep is.
As social media use can impact our sleep hygiene and mental health, surely taking a break would be a good idea? Well, that’s what Brown and Kuss wanted to find out. Their research (which was published only a few weeks ago), investigated the psychological impact of social media abstinence. They wanted to find out what would happen if people took a break from social media for 7 days. By using a mixed methods approach, they took FoMO, mental wellbeing and social connectedness into account. They found the following before and after abstinence: a significant decrease in participant’s perceived FoMO, mental well-being and social connectedness. They also spent less time on their phones when not using social media. So, there are some benefits to abstaining from social media! Through thematic analysis, they found that the participants mainly used social media out of habit and boredom, and notifications on their phone triggered FoMO. However, when abstaining, they experienced mixed feelings of perceived connectivity. Moreover, the participants felt they needed to fill their time with other apps. The research did find some benefits to taking a break, but I guess more needs to be investigated. Arguably, is seven days enough to abstain from social media? Wouldn’t effects be stronger if the participants stayed off social media for a bit longer – possibly, a month? A few years ago, I went abroad and had no access to the internet. I couldn’t use my phone for a month! At first it was a nuisance, but I soon realise it was a blessing in disguise. Not being able to check Facebook or Instagram constantly freed up unexpected space in my brain. I wasn’t worrying about who to reply, or what to see I was tagged in – because I physically couldn’t. Maybe this would stress others, but I felt a lot calmer for it.
At present, social media has become more important than ever to stay connected with loved ones. As amazing as that is, maybe we should consider giving ourselves some time to treat our headspace, have a social media fast, and use up that time for self-care activities. Personally, I have deleted Facebook off my phone. It did make me feel good for a while. However, before you commend me, the time I would’ve wasted on Facebook, I now use on Twitter and Reddit. Is that any better? I guess I still have a lot to learn.