You’re scrolling through your social media newsfeed when suddenly it hits you. In the midst of a double-tap displaying your love for a post, you begin to feel depressed, a looming sense of dread, or a decline in your self-esteem.
Checking your various social media feeds in the morning might be how you choose to begin your day, but based on recent research, you may want to think twice before spending significant portions of your life with virtual friends and followers.
More than 16 million American adults have been diagnosed with depression, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports. The mental health disorder, which can cause a multitude of symptoms, including losing interest in activities or a feeling of intense sadness, can sometimes be worsened by how we use social media.
Numerous recent studies, including research conducted by clinical psychologists at Lancaster University, have pointed to our social media feeds as a potential trigger for worsening depression. The connection between social media and sadness is reportedly a result of social comparison bias, a process which causes others to compare themselves to those they see on social media.
Nicholas Strouse, Director of Westport Family Counseling, is currently writing a book about the psychology of people’s relationships to technology and social media. Informally called,”The Avatar Self,” Mr. Strouse explores a phenomenon of diminishing returns, in which people have the illusion of being in relationship to one another through texting and social media, but fail to recognize that they are, de facto, looking at a screen. “People are relating to a projection of themselves, and reacting to a closed feedback loop. Unfortunately, even with a profile picture to look at, the absence of another’s presence cannot be compensated for by their imagined presence. Therefore, it is common for people to feel a disconnect and maybe feel something is wrong with them (in comparison to others).”
It’s common to feel envious when viewing the photos of a friend frolicking on the beach while you are possibly at work behind a desk, but, it becomes a significant problem when you are feeling depressed due to what you see online. If you’re compulsively updating your feed or feel the need to impress others with an online persona, this could be cause for concern.
As Harvard Business Review has pointed out, others often use their social media as a source to post their best moments, and often don’t portray when things aren’t going their way or they are having a bad day. Due to the nature of how we use social media, it is likely that extended viewing of posts can cause psychological distress, and leave those looking at their screens with a feeling of FOMO or fear of missing out.
The implications of social media on our emotional well-being isn’t all bad news though. Researchers admit that studies regarding how we use the Internet and its impact on our happiness have shown mixed results. And studies show that those using social media for extended period of time each day are most likely to be affected by negative feelings.
Psychology Today recommends using social media as it was originally intended, and not to worry about the “likes.” Instead of making that status update about the great day you just had, send a message to a friend or family member you haven’t spoken with in awhile.
Don’t allow social media to control your emotions or to perpetuate feelings of anxiety or loneliness. Instead, limit how often you log on or consider connecting with friends in real life, as opposed to from behind a screen. If you find yourself feeling really depressed, isolated, or unwell due to social media, then find a trusted medical professional you can speak with.