04 Apr The links between social media usage and depression
Like it or loathe it, we live in a world where social media has become such an ingrained component of human interaction. In case you were wondering, I like and loathe in equal measure! I find it inspirational, motivational and educational. It enhances my relationships with friends where face-to-face contact is minimal and from a business perspective it has enabled me to create an extremely supportive community that I’d otherwise struggle to connect with. On the flip side, I worry that is breeds narcissism and self loathing. Our social media world is not real life – it is filtered to death – and so it creates an unrealistic image of how we believe our lives should look and intensifies peer pressure. And seriously, pouty car selfies…what is that about?!! There are so many ways in which social media enhances our lives and relationships however we must acknowledge that social media usage is addictive and overuse can therefore be extremely dangerous. As the social media phenomenon is going absolutely nowhere it is imperative that we understand its impact on our bodies and our brains and recognise the healthy balance required between encouraging positive use and getting a handle on problematic use.
Why so many of us are glued to our screens – the addictive nature of social media
We all know it is not the most productive way to spend our train journeys, precious evenings and weekend down time, so why do we struggle so much to put down our devices? How is it that we embark on a 5 minute browse before we settle down for the night and an hour later we have been tangled up in a web of liking, commenting and down right stalking? Because social media is HIGHLY ADDICTIVE!
Engagement with social media releases a chemical called dopamine. This is what makes you feel really good when you get a notification and it is what keeps us checking our likes and our instagram following on a way too frequent basis…because we crave that dopamine hit! Dopamine is the same chemical released when we smoke, drink and gamble. But…we have restrictions on these habits – we have age restrictions and we set ourselves acceptable boundaries for when and how we engage with these activities to ensure that we are not led down the dark path of addiction. The window of opportunity for social media is wide open which gives rise to the Millenial disease of “internet addiction”.
Thank goodness I am not a Millennial!
Not only have Millennials been stereotyped as “entitled”, “spoiled” and “lazy” but they have grown up in this social media “filtered” world with a completely distorted view of what their lives should look like. Poor buggers!
I thank my lucky stars that I was born in 1981. We had just four TV channels to choose from, we lived on a strict after school diet of Neighbours and Home and Away, and we had absolutely no option to avoid the great British TV ad! When we arranged to meet our friends at 3pm in town outside Greggs they were there…and they didn’t flake on us! Saturday afternoons were spent perfecting our moves at the local roller disco, reading Fast Forward, and listening to the radio for hours on end to ensure we recorded the latest NKOTB tune onto our cassette.
Adolescence was tough enough without throwing into the mix the scary concoction of social media. Oh, to be a Millennial and have every detail of life captured and scrutinised by the entire school including that boy in Year 10 that you are lusting after! Ugggghhhh! The world should be thankful that photos of my teenage years are only pulled out by my gorgeous mates on special occasions – the monobrow / dungaree / train track combination was not pretty!
We joke but there is a serious issue that is becoming more and more apparent amongst not just Millennials but the older generation too who have become addicted to social media. New research shows that there are significant and linear associations between social media usage and depression. A study of almost 1,800 adults between the ages of 19 and 32 was carried out by the University of Pittsburgh analysing social media usage and using mood assessment tools to investigate these links.
How social media usage can lead to depression if we don’t get a handle on it and set some boundaries
On the back of this study, a very important question arose in order to understand this correlation further. Were more depressed people using social media as a way to fill a void OR is social media causing depression? Additional studies have found that social media can lead to depression, which to me is crazy. This tool created to enhance our lives is having this drastic effect on the mental health of our society. As feelings of depression develop, increased social media usage becomes apparent and the vicious cycle is created.
Let’s dig a little deeper into why social media may lead to depression…
- Social media provides idealised representations of other people’s lives. It encourages us to compare our lives with the lives of our peers. But the biggest issue with this is that these perceived lives are not real! We form a distorted belief that people are happier and more successful that we are which leads to feelings of envy.
- We are engaging in activities with very little meaning. Scrolling through Instagram aimlessly does not provide us with a sense of purpose or fulfilment. These hours wasted peering into other people’s lives is preventing us from undertaking activities that are meaningful to us, light us up and lead to an overall feeling of happiness and life satisfaction.
- It impacts our ability to build deep and meaningful connections with others. Social media often acts as a comfort blanket for us in social situations. We can hide behind our devices and therefore do not have to make conversation and connect with people. Strong, deep connections with other human beings is a fundamental part of long lasting happiness and therefore we are breeding an environment of loneliness and isolation.
- It can prevent us from finding joy in our day-to-day lives. We are so consumed with our devices that we are failing to connect with the world and appreciate the little things. Looking up every now and again, being mindful and really enjoying every step of this journey of life can lead to vastly increased satisfaction with life.
- More exposure to cyber bullying and negative online interactions. People can be cowardly and will hurl abuse only when they are a faceless being behind a computer screen. Cyber bullying is prevalent amongst the Millennial generation and can have huge impacts on self-esteem.
- Managing multiple social media platforms can be overwhelming. Keeping up with your likes, comments and the activity of all of your followers is just damn well exhausting! The expectation to remain on top of your different social media channels can lead to feelings of overwhelm and anxiety.
- Multitasking has adverse impacts on attention and mood. Social media encourages multitasking and there is a huge amount of evidence out there which outlines the detrimental effect of juggling multiple tasks at once. Overall cognitive function is reduced and this can affect our focus, productivity levels and also how we perceive and react to certain situations.
- We have not developed coping mechanisms for stress. When we feel stressed or anxious, our default is to bury our heads in the sand and turn to our devices and social media. Previously we would have had a greater sense of awareness to these feelings and therefore face up to them through talking to others and putting actions in place to manage our stressors. Increased stress levels over a prolonged period of time can have severe impacts on our health.
So, how do we ensure that social media is not impacting our mental health?
It is all about the balance! Firstly, consider whether you are addicted to social media. Do you look at your phone before you say good morning to your partner? Do you have your phone on the dinner table? Are you unable to leave your phone behind in a business meeting? All of these habits indicate that you struggle to be present in the moment and are early warning signs that there may be an underlying problem.
The key to obtaining balance is setting your intentions for usage from the outset. Decide when, where and how much. Create your boundaries and then start to become aware of any improvements you start to feel in your mood, your relationships and your overall life satisfaction. Social media is an utterly amazing tool if used properly in a heathy, balanced way!
If you feel like you have some u healthy habits linked to social media and technology in general and need some help setting boundaries and creating new habits then please reach out and we can arrange a complimentary initial discussion. Email: [email protected]