We often hear about how social media is harmful to mental health and well-being, especially amongst younger generations. However, a recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health, proved that mindful, routine social media use can actually be beneficial to one’s social well-being, mental health, and self-rated health. You may be wondering, where is the line between social media being beneficial and harmful? Follow along as we discuss more about social media: the good vs. the harmful.
It is first important to note, the benefits and harms associated with social media use differ across demographic, socioeconomic, and racial population sub-groups. It is also important to note, the findings from the Harvard study show that the ways people use social media have more of an impact on mental health and well-being than just the frequency and duration of social media use. In other words, how social media affects you is less about how much time you spend on social media and more about how you spend your time on social media. Now, let’s dive into the pros and cons of social media use and how you can cultivate a healthy relationship with social media.
Benefits- New Communication Pathways
It is no secret that social media opens up new communication pathways. This makes social media a great tool for relieving social isolation and providing a more anonymous platform for people to discuss their struggles without the fear of stigma. Perhaps you live in a remote area, have limited independence, struggle with social anxiety, or are a part of a marginalized group. Luckily, social media provides an alternative way to connect with like minded individuals and gain extra support when you need it.
Benefits- Staying Connected and Meeting New People
Ideally, social media should not be used as a replacement for in-person social interaction. It requires in-person contact to release the hormones that alleviate stress and help you feel healthier, happier, and more positive overall. Instead, social media platforms should be used in addition to in-person socialization. For example, social media is great for keeping in contact with family members and friends that live far away because you cannot see them in person as easily. It is also an awesome tool for networking with new friends or communities full of other people who share similar interests. You can then meet up with these groups or new friends knowing you have common ground to relate back to. Bottom line, social media makes it easier to stay connected with loved ones and build a local community of friends with shared interests, both of which are extremely beneficial for your mental health.
Benefits- Education and Supporting Worthwhile Causes
Furthermore, social media is a great way to join or promote worthwhile causes. If you are passionate about helping your community or contributing to a specific issue, you can likely find a group of people who have similar ambitions. Being able to actually contribute to a cause can help you feel meaningful and inspired. Social media can also be utilized to raise awareness surrounding important issues because it is easier to reach a wider audience. This brings us to our final benefit, social media platforms, with enough research and care on your part, can be great sources of valuable information and learning. Many people are on social media platforms creating useful content to learn from for free! Continuing to find ways to expand your mind and pick up new hobbies can help you grow and give you new ways to promote your own well-being.
Benefits- Cons of Social Media
Unfortunately, it’s not all good news when it comes to social media. As you have probably heard before, social media use may contribute to increased risk of anxiety or depression. The more time someone spends on social media platforms, the more likely it is for them to feel socially isolated. The lack of in-person interaction when someone is spending too much of their time on social media can take a toll on one’s mental health, causing major problems like depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Another aspect of social media that is damaging to mental health is the constant comparison of our lives to the lives of the people we follow on social media. Comparing your life to the small portion of people’s lives you see on social media is a slippery slope.
Comparison can cause you to feel jealous. It is completely natural to be jealous of a gorgeous tropical vacation, fancy dinners, well-behaved kids, someone’s house or clothes. Honestly, the reasons to be jealous on social media are pretty much endless. The problem is, your relationship with social media may become a toxic cycle where you are jealous of something you saw, it makes you feel bad mentally, but you still continue to go back to social media for more, thinking it will somehow help you. Social media can be addicting and getting out of this toxic cycle may be tough. Do not be afraid to seek extra help when you are trying to develop a healthier relationship with social media.
Cultivating a Healthy Relationship With Social Media
Remember, a healthy relationship with social media looks different for everyone! If you have been feeling your mental health and well-being diminish because of your social media usage, it is important to take action. You can start by limiting the amount of time you spend on social media platforms. You can also work on utilizing social media to connect more with others or to get involved with a cause you care about. Using social media as a platform to connect you with like minded individuals and strengthen already existing relationships instead of for hours of mindless scrolling may improve your relationship with such platforms. For more personalized help in defining what will work for you regarding social media usage and maintaining your well-being, you may consider seeing a therapist.
Chriselda Santos, licensed psychotherapist and certified life coach, understands how detrimental social media can be to your mental health. If you are interested in learning more about Chriselda’s approach to therapy, or you want to book an appointment, visit her website.