Social media connects billions of people across the globe, so why are loneliness and social isolation on the increase?
Social media was built on the notion that it will help people maintain relationships and bring people closer together, that is not what the research shows about how it is affecting some people’s mental health.
A study in 2017 concluded that adults, ages seventeen through thirty-two who regularly engaged in using social media, reported significant feelings of social isolation. So although it is a tool that is supposed to help people communicate, for some, it creates feelings of loneliness.
And of those studied, the individuals who used social media appeared to experience more adverse social effects on their psyche than those who didn’t. Current estimates are that by the year 2021, more than three billion people will actively use social media, which is a substantial proportion of the population. So it is crucial to understand how it impacts peoples’ emotional well-being.
While some people can experience positive effects from social media, others can become more isolated and unhappy. A partial reason for the increasing unhappiness is the constant self-comparison of the inundation of filtered photos that give a false sense of perfection, which can’t be achieved. And also, the incoming negative messages about world events can cause anxiety and depression.
Five Critical Signs That Social Media Might be Taking its Toll on Your Mental Well-BeingLow Self-Esteem
1. Social Media has Taken a Toll on Your Self-Esteem
When people post things to social media, they tend to keep those things about themselves that they don’t want people to know hidden. Instead, they paint a picture that everything is perfect and their lives couldn’t be better.
That can create a scenario of continually comparing yourself against an ideal that isn’t realistic or attainable. It can also generate a lot of self-doubt and criticism about not being good enough or having what others have.
One study by researchers from the University of Copenhagen found that a good majority of people who use Facebook have “Facebook Envy” when compared to those who didn’t frequently use it. Facebook Envy can lead to feelings of being dissatisfied with your own life and envious of others.
“When we derive a sense of worth based on how we are doing relative to others, we place our happiness in a variable that is completely beyond our control.”
So if you feel the constant dissatisfaction of your own life when comparing it to the lives of others you see on social media, it might be time to limit your exposure and focus more on activities that will boost your self-esteem and confidence.
2. You Feel Socially Isolated and Lonely
Human beings are social creatures and need social support and community for mental health and survival. So it would make sense that social media would foster people’s connectivity to one another and reduce social isolation, or feeling alone. But, unfortunately, what studies show is that social media might have the opposite effect.
A study released in the American Journal of Epidemiology evaluated 5,208 participants, and what they found was that using Facebook regularly adversely affected people and increased feelings of social isolation.
The reason that social media might increase feelings of being alone is that when you engage in it, you become more familiar with people’s digital faces and lives than their real ones. And that can make you feel disengaged.
There are also times when social media can make you feel left out. Knowing all the events that you haven’t been included in, or seeing your friends gather without being invited, is hurtful and can make you feel lonely. The phenomenon of FOMO (fear of missing out) has been heavily studied for its adverse mental health effects.
A study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh found that of the 1,787 adults between 19-21, those who visited their social media platforms 58 or more times a week were three times more likely to feel socially isolated and alone when compared to those who only used social media nine times. And also, that it might be a reason for the significant rise in FOMO, or feelings of loneliness.
3. You Can’t Function Without it
Although there is no consensus about whether social media and internet use is addictive, studies indicate they are. Research conducted by the Nottingham Trent University evaluated previous studies about personality and psychological characteristics, and how they related the use of social media.
“It may be plausible to speak specifically of “Facebook Addiction Disorder’…because addiction criteria, such as neglect of personal life, mental preoccupation, escapism, mood modifying experiences, tolerance and concealing the addictive behavior, appear to be present in some people who use [social networks] excessively.”
Researchers from Nottingham Trent University
Researchers also conclude that motivation for the use of social media is related to specific personality traits like extroverts and introverts. And people might use them according to different motives like narcissistic traits.
It was also found in a study conducted by Swansea University that people experienced symptoms of withdrawal when they attempted to unplug from social media and the internet. And, recently, the same researchers did a follow-up to their first study, where they evaluated participants for measurable physiological effects.
Author Phil Reed concluded,
“We have known for some time that people who are over-dependent on digital devices report feelings of anxiety when they are stopped from using them, but now we can see that these psychological effects that are accompanied by actual physiological changes.”
4. You Are Depressed and Anxious
One of the most notable differences between today’s young adults and previous generations is their use of social media and the lesser amount of time they spend with their peers. Many experts believe that it is the frequent use of social media that is leading to an increase in depression and feelings of anxiety. According to Alexandra Hamlet, PsyD, Child Mind Institute clinical psychologist,
“The more superficial it is, the less likely it’s going to cause you to feel connected, which is something we all need.”
Also, many people use social media as a way to promote and advertise themselves. The goal of their social media use is to receive positive feedback, which releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is responsible for feelings of euphoria and pleasure.
Researcher Rebecca Darmoc, author of Marketing Addiction: The Dark Side of Gaming and Social Media, found the following:
“The likes, comments, and notifications received on our mobile devices through social apps create positive feelings of acceptance… Our minds are being ‘brain hacked’ by these apps and social platforms;… research and development dollars are allocated to determining how technology can stimulate the release of dopamine during product use to make us feel good about ourselves. When we are not getting this dopamine release from our apps and smartphones, we feel fear, anxiety, and loneliness. The only remedy, for some, is to get back on the device for another pleasure release.”
Therefore, constant use without approval, over time, can lead to depression and anxiety. And social media platforms are designed to keep you hooked, which can only lead to more depression and anxiety to spend more and more time engaging.
5. You Have an Exaggerated Sense of Self Importance
Social media can help to foster a sense of self-importance that can lead to a preoccupation with oneself, their appearance, and narcissistic tendencies. When you receive likes and positive feedback for superficial things continually, it can lead to an exaggerated sense of self-worth. Over time, that false sense of importance can lead to shallow thinking patterns and an over-evaluation of your self-importance.
Self-absorption and an inflated sense of ego can lead to less productivity and motivation. And it can also result in focusing on things that aren’t real and distract from what is worthwhile and valuable. Social media might be fostering an increase in Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is when someone has an exaggerated sense of self-worth, which makes maintaining relationships difficult and leads to lower self-esteem.
Is Social Media Hurting Your Mental Well-Being?
Although social media instinctively should be a medium to connect with more people than ever before, the science tells us that, for those who use it regularly, it might be adversely affecting their mental health. Using social media can lead to feelings of social isolation, depression and anxiety, and the potential for an exaggerated sense of self-worth and addiction.
Using social media doesn’t have to come with adverse effects on your mental health. Still, if you begin to notice that you feel disassociated from your real life, the need to use it to make yourself feel good, or are continually striving for the approval of others, it might be time to delete your social media apps.