Social media has become part and parcel of our daily lives. Students use it to stay connected with their friends, follow the latest trends, and to socialise. It is therefore important that we explore growing concerns about its potential impact on mental health. So, let’s delve into the latest research to uncover the link between social media use and our psychological well-being.
How is social media damaging your mental health?
We are starting to get a picture of the impact of social media on mental health. Though we still need more studies (especially more causational studies), there has been a growing number of research that has explored what excessive social media use is associated with. Let’s take a look at these together:
Using social media can lead to addiction because it triggers the brain’s reward system to release dopamine, which is the “feel-good” chemical. Whenever you receive a like on Instagram or retweet on Twitter, the brain receives a flood of dopamine and sends it along reward pathways. While this feels wonderful, it reinforces your need to satisfy this feeling again, making you addicted to these apps.
It affects your sleep
As social media is designed to be mentally stimulating and engaging, using it late at night can disrupt sleep by making it difficult for users to unwind and relax before bedtime. Indeed, a study done recently found that adolescents with high social media use were 68% more likely to fall asleep after 11 pm on school nights than those with average social media use (what we don’t know for sure is: do they stay up later because they are on social media, or do they use social media as they can’t get to sleep?).
Social media’s impact on sleep also extends to the blue light emitted by the screen of the devices we access it on. This blue light tricks our brain into thinking it’s still daytime, which causes it to delay the release of the sleep hormone, melatonin, making it more challenging to fall asleep.
It may lead to depression and social isolation
The more we use social media, the less happy we seem to be. In fact, one study found a strong link between social media use and feelings of social isolation. The team of researchers looked at how much people used 11 social media platforms and correlated this with their perceived social isolation. It turned out that time spent on these platforms was associated with how socially isolated they perceived themselves to be.
Similarly, a new study found a 70% increase in self-reported depressive symptoms among individuals using social media.
A big reason why social media makes people feel socially isolated and depressed is because of the comparison factor. As a user scrolls through their feed, they consume many idealised and carefully curated images that lead to upward social comparisons (feeling another person has it better than you), ultimately lowering their psychological well-being.
How can you manage your social media usage?
As we mentioned, social media is a useful way to keep us connected to the world. Therefore, the goal isn’t to stop using it completely, but to avoid excessive use that can disrupt your everyday life. Here are some of our favourite strategies to help you develop phone management skills…
- Limit your notifications
The “ding” noise from a notification shouts for your attention, which encourages you to check your phone immediately. You may want to change your settings so you can carefully choose what you are notified of and when. This way, you can avoid being distracted by Instagram or Snapchat updates that can wait without worrying about missing an urgent call.
Adopting this strategy is also beneficial for the long run, as this can help you get into the mindset that most messages do not require your immediate attention and action.
- Use apps to help you limit your time on social media
Fight fire with fire using apps designed to help limit your social media use. For example, Forest allows you to set a period of time (say, 30 minutes) when you commit not to use your phone. During that time, a digital plant will grow in the app. If you use your phone, Forest will tell you to get off it or your plant will die!
- Put your phone away
Sometimes, it can be as easy as keeping your phone out of sight when you need to focus. Students can do this by giving it to a trusted adult who can look after it for a certain time period or until they have completed a specific task. However, it is worth noting that digital detoxes (i.e., not using social media totally for a set amount of days) tends not to work long-term.
- Stop using phones well before bedtime
Encourage students to disconnect from technology at night. It is generally recommended that you set this alarm an hour or two before bedtime. This allows you to engage in a night routine that promote sleep leading up to bed, such as reading a book or practising meditation.
In our fast-paced digital world, it can be easy to get lost in the never-ending stream of notifications, posts, and updates. While social media undoubtedly has its benefits, excessive use of it can play a role on mental health. We hope the strategies outlined above can help your students take control of their social media usage and cultivate a healthier relationship with technology.
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