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Social media is arguably one of the fastest growing innovations in the world today. It emerged as a concept in 1997 with a website called Six degrees, which enabled people to add others as friends and create a profile for themselves. From there, the concept grew and expanded across multiple websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, and more recently established mobile applications like Snapchat and Instagram.
With such a rapid change in the way we communicate and interact with others, one has to take a step back and wonder if our social media management is up to par. Specifically, how is social media affecting our mental health?
We live in a world where our phones are constantly attached to our person, whether it be in our bags, in our pockets or glued directly to our hands. While social media allows us to easily connect with people around the world, the potential to carry around an excessive amount of problems within these devices haunts us with just a single notification.
Mary Harris is a Communications professor at Monmouth University. She teaches a course titled “Social Media in Public Relations” in which her students run blogs and all of the social media accounts associated with them. Harris has her own blog called “Wild Mary Blossoms,” which is focused on recipes and lifestyle tips, and regularly uses social media to share her posts. With the constant surge of social media notifications and the easy accessibility to them, Harris has noticed the addictive tendencies that seem to come as a package deal with these profiles.
“Social media platforms are designed to get people to keep checking and returning frequently,” says Harris. “Unfortunately, notifications via the like button operate like little hits of dopamine to the brain. And depending on the individual user, this causes an addiction to the constant feedback loop.”
The addiction caused by social media is also accompanied by a false sense of realistic standards.
When individuals are constantly engaging with social media, they are also exposing themselves to the distorted lifestyles of the people they follow. Taylor Puzzio, a 21-year-old senior attending Monmouth University, has always been aware of the posts she sees as she scrolls through her social media feeds. “Oftentimes, people want others to see them as happy and living an exciting life but, in reality, nobody’s lives are that perfect,” explains Puzzio.
So why advertise your life as something it’s not? Social media provides people with the perfect opportunity to showcase themselves as the person they want to be rather than the person they are. So they’ll edit their photos and post about the cute thing their significant other did for them that day. What they won’t post are the photos they weren’t ready for or the fight they had with their significant other.
Andreea Dilorenzo, a Psychology professor at Monmouth University, discussed the ways in which people manage their social media accounts. “For people that may suffer from issues relating to esteem and self-concept, social media is a breeding ground for exacerbating these problems,” says Dilorenzo. “Everyone should consider that others can edit what they want others to see as well as the fact that pictures can be airbrushed.”
Social media is like playing a game, and the ultimate prize is the approval of others.
However, being a player in this game can cause people a great amount of stress. When the number of likes received on a post comes as a source of validation, it can lead to a heavy reliance on those likes. When considering the age groups that are exposed to this mindset through their social media use, one needs to take into account the younger generation, specifically middle school-age children.
According to Dilorenzo, social media users in this age group “are certainly at risk since they are experiencing hormonal changes and identity formations, both while being inexperienced. The continuous connection and the materials that they are exposed to can hinder logic.”
While social media can be linked to anxiety, impulsiveness, self-comparison and depression, how we use it is more to blame than its existence. As users, it is our responsibility to be aware of the effect these platforms have on our lives. Harris, for example, decided to deactivate her Facebook account because she took notice of how much it had consumed her life. She wrote all about the process, why she did it and the first steps someone can take if they wish to follow in her footsteps. You can find that article here.
Completely deactivating your accounts isn’t the only solution, though. There are mobile applications that allow you to better monitor your social media intake. Apps such as In Moment tally up the amount of time spent on each social media account each day. There are even apps that give the option to block selected apps during specified periods of the day.
Mental health should be treated the same as physical health. “Making the right choices, just as we do with exercise and food, can help place social media into perspective,” says Dilorenzo.
This can be done in moderation, which is where those tracking apps can help users to limit social media use to healthier levels. As a student currently enrolled in a media literacy course, Puzzio has been able to open her eyes and better monitor her own media intake and the way in which she perceives that content.
“People need to become more media literate and educated on the effects media can potentially have on an individual, either consciously or subconsciously, so that they can be aware of and monitor the impact it’s having on their own lives.”
Taking a step back from social media allows one to put into perspective what really matters in life. While partaking in social media, we tend to lose track of our reality because we are so infatuated with the events in the virtual world. Try putting down the phone and have a face-to-face conversation with your friends. With the weather becoming nicer, take a step out into the fresh air, go on a bike ride, walk along the boardwalk if you’re fortunate enough to live near one. Just enjoy yourself but don’t do it for the opportunity to post on social media; do it for you.
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