Social Media & Your Mental Health

Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Snapchat. Tumblr. Pinterest. Swarm. YouTube. Yik Yak. Periscope. Reddit. And that’s just the beginning of the list. 

Every day, it feels like a new social media site springs up and demands our attention. There’s pressure to be on all of these social networks. There’s pressure to showcase your “best you” (YOLO!) across all of these sites. And there’s pressure to get the most likes on that carefully-crafted selfie, to use the wittiest song lyrics for your caption, to add behind-the-scenes shots from the coolest party to your Snapchat story, and don’t get me started on the pressure to create the most clever hashtag. Seem like a lot? It is. 

Social media is #exhausting. And it can start to take a serious toll on your mental health:

  • We compare ourselves to others. When we post on social media, we’re presenting our “best selves” to the world, though that best self may not reflect reality. We all know that selfie with a full face of makeup captioned “Just woke up!” isn’t exactly how you looked when your alarm went off this morning, but how could you put a picture of yourself with bedhead and zit cream all over, when everyone else looks so put together?
  • It can be addictive. We tend to measure our self-worth in “likes” and comments – they serve as positive reinforcement when we post information on social networks. And that positive reinforcement can make it hard to take a step back from social media and take a break from the screen.
  • It can bum us out. A 2013 study from the University of Michigan showed a correlation between high use of social media (specifically Facebook) and decreased mood.
  • We can’t enjoy the moment we are in. Social media causes serious FOMO (“fear of missing out”). We worry that our friends are having fun without us, or that something cool might be happening somewhere else, which really takes away from whatever we are doing at the current moment.

So what do you do about it? How can you take back your life?

  • Make rules for yourself. Maybe that Facebook app on your phone is off limits from 9 PM until 9 AM, or you save checking your Twitter feed for when you’re on the elliptical at the gym.
  • Think about why you’re posting. Next time you have an Instagram shot lined up, consider why you’re sharing that photo. Is it to show others what a great time you’re having? Consider texting that picture to a friend instead, and starting a conversation rather than broadcasting it to the world.
  • Turn off those push notifications. It can be easy to get sucked into the social media vortex when you get a notification every time your friend Instagrams or tweets. Turn off those push notifications, and be intentional about when and why you check your social media accounts.

Have you ever tried taking a break from social media? Did you notice a boost in your mood? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Kristina Schiller is the digital marketing specialist at Sheppard Pratt Health System. She holds a B.A. in psychology from St. Mary's College of Maryland and a M.S. in advertising from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.