What reinforces you to use social media?
Research indicates that social media can trigger an array of negative emotions in users that contribute to or worsen symptoms of depression. However, even though most of us are aware of the adverse effects of social media, we often find it hard to stay away from it. Ever wondered why that is the case? This is because it promotes positive reinforcement, which is linked to the release of dopamine - a feel-good chemical derived through certain activities.
The thrill you experience when the like count increases on your Facebook posts or your Instagram stories get thousands of views is an automatic response to the release of dopamine. These platforms are designed to be addictive; when used excessively, these can result in anxiety, depression, and physical ailments like migraines.
How are social media and depression linked?
Here are some ways through which social media can adversely impact your mental health:
It acts as a medium of unnecessary comparison
Social media has, in a way, evolved from a medium of interaction to a medium of comparison. You often tend to unconsciously use people’s social media presence as a benchmark to assess how perfect their lives are compared to ours. It is this FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) that makes us question the smallest of our life choices, leading to negative feelings that pile up and may surface in the long run.
It leads to doomscrolling
Doomscrolling refers to our tendency to mindlessly scroll through bad news, despite the updates being stressful or disheartening. However, this seemingly harmless habit leads to the release of stress hormones that can worsen a number of existing physical and mental health issues, including depression, and even give rise to new ones.
It can promote toxic positivity
Too many social media accounts try to sell us the narrative of looking at life through rose-coloured glasses. The people behind these accounts might make you feel unwelcome if you’re experiencing challenges, dismissing your hardships as an outcome of you “not working hard enough” to overcome them.
While it is imperative to maintain a positive outlook toward life, it should not happen at the cost of repressing any distressing feelings or circumstances. Any efforts to do so would only amplify adverse feelings, and can contribute to depression and anxiety.
How can you be more mindful about social media usage?
Many self-help blogs will tell you the best way to avoid the cons of social media is to avoid social media altogether. However, that might not be true!
Social media allows us to connect with family, friends, and acquaintances across the globe. The pandemic years have, in a way, reconstituted its importance in our lives. Hence, cutting social media off entirely would mean cutting yourself off from its pros. Instead, you can try to adopt the following strategies to use social media in a healthier, more mindful way.
- Cleanse your feed
First things first, you should be conscious of the kind of content you are consuming. Start by monitoring the posts that lead to doomscrolling, do not add value to your life, or trigger unpleasant feelings. Unfollow (or mute, if unfollowing seems too drastic) these pages and profiles. After 2-3 weeks, monitor the time you spend on social media and how you feel about it. If you notice a positive shift, add social media cleanse to your monthly routine.
- Assess the content you consume
The next step is to follow some pages that are closely associated with your interests and passion. These do not have to be only motivational or productivity-related pages; go ahead and follow the social media handles of the band that you have always been a fan of or that tv show whose references are inside jokes in your friend circle. The objective is to make social media your happy place, and this way, you can define your own happiness.
- Set a time limit
If you struggle with regulating your time on social media, try using app blockers. These apps let you enter a fixed period of time that you aim to spend on certain apps (Instagram and Twitter, for example). This would limit your access to those apps as the blocker restricts you from opening the app once you have exhausted your daily quota. Not only would this make you use your productive hours more efficiently but also streamline your social media usage in the longer run.
In today’s world, social media can be both a boon and bane. How it affects you depends on the kind of relationship you build with your social media usage. Following some of the strategies mentioned above can help. Plus, you can always seek therapy if you feel too anxious or overwhelmed about managing how you use social media! Your therapist can help you identify your fears and anxieties, enabling you to build a healthier relationship with these apps and websites in the long haul.