Social media platforms have served multiple purposes. They facilitate ease of online purchase, and are boredom killers. They help us keep in touch with our friends, and melt the barriers of direct communication with our idolized celebrities.
Though occasionally discussed, the psychological impact of social media has not been deeply understood. Given that 7 in 10 Singaporeans are active users of social media (Ngu, 2019), social media is undoubtedly involved in our mental life.
What are the Psychological Effects?
It has been studied that there is a strong link between heavy use of social media and an increased risk in mental, emotional and psychological effects in people. Social media may promote negative experiences such as inadequacy about one’s own life or appearance.
The Psychological effects on the excessive use of social media are:
∙ Anxiety/ Social Anxiety
∙ Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
∙ Self-image/ Self-esteem Issues
∙ Isolation/ Loneliness
∙ Social Media Addition
∙ Self-harm/ Suicidal ideation
Anxiety/ Social Anxiety
The prominent risk factor for anxiety emerges from the time spent, activity, and addiction to social media. In today’s world, anxiety is one of the basic mental health problems. Anxiety is raised when you are on your toes waiting for likes and comments on the uploaded photos and videos.
You experience anxiety from social media related to fear of loss, which causes many (mainly teenagers) who try to respond and check all their friends’ messages on a regular basis.
You may face social anxiety when you’re faced with real people in a physical setting and you lack the skills in communicating your thoughts and feelings because of the excessive time spent behind the screen.
Excessive use of social media often results in sleep deprivation, which increases one’s physical and psychological stress. The cause of sleep deprivation is found due to the artificial blue light given off by smartphones that activates neurons in the brain that disrupt the body’s ability to produce melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone. With the constant lack of sleep, you can increase the likelihood of having depression.
An individual’s self-perception of his or her role, function, and status is a result of comparisons with others. Comparison is linked to depressive symptoms. Social media being a breeding ground of concentrated comparison, hatches unprecedented rise in anxiety and depression especially amongst the young.
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
Even with FOMO’s long-time existence, Facebook and Instagram seems to exacerbate feelings that others are having more fun or living better lives than you are. The idea that you are missing out on certain things can impact your self esteem, trigger anxiety, and fuel even greater social media use.
FOMO can compel you to check your phone every few minutes for updates, or compulsively respond to every alert. This means even taking risks while driving, missing out on sleep at night, or prioritizing social media interaction over real world relationships.
It is an easy outlet for online aggression and cyberbullying, further impacting a child emotionally. You worry that you have no control over the things people post about you. About 10% of teenagers report being bullied on social media and many other users are subjected to offensive comments.
Social media platforms such as Twitter can be hotspots for spreading hurtful rumours, lies, and abuse that can leave lasting emotional scars. Cyberbully may threaten physical harm to you and your loved ones to intimidate you.
Self-image/ Self-esteem Issues
Images found on social media can make you feel insecure about how you look or what’s going on in your own life. As much as we are all aware that other people tend to share just the highlights of their lives, we tend to assume those are normal and hence expect ourselves to be like what we see on social media. Social media users often compare themselves with others’ appearance, ability, popularity, and social skills, which triggers strong psychological responses, particularly when others selectively present more positive information.
Excessive use of social media gives rise to a sense of isolation because your only contact is with people on social media. A study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania found that reducing social media usage can make you feel less lonely and isolated and improve your overall wellbeing.
Another study conducted looked at how much people used 11 social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat and Reddit, and correlated this with their “perceived social isolation”. Results gathered, the more time people spent on these sites, the more socially isolated they perceived themselves to be.
Social Media Addiction
People can become addicted to social media. He, Turel and Bechara (2017) studied that social media addiction is associated with similar alterations in brain anatomy as substance-abuse and gambling addiction. Addiction is closely correlated to general anxiety, social anxiety, and even obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Under addiction criteria: neglect of personal life, mental preoccupation, escapism, mood modifying experiences, tolerance and concealing the addictive behaviours are listed. It has been studied by Nottingham Trent University that some who use social media excessively, appear to have these psychological characteristics of personality traits.
As you may have noticed, most of the vices of social media is related to the psychology of social comparison. Wajda et al. (2008) contended that the difference in the level of social comparison was rooted in the individualism–collectivism cultural difference. Individuals from Eastern societies, with a collectivist culture, are more apt to hold an interdependent view of self and others.
Jiang and Ngien (2020), suggested that social comparison tendency is more significant in Singapore than that in Western countries. It was studied that Singaporean culture has a strong focus on material life and peer comparison. Scholars found that this is a common phenomenon among Asian populations, hence they sought for more social comparisons, particularly with those perceived to be better (White & Lehman, 2005).
A point for consideration, could the root of anxiety and depression rest in the psychology of social comparison? Social media is only escalating this social phenomenon to the foreground of our attention. Social media is not the cause of depression and anxiety. Social comparison is.
Who suffers from excessive use of social
Adolescents and the teenage years can be filled with developmental challenges and social pressures. For some, social media has a way of exacerbating those problems and fuelling anxiety, cyberbullying, depression, and issues with self-esteem.
Ehmke (2020) highlighted that kids were growing up with more anxiety and less self esteem. Many parents worry about how exposure to technology might affect toddlers developmentally. There is no question children are missing out on very critical social skills.
Though texting and online communicating does not entirely create a nonverbal learning disability. However, it puts everybody in a nonverbal disabled context, where body language, facial expression, and even the smallest kinds of vocal reactions are rendered invisible (Ehmke, 2020).
In a survey conducted in the United States of America (USA) by Child Mind Institute, results found that Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all led to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image and loneliness. Peer acceptance is a big thing for adolescents, and many of them care about their image.
Knowing of these effects, in recent times, Facebook themselves have admitted excess use of social media has a negative impact, while Instagram this year hurriedly appointed a ‘wellbeing team’. In learning about these effects, higher authorities in various countries have started recommending new laws around social media sites in the belief that they ‘expose children to harm’.
In the study by Child Mind Institute, Dr. Steiner-Adai explained that self-esteem comes from consolidating who you are. The more identities you have, and the more time you spend pretending to be someone you are not, the harder it is to feel good about yourself.
How to identify the symptoms?
Excessive use of social media can be deemed as a behavioral addiction that is characterized as being overly concerned about social media. This is driven by an uncontrollable urge to log on to or use social media and devoting so much time and effort to social media that it impairs other important life areas.
Behaviour and feelings of irritability or having a sense of sadness after being separated from online media can imply an unhealthy connection to social media.
Why is it important to address this issue?
Even with the awareness that the photos or videos uploaded are majority manipulated, it does not prevent or lessen the feelings of envy, dissatisfaction, sadness or desires while you scroll through airbrushed photos and videos.
Previous studies show that individuals with higher social comparison orientation reported poorer self-perception, lower self-esteem, and more negative feelings (Jang et al., 2016). Rather than helping to alleviate negative feelings and boost your mood, you feel more anxious, depressed, or lonely after using social media.
When coping with low self-esteem or negative body image, some may develop patterns of disordered eating. Social media addiction can often be a symptom of a greater problem. For example, strained relationships, trouble at school, and a constant need to be distracted from actual living.
What are the treatment options?
Counselling with a counsellor/ therapist may help individuals reflect on the damage their social media addiction has on them and their loved ones. In speaking with a counsellor/ therapist, individuals can formulate effective coping mechanisms. Speaking with a counsellor/ therapist is also an outlet to release stress and help you find a healthy perspective to tackle problems.
Practising mindfulness, yoga, meditation and spiritual activities, can help a person effectively cope with issues. You can learn to live more in the present moment, lessen the impact of FOMO, and improve your overall mental wellbeing.
This will help you be more fully engaged in the present; you’re not focused on the “what ifs” and the “if onlys” that prevent you from having a life that matches those you see on social media.
Outdoor Activities/ Hobbies
Healthy hobbies are helpful in building mental resilience. Exercising is great for relieving anxiety and stress, boosting self-esteem, and improving mood and it can be done with your friends and family.
Going out with your friends and connecting with them offline will help them build a good support system. By going out with your friends and family and having eye-to eye contact with someone who cares about you, can help reduce stress and boost your mood faster or more effectively.
Going out on long walks alone and having time for self-reflection is important for every individual. When every spare moment is not filled by engaging with social media, leaving you with more time for reflecting on who you are, what you think, or why you act the way that you do. These are the things that allow you to grow as a person.
Reduce usage of being on social media
You can work on limiting your screen time and monitoring your phone usage, by setting a goal for how much you want to reduce it by. It is hard to resist the
constant buzzing, beeping, and dinging of your phone alerting you to new messages. Turning off notifications can help you regain control of your time and focus.
It is not all bad…
Social media can bring about some social good amidst its social and psychological costs. For example, it helps in keeping us connected across great distances and helps us find people we had lost touch with years ago.
For people who struggle to maintain a relationship or communicate in person, online media provides the perfect environment to communicate and self-express. At its best, social media is a great tool for facilitating real-life connections, such as finding new friends and communities; network with other people who share similar interests or ambitions.
You can join or promote worthwhile causes; raise awareness on important issues. It can also be used as a platform to express one’s gratitude via a post. You can use it to find an outlet for your creativity and self-expression.
Seeking professional help
Though at some point in everyone’s lives, we struggle with an emotional/ psychological/ mental health. It is a well-known fact that seeking help when we are struggling is seen as a negative from a very stereotypical point-of-view. With the Covid-19 pandemic, troubled economy and many uncertainties in everyone’s lives, many are in crisis. During these trying times, turning to a trustworthy mental health professional for guidance and hope is becoming more essential in upkeeping mental well being. Refer to our guideline on which type of professional to see here. For further assistance on selection of counsellor/ therapist, feel free to start a chat with our friendly therapy specialist here.
Ehmke, R. (2020). How using social media affects teenagers. Child Mind Institute. Retrieved from: https://childmind.org/article/how-using-social-media-affects teenagers/
He, Q., Turel, O., & Bechara, A. (2017). Brain anatomy alterations associated with Social Networking Site (SNS) addiction. Scientific Reports, 7(1).
Jang, K., Park, N., & Song, H. (2016). Social comparison on Facebook: Its antecedents and psychological outcomes. Computers in Human Behavior, 62, 147– 154.
Jiang, S., & Ngien, A. (2020). The Effects of Instagram Use, Social Comparison, and Self-Esteem on Social Anxiety: A Survey Study in Singapore. Social Media+ Society, 6(2), 2056305120912488.
Ngu, T. (2019, April 05). Social Media Landscape in Singapore (2019). Retrieved from https://hashmeta.com/blog/social-media-landscape-in-singapore-2019/
Wajda, T. A., Cui, A. P., & Hu, M. Y. (2008). Culture, social comparison and responses to advertising. Advances in Consumer Research, 35, 986–986.
White, K., & Lehman, D. R. (2005). Culture and social comparison seeking: The role of self-motives. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 232–242.
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