The Science Says: How Social Media Impacts Our Mental Health
Social media has us all a little on edge these days, from the political to a looming pandemic, and can in more ways than one impact our mental health. Of course, it has also connected us in ways that have inspired us to live more creatively, act more politically and get the information we need fast of what's happening in the world around us. While the research is still young and no one really knows the long-term consequences, there's enough evidence that social media's influence on our mental health can worsen (if not cause) issues with anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation. Here's the good, the bad and ways to lean into better habits for your well-being.
For those with serious mental health issues, social media can be an amazing tool for connecting with support groups. One study published in the University of Cambridge Press found that interacting with others online, sharing personal stories and swapping strategies for coping with the day-to-day challenges of living with a mental illness far outweighed any negative impact.
And a Harvard study found that routine social media use — like all of us do, checking in every day and responding to posts — has a positive impact on our well-being and mental health.
But excessive/obsessive use is where the problem lies. And Gen Z is getting hip to that — research from Origin, a marketing research group, found that 34 percent of 18-24 YOs in the U.S. are quitting social media because they feel "anxious, sad or depressed" when using Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat while 64 percent said they are taking a break.
Cyberbullying, FOMO or your run-of-the-mill social media envy can impact anyone's mood, but can be especially harmful to someone already dealing with issues of mental health. While the jury's still out whether there's more than a correlation between social media and mental health vs. actually causing it, there has been a rise in depression since the introduction of the smartphone (sadly, the suicide rate for teen girls increased by 65 percent between 2010 and 2015. By 2015, 92 percent of teens and young adults owned a smartphone.) But social media has also helped destigmatize mental health so what can we do?
If you're feeling like you need a mental health break from social media, here are ways to balance your day to day with and without tech. Also, check out our roundup of best products to help you curb your tech use.
Do more of what you love. Whether that involves technology or not, spend more time pursuing creative outlets, volunteer for a cause you care about or get outside in nature — gardening, hiking, whatever lifts your mood. Do things that boost your confidence and self-esteem vs. spending that time comparing your life to others online.
Make more time for friends IRL. Schedule face-to-face time with your tribe, the gals and guys who know you best, share similar interests and remind you that you have support. Nothing replaces the feel-good spirit of hanging out with friends IRL. It's good for the soul.
Marie Kondo your feed. If someone doesn't bring you joy, clean house and unfollow. Choose who you follow the same way you choose your real friends: Does that Instagrammer with the seemingly perfect life leave you feeling more envy than inspired? Unfollow. Fill your social media feed with the types of people who inspire you and lift you up.
Focus on moderation. Go on a digital detox and decide to limit your time on social media. Aim for 30 minutes a day or less than what you're tracking now. Turn off your phone when you're working or doing something you love so you can focus.
Turn off notifications. Seriously, don't let these distractions keep you from staying focused and away from always being on your phone.
Get more sleep. Sleep and mood are closely linked. A Harvard study found that lack of sleep can cause irritability and stress and chronic insomnia can lead to depression and anxiety. And what can keep us up at night? Our phones — we're more likely to scroll past our bedtime and check in in the middle of the night if they're near our nightstands. Try keeping your phone out of the bedroom, even for one night, and see how it impacts your sleep and overall well-being.
If you are in need of mental health support, you can contact the free National Alliance for Mental Health HelpLine Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, contact MentalHealth.gov 24 hours, 7 days a week for immediate help.
Theresa Gonzalez is a content creator based in San Francisco and the author of Sunday Sews. She's a lover of all things design and spends most of her days momming her little one Matilda.