That social media is a boon to help us get connected to friends and family, to garner work opportunities and learn new things is a given. There is also a flip side to it, which is now coming to the forefront. It was recently revealed that facebook’s internal research found that their apps (namely Instagram) were seriously detrimental to the mental health of teens.
Recently, social media vlogger Byron Denton began posting pictures of his luxurious lifestyle- of him in private jets, shopping at high-end designer stores and partying with the rich and famous. There was just one catch- this uber-rich lifestyle was not Byron’s reality, it was just his Photoshop skill. He says that he did so as a social experiment to see how people react. Not only did his followers believe the pictures to be portraying his real lifestyle, but even those close to him also began to wonder how he had suddenly gotten so wealthy, and all it took was – good editing software.
Social media often has people editing their pictures and videos to paint an aspirational picture, which may or may not be true. The practice of creating an edited, enhanced image on platforms is so widespread, that it is difficult to escape being affected by it. The pressure then creates an effect on most users, to try and match the lifestyles that they see, and this has been seen to cause significant mental health problems. Multiple studies have found a strong link between heavy social media usage and increased mental health issues such as depression, feelings of inadequacy and even suicide. Depression Can Be Caused Due to Negative Social Media Experiences, Says Study.
In 2018, an 18-year-old in Punjab live-streamed her suicide on Instagram. She had been jilted by her lover, and her live streaming of the act was her last bid to get validation for her actions. This is not a lone case.
Getting social validation is a human need since time immemorial, and it has now manifested in the form of social media likes, comments and re-shares. It provides instant gratification, wherein a post receives feedback in minutes or hours- leading the user to believe that the social circle approves of their life. These may be people who haven’t interacted much, or at all, in real life; but have become an integral part of the social media circle whose endorsement is now considered essential.
The problem is when this virtual world does not spill over into real life. Most users feel that while they may be extremely popular online, they are lonely when it comes to seeking support for issues that they face offline. More than 85% percent of all people are addicted to social media, and check their updates many times a day. It is often difficult to tell if being on these platforms is affecting one’s mental health. It’s like a silent addiction, that often gets noticed only when it has caused significant damage.
Excessive social media use can create a harmful cycle, one that many people seem to be caught in:
Feeling lonely or depressed causes one to use social media as a means to connect with others. As the usage increases, so do the feelings of self-loathing, comparison, and loneliness. This causes low mood, depression, and anxiety; which had triggered the excessive use of social media in the first place. Hence, a vicious circle is created, and it is difficult to break out of.
So how can one tell if social media is damaging their self-worth and affecting their real life? A compilation of various psychiatric studies goes on to reveal some common indicators of the virtual world getting too real-
- There is an inbuilt sense of everyone around doing better in life, in comparison- Everyone seems to be happier, in better relationships and wealthier. Whereas, one feels as if their life is just stuck. There is a constant feeling of being unworthy- it seems as if most people look better, are more talented and are capable of achieving things that one possibly can not do. This may cause serious, unhealthy body image issues.
- With every post, there is anxiety and a constant worry about how many likes and comments it would receive, and the negative comments adversely affect the user’s self-belief. There is a tendency to cause personal physical or financial harm to gain more following or likes.
- Feeling dejected after scrolling – Going through everyone else’s seemingly perfect-looking lives causes feelings of being upset and low for long, even after having stopped scrolling. This leads to losing interest in daily tasks such as studies or work. It also hampers with sleep.
- A growing sense of loneliness or depression, especially after endless scrolling on social media platforms.
While most people go through these emotions occasionally, as is natural, the problem arises when they take over one’s lives and affect day to day functioning and personal relationships. 16-year-old Florida girl Jessica Laney had killed herself because her friends/ acquaintances posted nasty remarks anonymously on her social media. The remarks said that no one cared about her, and that she would be better dead. They affected her to the point of her taking her life.
Even with the threat of toxicity, social media is omnipresent and is an addiction as well as a necessity for many. It would be nearly impossible to not be engaged with it. There are measures, though, that can ensure that one is not unduly affected by it. Psychiatrists and sociologists have devoted various studies to underline the best tools available to us to moderate the ill effects of social media.
- Whenever in self-comparison mode, shift to inspiration mode- When a picture or video invokes the sense of a better physicality or lifestyle, let it be a motivator for you to work towards bettering yourself. Instead of feeling inadequate about yourself, let it stimulate you. Use it to set new personal goals.
- Limit the time you spend on social media. The virtual world is that, a virtual world. Spending too much time on it can cause the brain to confuse it with reality, making one feel like it is an extension of the real world. To keep that in check, the time spent online must be controlled, to avoid spiralling. Ensure that there are device-free hours in the day, every day.
- Do not let social media replace real life. Online communications are a great way to stay in touch but do not let them supersede human conversations and meetings. Do not let virtual acceptance and dissent become the substitute for real-life interactions.
- Be aware when scrolling. Most people post the highlight reel of their lives. Almost everyone is creating an image to make themselves seem more desirable. Be aware of this when you scroll down. Always understand that for every picture posted, many have been clicked and rejected. People do not like to post their problems on social media, but that does not mean that they do not have any. To have this reality check, when browsing, is very important.
- Turn off notifications to not be constantly glued to every detail of the social circles' online activity. This is a tool to trap a user into endless hours of scrolling and create a habit of constantly being glued to their device.
Social media is a great tool if used wisely and with discretion. It has helped save lives, connect lost family members, and pass on knowledge and information. It has also caused harm in having gained the ability to control people’s minds. To have an understanding that it does not substitute real life goes a long way in protecting one’s mental health and self-image when browsing.
(The opinions expressed in the above article are that of the author and do not reflect the stand or position of LatestLY.)
(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Apr 19, 2022 03:06 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website latestly.com).