Social Media's Dark Side: Learning to Set Boundaries
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To date, Facebook has over two billion monthly active users, Instagram has over 700 million, Twitter has over 328 million and Snapchat has over 255 million. Without question, social networks have become the go-to platform for managing events, photo and video sharing, news updates and building relationships.
As a tech entrepreneur in the health and wellness sector, I see social media as a large opportunity to reach a targeted audience and create compelling conversations around issues that matter. People are becoming increasingly comfortable with sharing private and intimate details about themselves, which has changed how we communicate, perceive situations and build relationships.
And while there are many benefits from a business perspective, social media also has a dark side. Beyond the viral cat videos and friendly political banter, these social networks are also the source of fake news, cyberbullying, popularity contests and catfishing. This makes it tough to decipher what’s real from what’s not.
Analysis from the Pitt's Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health showed that people who report using seven to 11 social media platforms had more than three times the risk of depression and anxiety than their peers who use no more than two platforms, even after adjusting for the total time spent on social media overall.
Social media may have redefined what it means to have a “sense of community,” but the combination of overuse and the need for validation and attention has proven to be destructive to mental wellness as well as distracting and detrimental to productivity.
Our Achilles’ heel
In my work, I regularly meet with therapists who use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in their practice as well as clients who suffer from different types and varying levels of anxiety and depression. From these experiences, I am more aware of how social media can trigger symptoms of mental illness.
An inflated reality based on social media illusions creates unrealistic expectations of society. The majority of content posted is twists of the truth and reflects only the high points or staged views into someone’s life. An organization called Ditch the Label created a video to compare social media versus reality and to showcase how easy it is for people to live an “Insta Lie.”
Fear of missing out (FOMO), now an official word recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary, was initially coined as slang for having conflicting plans and feeling sad for not being with a group of people who are currently together. However, in many instances, FOMO means being excluded and left out. When you see groups of people you know celebrating or attending an event that you weren’t invited to, you naturally feel FOMO. Social media, and the inflated reality, have brought these instances to the forefront and flash these hangouts in front of you, so you have no choice but to acknowledge they happened.
Social media addiction is not only a rising issue, but a common one. A study by Chicago University found social media to be more addictive than cigarettes and booze. And Mediakix revealed average consumers will spend a total of five years and four months of their life on social media. The time spent engaged on these networks reduces productivity at work, damages real relationships and decreases time spent connecting with one another in person. Building relationships in person is fundamental to maintaining happiness.
To maintain a healthy mind and not allow social media consumption to get the best of you, set boundaries, adopt best practices and try to be more present and in the moment.
Learn when to sign off. There are a couple approaches to achieving this. One, allocate yourself a limited amount of time each day at a specific time of day to check social media channels -- such as 15 minutes every morning on the commute to work. Second, avoid being on your phone during meals, especially when others are around. Or, if you are easily tempted, delete apps from your phone so you can only access social media from a computer. Leverage this opportunity to spend more time outside and focus on hobbies and activities that you enjoy. These methods could also potentially influence those who are around you to also not check social media consistently throughout the day.
Change your outlook towards posts. Approach social media the way you might approach your own mental health. Take a step back, observe and consider if how a post makes you feel is going to impact you tomorrow, a month from now or even a year from now. Oftentimes, you’ll find that the answer will be that it won’t. In these instances, it’s not worth your time to let a social post impact how you’re feeling, your mood, your relationships or even your day.
Leverage the tools and resources available around you. The public needs to come together to raise awareness towards how social media is impacting mental wellness. To do so, know what resources are available around you when you can sense someone is feeling depressed or irregular anxieties. Immerse yourselves into a conversation on how social media impacts our lives and be prepared to acknowledge hotlines available and recommend mindfulness and wellness apps that can help maintain a more level mindset and grounded view on life.The power of social media should not be taken lightly. The Royal Society of Public Health and Young Health Movement links social media to the 70 percent increase in anxiety and depression over the past 25 years. When used for the right purpose, businesses can reap tremendous benefits. However, without necessary precautions, social media can subconsciously and consciously harm your mental health and wellness.