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Social Media and Your Mental Health

In today’s interconnected world, social media has become an integral part of life for many of us. Social media offers us many advantages, from staying in touch with friends and family to sharing personal milestones and accessing news, information and entertainment.

Sadly, however, there is growing evidence that excessive use can negatively affect your mental health. This blog post aims to shed light on the impact of social media on your mental wellbeing, identify who may be most vulnerable, and explore how Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help if you’re struggling with these challenges.

The Impact of Social Media on Your Mental Health

Social media use is a double-edged sword. For most, it provides a platform for self-expression, connection, and even professional networking. On the other hand, numerous studies have found a correlation between excessive social media use and mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

One study found that spending more than two hours per day on social media can increase the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes, including symptoms of anxiety and depression (Primack et al., 2017). The constant exposure to carefully curated images and updates can create unrealistic expectations and comparisons, leading to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.

For instance, you might find yourself scrolling through Instagram, seeing posts from friends and influencers with seemingly perfect lives. This can lead to a phenomenon known as “social comparison,” where you compare your own life to others, and are often left feeling inadequate. This comparison can trigger negative thoughts and feelings, such as believing that you’re not good enough or that everyone else is happier and more successful than you.

Who is Most at Risk?

While social media can impact anyone, certain groups are more vulnerable to its negative effects. Adolescents and young adults are at higher risk due to their developmental stage and their reliance on social media for validation and self-identity. This age group is more impressionable and sensitive to peer feedback and social comparison, making them more susceptible to the mental health impacts of social media (Kross et al., 2013).

If you’re a teenager or young adult, you might find yourself using social media to form and maintain friendships, seek approval, and express yourself. This may make you more vulnerable to negative feedback, cyberbullying, and the pressure to present a perfect image online. If you already struggle with mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, you may find that social media exacerbates your symptoms.

It’s also important to consider that different personality traits can influence how social media affects you. For example, those who tend to engage in passive consumption (i.e., scrolling without interacting) may be more likely to experience feelings of envy and dissatisfaction.

The Psychological Mechanisms at Play

Understanding the psychological mechanisms behind social media’s impact on your mental health can help you navigate its use more mindfully. Here are a few key mechanisms to be aware of:

  1. Social Comparison. As mentioned earlier, social comparison involves evaluating yourself against others. When you see posts highlighting others’ successes, vacations, or happy moments, it can lead to negative self-assessment and feelings of inadequacy.
  2. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). Social media can create a sense of FOMO, making you feel anxious about missing out on experiences that others are having. This can lead to compulsive checking and an inability to disconnect from your devices.
  3. Validation Seeking. The likes, comments, and shares you receive on your posts can become a form of validation. If you’re constantly seeking approval online, your self-esteem can become contingent on external feedback, which is often fleeting and superficial.
  4. Cyberbullying and Negative Interactions. Social media can be a platform for cyberbullying and negative interactions, which can significantly impact your mental health. If you experience harassment or negative comments, it can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and depression.

For example, if you catch yourself thinking, Everyone is happier than me,” CBT teaches you to explore and question this belief and consider more helpful and realistic alternatives, such as, People tend to share their highlights, but everyone has their own struggles.”

How CBT Can Help

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a highly effective therapeutic approach that can help you in manage the negative impact of social media on your mental health. CBT focuses on identifying and modifying negative thoughts and behaviours to develop healthier coping mechanisms. Here’s how CBT can help you:

  1. Thought Awareness: One of the first steps in CBT is becoming aware of your thoughts and beliefs. CBT helps you recognize negative thoughts that arise while using social media, such as comparing yourself unfavourably to others or feeling like you’re not good enough. By bringing these thoughts into your awareness, you can start to address and challenge them.
  2. Challenging negative and unhelpful thoughts: For example, if you catch yourself thinking, Everyone is happier than me,” CBT teaches you to explore and question this belief and consider more helpful and realistic alternatives, such as, People tend to share their highlights, but everyone has their own struggles.”
  3. Behavioural Changes: CBT encourages you to modify your behaviours to reduce the negative impact of social media. This might include setting limits on your use, scheduling specific times for checking your accounts, or taking breaks altogether. You may need to address the balance between online and face to face social activities. By establishing healthier habits, you can regain control and reduce any negative effects on your mental health.
  4. Stress Management: CBT equips you with effective stress management techniques to cope with the anxiety and pressure that social media can induce. Techniques such as mindfulness, relaxation exercises, and problem-solving strategies can help you manage stress and maintain a healthier mindset.
  5. Building Self-Esteem: Through CBT, you can work on building your self-esteem independently of social media validation. This might involve setting personal goals, recognizing your achievements, and focusing on your strengths and values. By developing a stronger sense of self-worth, and engaging in real world activities which make you feel valuable and competent, you’ll be less reliant on external validation.

CBT strategies you can use with social media

To incorporate CBT strategies into your daily life, consider the following practical steps:

  1. Keep a Thought Diary: Start by keeping a diary of your thoughts and feelings related to social media use. Note down any negative thoughts that arise and the situations that trigger them. This can help you identify patterns and areas to focus on in your CBT practice.
  2. Challenge Negative Thoughts: When you notice a negative thought, ask yourself questions to challenge it. For example:
    • “Is this thought based on facts or assumptions?”
    • “What evidence do I have for and against this thought?”
    • “Is there a more balanced way to look at this situation?”
  3. Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries for your social media use. This might include limiting the amount of time you spend on social media each day, turning off notifications, and designating specific times for checking your accounts. Creating a more intentional and controlled approach can reduce its negative impact.
  4. Engage in Positive Activities: Replace some of your social media time with real world activities that promote your well-being. This could include hobbies, exercise, spending time with loved ones, or practicing mindfulness. Engaging in healthy real world activities can improve your mood and reduce the time you spend on social media, reducing its addictive nature.

Other resources

Social Media and Mental Health | Tips and Advice | YoungMinds

#OwnYourFeed for a more positive time online (youtube.com)

Should I Seek Professional Support?

If you find that social media is significantly impacting your mental health, consider seeking support from a mental health professional. A therapist trained in CBT can help you develop personalised strategies and provide guidance and support as you work towards improving your mental health.

While social media offers valuable benefits, it’s important to be mindful of its potential impact on your mental health. Adolescents, young adults, and individuals with pre-existing mental health conditions are particularly vulnerable. By understanding the risks and implementing strategies from CBT, you can take control and protect your mental well-being.

Remember, your wellbeing matters. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or impacted negatively by social media, don’t hesitate to reach out for the right support. Taking proactive steps and prioritising your mental health can lead to a more balanced and fulfilling life.

Would you like to know more about how CBT can help you? Our consultant psychologist, Dr Sian Thrasher, offers a free 15-minute telephone consultation specifically for you to discuss CBT and treatment options.

References

Fardouly, J., Diedrichs, P. C., Vartanian, L. R., & Halliwell, E. (2015). Social comparisons on social media: The impact of Facebook on young women’s body image concerns and mood. Body Image, 13, 38-45.

Kross, E., Verduyn, P., Demiralp, E., Park, J., Lee, D. S., Lin, N., … & Ybarra, O. (2013). Facebook use predicts declines in subjective well-being in young adults. PloS one, 8(8), e69841.

Primack, B. A., Shensa, A., Sidani, J. E., Whaite, E. O., Lin, L. Y., Rosen, D., … & Miller, E. (2017). Social media use and perceived social isolation among young adults in the US. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 53(1), 1-8.

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