No, you are not imagining it. Prolonged use of social media could really make you sad. While it has revolutionized the way we connect, excessive use of social media can negatively impact your mental health.
Studies have linked the use of social media with increased levels of depression, anxiety and loneliness. And with more research coming out on this relatively new technology, the list of effects continues.
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Here are some of the negative effects social media can have on your mental well-being …
Social media can cause cyberostracism
The use of social media is often driven by the intrinsic human need to belong, by that pervasive drive to form meaningful interpersonal connections with others. It is also fueled by our fear of losing or what many call “FOMO”. This fuels our need to regularly check for updates from our friends and endlessly scroll through our deadlines.
Many of us depend on social media for daily interactions, and its use has permeated almost every aspect of daily life. Initial research talked about its many benefits, including being able to connect across geographic boundaries.
But other studies are coming out on the negative effects of social media, including causing social exclusion online or “cyberostracism”.
Cyberostracism from scratch Likes and comments
Being ostracized affects our self-esteem, sense of control and sense of belonging, as well as our vision of a meaningful existence. Cyberostracism through social media generally occurs when feedback is absent, according to a 2018 study by Illinois State University researchers.
Researchers found that when our posts go unrecognized (i.e. they don’t receive comments or likes), we feel ignored and excluded from others.
Related: What to do when nobody likes your Facebook status
When this is experienced chronically, such as when you get zero just a few likes and comments on many of your posts over a long period, it can lead to “feelings of alienation, depression, helplessness and a general sense of meaninglessness”.
Be seen in areas and not friends
A separate study by researchers from the University of Mannheim in Germany found similar patterns in how people experience ostracism through social media. Some experiences on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, for example, result in the feeling of being ostracized when replies don’t happen immediately.
Waiting for a response after a message has been “seen” can trigger this response. So it makes it wait for someone to approve a friend request. These experiences, according to the researchers, put people in a seemingly permanent “standby mode”.
And online, where every need is met in an instant, every minute of delay in the response buries a person in a deeper pit of cyberostracism. The same feeling, according to the researchers, can be triggered when someone unfriends you on social media .
Social media can promote toxic confrontations
Social confrontation is nothing new. People have been comparing themselves and their lifestyles to that of their neighbors for hundreds of years. But because of social media, not only do you see what your neighbor has done, you are also bombarded with updates on what everyone, everywhere, is doing.
Scroll through your feed and see people reaching milestones after milestones, showing their latest milestones, sparkling new cars or sparkling accessories. As a result, you compare yourself and end up feeling like you missed.
This, according to a study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, is one of the many consequences of digitally mediated interactions.
‘Social comparisons occur when people automatically compare themselves to others about skills or attributes they deem important,’ explain the researchers.
Compare yourself with your friends on social media
Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram offer plenty of opportunities for users to compare themselves with their friends and all the perfect celebrities they follow.
You can also engage in social comparison on Facebook when you compare the number of likes and comments other people have posted on your updates versus those on your friends’ posts. This becomes a problem as, according to the same study, many individuals post only the best version of themselves on social media.
So when you compare yourself to these perfect online versions of your friends, you tend to feel inferior. Frequently seeing others’ portraits of their perfect lives on social media will make you feel that your life is lacking. This could provoke or exacerbate negative emotions and trigger an increase in daily depressive symptoms, the study says.
Prolonged use of social media can negatively impact your body image
Numerous studies have also found a link between prolonged use of social media and body dissatisfaction. These studies have shown that the effects on one’s body image are felt by both men and women.
A comprehensive study published in the journal Body Image, for example, found that prolonged social media use can cause body image problems among young women.
Those who spend more time on social media tend to compare their appearance (and body) to that of their friends, distant peers, and even celebrities. They also often judge their appearance as worse than others.
This is particularly problematic due to the widespread use of photo editing applications. The ubiquitous presence of heavily edited photos creates an unrealistic body image that is, for many, impossible to obtain or maintain.
These unrealistic bodily ideals can cause body dissatisfaction, lower self-esteem, and can even trigger eating disorders in some people.
And while body positivity movements have sought to make the concept of beauty more inclusive, there continues to be a focus on beauty as a crucial trait that people seek to achieve. Ultimately, this still places a high value on your appearance, something that can contribute to a negative body image or toxic comparisons with others.
How to take a break from social media
All of these studies point to one thing: a break on social media could be good for you. With all the reported negative effects of prolonged social media use on people’s mental health, reducing the time you spend scrolling through that feed could actually make you much happier.
In fact, research has found that limiting the use of social media has a positive effect on a person’s well-being over time.
So, if you’re wondering why something that was designed to make you feel so happy now seems to make you so sad, it’s probably because you need a break from all the perfect lives and perfect bodies you see in your feed.