There's no doubt that social media can be a fun way to kill time. Whether you're scrolling through your friends' #TBT pics on Insta, talking politics on Twitter or – no judgement! – staying up way too late watching Tik Tok's, chances are social media has become a big part of your life.
And there are some obvious benefits, right? Roughly two-thirds of Americans get at least some of their news from social media, which means that, as long as you're following reputable accounts, it can keep you informed. And about the same amount use social media to keep in touch with friends, so you can keep up with your buds even if you can't hang out. Plus, there are just so many cute cat videos, and that's never a bad thing.
But scrolling through social media can have some negative impacts, too. Too much time (or too much emotional investment in social media) can affect both your self-esteem and the way you interact with others. Here's what can happen – and how to avoid it.
First, Let's Talk FOMO
Sure, scrolling through tropical vacation pics may feel like an escape when it's about 15 degrees and snowing outside. But the truth is that social media can serve as a constant reminder of events you were't involved in, parties you didn't go to, and even ads for stuff you want but can't buy.
All that can lead to the FOMO, the fear of missing out. FOMO can make you feel isolated, lonely, anxious and depressed – and just overall worse about yourself.
It can also make you feel like you always need to be available, according to research published in Innovation. That can lead to trouble sleeping and anxiety, since you may feel like you're never social enough.
It Can Also Warp Your Body Image
Another reason scrolling through Insta may make you feel not-so-great? Instagram models, lifestyle gurus and pic after pic of "perfect" selfies.
Even if you know that someone spent an hour taking selfies to get that one perfect picture – and a few extra minutes perfecting it in FaceTune after that – you're likely to compare yourself to that idealized image anyway. The research shows that people who spend more time on social media tend to feel less satisfied with their bodies, with the effects especially noticeable in young women.
Social Media Can Also Affect Your Social Skills
Using social doesn't just change how you feel about yourself, it can impact how you treat others. In-person interactions give you instant feedback and create emotional connections that can feel more intense than online ones.
Chatting on social media and via text, though, can feel impersonal, since you're not reading your friend's body language or facial expressions. While that not necessarily a big deal if you're also very social in person, socializing primarily online can stunt your social skills, to the extent that some experts say it can cause a "nonverbal learning disability."
Reducing the Psychological Impact of Social Media
OK, so the negative effects of social media sound a little bleak. But you can still use your fave social media platforms while minimizing the effect on your well-being. Here's how.
- Limit your use. While it can be tempting to check social media 24/7, you'll reduce your chances of loneliness and depression if you can cap it to 30 minutes a day, according to research conducted at the University of Pennsylvania.
- Be careful of comparisons. Sometimes, it can seem like everyone else's life is perfect. But think about it – do you post unflattering selfies, or post about what's bothering you most in life? Remind yourself that everyone has flaws and struggles. And if you find yourself making comparisons anyway, step away from social media for a few minutes.
- Take time for in-person chats. Real conversations (on the phone or in person) can feel intense, but they're also the best way to make new friends. Make time for offline interaction, too.
- Newport Academy: How to Help Teens Avoid FOMO
- King University: Scared to Stay In: The Psychology of FOMO
- Pew Research Center:News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2018
- The Inquisitive Mind: Selfie-Esteem: The Relationship Between Body Dissatisfaction and Social Media in Adolescent and Young Women
- Child Mind Institute: How Using Social Media Affects Teenagers
About the Author
Sylvie Tremblay holds a Master of Science in molecular and cellular biology and has years of experience as a cancer researcher and neuroscientist. Before launching her writing business, she worked as a TA and tutored students in biology, chemistry, math and physics.