New technologies are being invented at an ever-increasing rate. Many of these technological advancements are highly beneficial for us such as new medical treatments, green energy supplies, and ground-breaking innovations to advance scientific research.

Social media is arguably the most popular form of every-day technology, especially among younger generations. Social media does an amazing job at connecting people across the entire planet, circulating huge amounts of information, and fostering online communities with specific interests and conversations. However, social media also comes with its own set of risks.

As our societal dependence on technology grows, it increasingly becomes a large part of our everyday life. We carry our phones everywhere and use them to easily and frequently connect with our friends via apps like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and Gmail.

As outlined in Netflix’s documentary “The Social Dilemma”, the companies running these apps profit off of the amount of time that each person spends on social media. As a result, these companies use their understanding of human psychology to make their apps as addictive as possible, ensuring high user activity. This is great for business; however, there are currently very few regulations in place to make sure that our well-being is taken care of in this process.

In a 2015 study, researcher Stoney Brooks uses the term ‘technostress’ to define any negative impacts on behaviors, attitudes, thoughts, or the body that are caused by technology, either directly or indirectly.

In this study, Brooks found that the more friends someone has on Facebook, the more likely they are to experience technostress from social media. Furthermore, employees who have jobs that depend on technology also tend to experience higher technostress.

In today’s world with most work moving to an online format due to Covid-19, more and more people depend on technology for their job. Technostress due to social media has been correlated with drastic increases in anxiety, depression, and suicide rates, especially in younger generations.

Additionally, while social media is abundant with information, it can be quite difficult to discern between real and fake news. Fake news has a tendency to be fear-based and misleading and can cause an increase in feelings of anxiety and worry.

Part of what makes social media so addicting is that our feeds are personalized to us based on our own individual interests. For example, if a person watches a lot of videos about cooking on Instagram, then Instagram will suggest even more cooking videos to keep their attention on the app. While this has its benefits (more recipes to cook) it also limits the amount of information that the individual user is exposed to, resulting in information bias.

For example, if somebody only views posts about climate change being real, then they will only be suggested posts that support climate change being real. On the contrary, if a person only views posts that state climate change is a myth, then Instagram will only suggest posts that support climate change being a myth. In each case, both people are only being given information that supports their existing beliefs which can create a strong emotional bias towards their own perspectives. This turns into a problem when it causes division and discontent between large groups of people.

So, what can you do to keep your mental health safe while still enjoying social media? Lots!!

1. Limit the amount of time you spend on social media

  • Turn on ‘do-not-disturb’ as soon as you decide to go to sleep. This will you to keep from checking your phone until the morning.
  • Turn off social media notifications. If you don’t want to have your phone on do-not-disturb because you’re worried about missing an important call, you can simply turn off the notifications from your social media apps. This will help to limit the number of times you’re tempted to check your phone.
  • Make a goal to only check your social media accounts a certain number of times a day (for example, check your social media once every 1-2 hours).

2. Spend time with friends off-line

  • Make plans to go on long walks with friends or do outdoor exercises together. Spending time with friends in-person releases more ‘happy hormones’ in the brain than connecting with friends online.

3. Invest in hobbies that don’t require technology

  • As fun as it may be, spending hours on social media doesn’t always contribute to valuable life experiences and skills. If you typically spend an hour on social media, try cutting that time in half and using the remaining 30 minutes to work on a hobby or a skill that interests you. This could include cooking, painting, learning a musical instrument, journaling, yoga, gardening, DIY crafts, and many more.

 

Overall, the most important thing to have in mind is that balance is key. Social media is great for connecting with friends and loved ones, for learning new information, and for finding out cool, local cafés or restaurants to visit. It is totally possible to enjoy the benefits of social media while also taking care of your mental health. As long as you know the possible risks associated with social media use, you can take care in figuring out which social media habits work best for you and your mental health.

 

Blog post by Logan Hedberg, Volunteer

 

References

Brooks, S. (2015). Does personal social media usage affect efficiency and well-being? Computers in Human Behavior, 46, 26–37. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2014.12.053

Lawrence, R. and Smith, M. “Social Media and Mental Health.” HelpGuide.org, 2020, www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/social-media-and-mental-health.htm

Coombe, and Curtus. (Writers) & Orlowski (Writer and Director). 2020. The Social Dilemma

. Retrieved from Netflix’s homepage URL: https://www.netflix.com/browse