He’s only fourteen years old and yet so successful? Why am I still stuck in this dead-end job! Hey somebody shared my photo! Nice. Do I like this photo? She already has too many followers! There must be a trick to gain followers! Welcome to the internal monologue you have while scrolling through your social media. It is a monologue that all of us go through while scrolling through social media, but we don’t realize it.
A few months ago, I decided to take a seven-day vacation. During this time, I decided to go off the grid, turned on my phone’s airplane mode. On the very first day, I experienced phantom vibration syndrome; I thought my phone ringed and when I checked, it hadn’t. I was completely distracted in conversations, checked my phone incessantly, and on coming across a beautiful sight, I took pictures to upload it on my Instagram but obviously, I had no access to internet. It wasn’t until the sixth day that I was stress-free without my phone. Those six days were stressful and triggered my anxiety. While I was sitting on the mountainside all by myself, I thought to myself What is social media doing to me?
Several studies have linked excessive use of social media with a person’s high levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. Studies have shown that 90% of teens and adults spend approximately 2 hours on social media. Over 77% of the global population is hooked on social media. Such excessive use results in lasting effects. The most general cause of stress is excessive use of social media and if it goes unimpeded, it might become a serious mental health issue.
- Highlight Reel
The terms highlight reel is similar to Wall of Fame. It consists of the greatest and the brightest moments of your life. It’s where we post our wins or when we are traveling with our friends or family. But the problem arises when we start to compare our highlight reels with others. When your highlight reel gets the attention that you expected, it gives birth to the second stressor on social media.
- Social Currency
A currency is something that we use to quantify the value to a service. In regards to social media, the shares, likes, comments have become this form of social currency. In terms of marketing, it is called Economy of Attention. The problem is that across all social media platforms, we are the product and we are letting others give value to what we put up on social media. You might know some people who took down a photo because it didn’t get many likes as they thought. We take down the product from our shelf which is not selling fast enough, tying our self-worth to what others think of us. Which leads me to the third stressor on social media.
- FOMO (fear of missing out)
It is a social anxiety from the fear that you are missing a potential event or opportunity. Every time when you decide to quit social media that feeling of anxiety that you might miss out on what is trending with your friends keeps you hooked on. You constantly check your social media and the updates of your friends so that you don’t miss out on anything new. This constant expectations put tremendous pressure on your mental psyche.
- Online Harassment
Studies have shown that over 40% of adults have experienced online harassment and over 73% have witnessed it. Minorities and women fall prey to online harassment. You might come across several instances such as mean comments or someone trying to defame a religious group or community and you would think it’s just one mean comment, not a big deal. But what these small instances happen again and again? Over time, such instances could lead to major issues. It is important to recognize such everyday moments as well because if they go unchecked, social harassment might cost a life.
Regarding social media, we are already facing damages that are similar to substance dependencies. It is giving you a feel-good chemical called dopamine every time you are given the social currency. So, what do we do to feel good? We check likes, post more, check likes again, post more, and it becomes a conundrum. Doesn’t that sound like every drug you ever heard of?
When we talk about the dark side of social media, what we are talking about is the dark side of people. That psychology which makes people misuse the insecurities of others, making them take down a photo that they were thrilled to post. But everyone loves social media and I don’t think it’s going anywhere. So, telling someone to not waste time on social media would be pointless. Frankly, I don’t think the absences of social media is an option anymore. Its how you practice your use of social media that matters the most. Here are a few pointers on how to practice Safe Social.
- Recognizing the problem
Recognizing a problem is the first step toward fixing it. Creating awareness is critical because when someone puts finger on an issue, you become more aware of it. This will at least help you to be able to recognize these effects if and when they happen to you.
- Audit your social media
Monitoring your social usage would be the key to reducing stress and anxiety. Just ask simple questions when you log in to your social media account. How many times do I actually check the likes? Why am I responding to this photo in this way? You have to keep a check on yourself on how you use your social media.
- Create a better online experience
When I asked my friend to audit her social media, she realized that she was too tied up on social media but particularly on celebrities reminding her of the things she didn’t have. So, she unfollowed all the brands, celebrities, and everything related to it. For me I had to purge other people off my timeline because truth be told, our friends or the people we have on Facebook as a courtesy, they just add nuisance to your feed and it’s better to not have an experience rather than having a negative experience.
Social media is a tool that can be used for good, for more positive groups, for revolution, or for putting the grumpy cat in animated movies. So, is social media hurting mental health? The answer is, it doesn’t have to. Social can tear you down or can lift you up when you are feeling down or have an actual laugh-out-loud. Finally, I have 24 hours in a day and if I spend 2 hours on social media then I prefer my experience to be full of inspirations, laughs, motivations, and a whole lot of cat videos.