3 Negative Effects of Social Media (and How to Combat Them)

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Instant connectivity, near-universal reach and huge marketing potential means social media is here to stay. It has undoubtedly provided some people astronomical opportunities (the top Tik Tok influencer makes $5 million/year!). But social media isn’t without cost. Studies indicate that increased social media use can lead to worse mental health outcomes. This includes increased depressive symptoms and suicide rates. In this article, we explore three negative effects of social media and how to cope with them.

Negative Body Image

Like traditional media (magazines, television, etc.), social media can negatively impact our body image. Research shows that those who use social media express less body satisfaction than those who don’t. This includes the desire to be thin, believing thinness is best, preoccupation with one’s body, dieting, comparing oneself to peers, and body shame.

On average, 350 million pictures are uploaded to Facebook daily, and 95 million pictures and videos are shared on Instagram each day. This gives us a staggering amount of content to compare ourselves to.

Specifically, we may compare ourselves to people we view as more attractive than us. Constant comparison can make us feel like we don’t measure up. This can negatively affect our mood and distort how we see our body.

To combat negative body image fuelled by social media:

  • Take a break from social media if mood worsens after use.
  • Unfollow accounts that contribute to body comparisons, negative self-perception, etc.
  • Follow body-positive accounts that normalize diverse types of beauty.
  • Join a body positivity support group.
  • Practice gratitude for the body. When we focus on what our body does for us, and how important it is to our survival, we may learn to appreciate it more.
  • If we experience disordered eating or serious mental distress, we should seek professional help.

Social Media Addiction

Psychologists estimate that 5-10% of Americans have a social media addiction. This is a behavioral addiction. Unlike substance addiction, people who struggle with behavioral addictions become dependent on specific actions (like gambling).

Those of us with this addiction crave social media and become fixated on it to the point that it negatively affects our daily lives. This happens because social media triggers dopamine, which produces feelings of pleasure. Recreational drugs like cocaine produce a similar effect. Social media addiction signs and symptoms may include:

  • Increased use of social media over time, including during other activities (like hanging out with friends).
  • Emotional, behavioral, and/or cognitive fixation with social media.
  • Mood boost when using social media.
  • Withdraw symptoms (like restlessness) when not using social media.
  • Personal issues (with loved ones, at work, etc.).
  • Relapse. Returning to previously harmful social media use habits after a period of abstinence.
  • Using social media to deal with emotional problems.

To combat social media addiction:

  • Limit social media use. We can use a conventional timer or an app to help us keep on track.
  • Delete social media from our smartphones. We can still use the desktop apps when we’re at home.
  • Get hobbies outside of social media.
  • Turn off social media notifications. Getting likes and social media interactions drives dopamine release. Eliminating notifications may curb the urge to check social media throughout the day.
  • If the problem is severe, seek professional help.

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

Fear of missing out (colloquially called FOMO), is the feeling that we’re missing out on something deeply important, while others get to experience it. It’s often connected to the belief that people are living more fulfilling lives or having more fun than we are.

On social media we receive the ultra-curated, potentially unrealistic version of people’s lives, aka the “highlight reel”. They may post the sappy parts of their romantic relationship, but not the fights and instability. Friends may post their party pictures and vacations, but not reveal how much debt they’re in.

This can make us feel inadequate by comparison. FOMO may lead us to check social media more often, in attempts to keep up. Research also suggests that when our needs aren’t met, FOMO increases. Also, when life satisfaction is low, we engage in social media more often. This creates a loop: FOMO, social media, FOMO, repeat.

To combat social media FOMO:

  • Focus on what we have, rather than what we lack.
  • Seek out offline connection. Even though social media provides constant connection, we may feel isolated. Meeting with loved ones offline can put our good fortune into perspective. When we’re having a fun time with people we love, we’re less likely to focus on what we lack.
  • Identify personal needs. As stated, when we’re less satisfied with life, we may feel more FOMO. We should try to discover what we need to feel fulfilled, and work towards achieving it.

Social media can provide educational, help us stay up to date with far-away friends, and help us launch business ventures. It’ll be an integral part of the information superhighway for the foreseeable future. It can also be damaging.

Like everything, we should use social media moderately. And like an unhealthy relationship, when social media does more harm than good, it’s time to re-evaluate our connection to it. So, scroll on, but if it becomes damaging don’t be afraid to log off!









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