According to the most recent statistics, nearly 80 percent of the US population has at least one social media profile. Rates of use are even higher among teens and young adults, who are more likely to have multiple profiles being maintained through smartphone apps that provide constant access. There are many positive aspects to the social media boom such as the ability to find and share information (accuracy considerations aside), and the advantage of staying in touch with friends and loved ones far away. However, research is continuing to confirm that social media use comes with a variety of mental health risks, and teens and young adults may be especially susceptible.
Redefining Social Status
The teen and young adult years have always come with intense social pressure and the desire to fit in. With the constant presence of social media, however, there is no way to take a break from criticism and comparison. As soon as social media profiles began to gain popularity, people started defining their social status by online “friends” and followers. With online friendships came online enemies, and people who enjoyed stirring up conflict in real life found an even more efficient way to create chaos online. Cyber-bullying gave bullies a way to mentally follow their victims into their bedrooms, spewing verbal blows at their appearance and behaviors in a public forum.
Even for those that don’t experience bullying or criticism online, feelings of low self-worth can develop as a result of online isolation. Some individuals might interpret their lack of online friends or followers as evidence of their inadequacy, and begin to obsess over increasing “likes” and comments on their posts. Just as when you say or do something in real life that you worry might garner criticism, online activity can create approval anxiety.
Getting in the Way of Human Connection
It is true that we are more globally connected now than during any other time in history. It is easy to log on to a social media platform and find people with similar interests on the other side of the world to befriend. While these friendships can be valid and beneficial, online socializing can also prevent in-person connections. Some people choose to foster relationships almost exclusively in the online world because these interactions do not require nearly as much commitment or emotional growth. Unfortunately, by losing the ability to connect with people face-to-face, these individuals may be exacerbating social anxiety and feelings of isolation. A lack of human connection is strongly tied to many mental illnesses, and while online relationships have their own perks, they can’t act as a substitute for the real thing.
Social media also gets in the way of human interaction by distracting us from our surroundings and the people we should be spending quality time with. Most people with social media accounts also have smartphones, and therefore can access the online world at any time. It is not uncommon to see an entire family sitting down at a restaurant, each looking at their phone instead of each other. Couples frequently go on dates during which they spend most of their time scrolling through social media posts instead of talking. This kind of disconnection is causing the deterioration of familial relationships as well as romantic ones. Having an in-person conversation with someone who cares for you and can provide you with their undivided attention has many mental health benefits, and social media is making it increasingly difficult to experience this level of connection.
Making You Lose Sleep
When we are bombarded with a constant stream of friends, acquaintances, and celebrities posting flattering pictures of their seemingly perfect lives, it can be nearly impossible not to compare ourselves to others. Social media use can make you feel like you need to look better, have a better job, find a better relationship, and somehow finance constant vacations. The anxiety that comes from this pressure for perfection can be overwhelming, and often leads to overthinking and sleep issues. Daytime activities and responsibilities may keep you preoccupied most of the time, but when it is time to shut down and doze off before bed, it can be easy to slip into a negative thought cycle of self-criticism.
Aside from some of the direct mental health effects of social media use, researchers have found that people with social media profile apps on their smartphones tend to spend time scrolling through posts late at night. Not only does this activity distract us from sleep on its own, but the blue light emanated from smartphones has been found to disturb the brain’s natural sleep cycle. This light can suppress melatonin production, which is required to feel calm and drowsy at bedtime. Poor sleep quality is associated with an increased risk of many mental health issues.
Social media use is a common source of anxiety and depression for teens and young adults, and many people turn to substances to cope with the resulting stress and painful emotions. If you believe you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and mental health issues, now is the time to reach out for help. At Burning Tree West, you will find a team of compassionate, knowledgeable professionals who specialize in helping young adults struggling with addiction and their families. Here, our clients tackle their addictions head-on and harness the power to restructure their lives in a way that fosters lasting sobriety. We believe that practicing recovery doesn’t have to mean an end to educational or career goals, but instead can become a fundamental part of a successful and fulfilling life. For more information on how we can help, call us now at 972-962-7374