For most of us, social media and the internet has become a normal part of everyday life. We use these platforms daily to communicate, share, and connect with friends, family, colleagues and strangers. But despite being more connected than ever, are we any better off? Are we any happier?
SOCIAL MEDIA MAKES US FEEL LONELY + DEPRESSED
Although many of us use social media platforms for entertainment and to feel connected to those we care about, some research has shown that frequent use of such platforms can actually make us feel the exact opposite – lonely and unhappy.
One recent study has shown that using Facebook frequently predicted a decline in moment-to-moment happiness, as well as a general decrease in life satisfaction. Participants were texted five times a day and asked about how they felt in the current moment, as well as their overall life satisfaction. Questions included things like how the participants currently felt, if they felt lonely or sad, how much time they had spent on Facebook, and how much direct human interaction they had had since the last text. The study revealed that the more participants used Facebook, the more they reported a lower level of current happiness, as well as overall life satisfaction. Interestingly, the study also supported the notion that direct interaction with others was linked to an increase in happiness over time.
SOCIAL MEDIA PROMOTES ENVY + JEALOUSY
Another group of research has also suggested that envy and jealousy also increase with the use of social media. Although many of us use social media as a way to stay up-to-date and informed on those around us, they also present an opportunity for social comparison and envy on an unprecedented scale. One particular study found that being a passive Facebook user, or “lurker” increased feelings of envy, jealousy, and even resentment toward the network itself.
Not only that, the study found that viewing the accomplishments and lives of like-minded peers on social networks exacerbated the negative emotions of social comparison.
These findings seem to be congruent with a lot of other research out there that has linked excessive or frequent internet usage with a variety of mental health issues such as low self-esteem, loneliness, depression, social phobia, and even suicidal thoughts.
IT’S ADDICTIVE + REINFORCING
Although internet addiction lacks many of the physical symptoms characteristic of drug and alcohol addiction, many are still prone to developing a psychological dependence on their technology. This is partly because our brains crave the rewards often associated with social media. Random notifications and the endless flow of information on our feeds stimulate the production of two main chemical rewards – dopamine and oxytocin. Dopamine causes us to search, seek, and desire novelty – which naturally makes us curious to explore and consume new information. Oxytocin, known for its ability to affect feelings of intimacy and bonding, is the stimulant for good feelings of love, empathy, trust, and compassion. When we post, comment, like, or share, and receive the same in return, our oxytocin levels rise and we feel more connected, included, and happy. The stimulation of social media not only makes us feel good but leaves us wanting more.
However, despite all the research currently being done on mental health and internet usage, the reason why these links exist is still not completely understood and will require further study.
What is important to note is that how you spend your time online can have very real consequences to your health and well-being. While avoiding social media and online activities is likely unsustainable for most, creating mindful digital practices can make all the difference.
TO GET STARTED WE RECOMMEND:
- Use apps like RescueTime to help monitor how much time you are spending online
- Establishing set times throughout your day or week where you disconnect from all things digital or use Freedom’s scheduling feature to set recurring blocks of your worst digital distractions (i.e. In the mornings while you get ready or during family night)
- Disconnecting from all things digital an hour before bedtime
- Schedule Freedom to block distractions across all your devices while at work or during family times
- Enjoy device-free meals
- Try to monotask and be aware of multitasking
- Set aside specific times during the day for digital activities (i.e. during your afternoon slump, or at the end of the day)