Beneath social media’s glossy filters, likes, and notifications lies an alarming world of mental health implications. As we become increasingly plugged in, we can also become increasingly plugged out of our well-being. And young people in particular are falling victim to the emotional and psychological dangers of social media.
From the pressure to present a perfect online persona to the constant comparison of others’ seemingly perfect lives to wanting to keep up with trends, social media can be a breeding ground for anxiety, depression, and a whole lot of other mental health issues.
Buckling under the pressure
Thulane Sithole from Rustenberg in North West, who uses social media for sports and current affairs, believes that it has to some extent, affected the way he sees things and put some unnecessary pressure and expectations on him without being aware.
“There’s a lot of positive content on social media, but it is always met with negativity in most cases. It’s also very addictive, and people are pressured into doing stuff they see on social media and have reached a point where they want validation from people they don’t even know personally.
For Tilita Ndlwana from Pretoria, social media has caused a lot of pressure on her due to certain lifestyles her peers uphold. She has, however, learned to block out words that trigger her, is able to monitor when she has seen enough, and logs out after a certain period of time.
The good and the bad
“I think that social media has affected my mental health more than I am willing to admit. I am 21 years old, and when I see the lifestyles that people my age are living, I feel the added pressure that I also need to be where they currently are, whether it’s having a car or downright having a specific type of shoe.
“We also succumb to a lot of bullying online. Many people might not admit it, but the pressure is there. I was very active on social media two years ago, but things changed,” Ndlwana says.
“It has, however, been positive in the sense that I am able to learn a lot about people and just be educated on general topics. I am able to have a good laugh on other platforms and just forget about whatever would have been bothering me at that moment, and instantly my mood would be lifted.
“But again, I have to mention the pressure that you feel when you see your peers achieving things that you are so far from. Social media is definitely addictive; we notice quickly when an app is down, so I am teaching myself to monitor my usage and not succumb to pressure.”
Clinical psychologist Nevern Subermoney from Johannesburg says social media impacts us negatively because of how it’s used.
Despite the risks, he remarks that social media can be really good at educating people on specific topics and helping them stay socially connected.
What are you getting out of it?
Subermoney suggests that people who feel addicted should try to understand what they are getting out of social media and try to fulfil those benefits in other ways.
“Look at your individual life. Is the way you use social media getting in the way of how you want to live your life? Is it causing distress and dysfunction? Would you prefer to not have it in your life? If it is, it is impacting you negatively.
“Always ask yourself what you are getting out of a social media platform. If you are addicted, do not just regard it as bad; you should ask what’s good about it and what you’re getting out of it. If there is something good you get out of it, you can identify other places to get that good aspect from; e.g., if you get validation from social media, you can think of healthier ways to get validation.”
He further alerts that when people use social media intentionally, it does not correlate with negative impacts on their mental health.
Cut the connection
According to the Addiction Center‘s website, there are ways to test if you are addicted to social media. Ask yourself these six questions:
- Do you spend a lot of time thinking about social media or planning to use social media?
- Do you feel urges to use social media more and more?
- Do you use social media to forget about personal problems?
- Do you often try to reduce the use of social media without success?
- Do you become restless or troubled if unable to use social media?
- Do you use social media so much that it has had a negative impact on your job or studies?
If you answer “yes” to more than three of these questions, you may be addicted to social media. Ways of dealing with it is to wean yourself off social media by switching off notifications and only checking once every hour, forcing yourself to have non-screen time during certain times, or leaving the phone in a separate room at night so as not to disturb sleep, the Addiction Center recommends.
Subermoney advises, “Be very conscious with your use; don’t just open apps unintentionally and keep scrolling. Decide beforehand what you want to use it for and only engage with that kind of content. Also, teach the algorithm what to feed you — things you want to occupy your mind with.”
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