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This post is by Anthony Savage of Sparta Health

A lot of our time is spent online, specifically on social media platforms. This can be either posting our thoughts and photos, commenting on other people’s posts or just scrolling through everything. On average in 2019 people spent 144 minutes per day worldwide on social media (1). This time has been rising steadily each year as more people indulge themselves into these platforms.

This common interest we all share makes you wonder how this much time we spend online affects our mental health. Is it just a mind numbing activity we do each day as some kind of ritual each morning and night, or are we seeking validation from strangers on the internet to appeal to our hidden desires?

Addiction

It’s no secret that plenty of people are so used to using social media every day that when the internet cuts out and they cannot connect it fills them with dread. Even people who don’t post often are still left lost without their phone and connection to their social media accounts. This addiction is starting off at earlier ages too. In fact, 21% of 8-11 year olds have a social media profile, quickly rising to 71% for 12-15 year olds (2). A lot of children can easily get past age restrictions to join these sites, which means they’re creating profiles at a very young age.

There are multiple things about social media people can find addictive: scrolling through information, seeing what everyone else is doing, posting your own things etc. These factors alone aren’t exactly damaging until you choose to do them over more important things and indirectly damage your overall health. Many people reach for their phone before anything else in the morning and stay up a lot longer at night while spending prolonged time online. The blue light emitted from your phone affects your melatonin levels more than any other wavelength does (3). Keeping your brain engaged when you should be settling down to sleep causes disturbed sleep and aggravation, lowering your overall mood and ability to remain engaged during the day.

Value in numbers

Social comparison is a form of sociological self-esteem, where we derive our sense of self-worth through comparing ourselves with others (4). This is common of social media and people are often searching profiles of those they believe are worse than they are to heighten their self-esteem. It can go as far as making degrading comments on other people’s photos and posts to make themselves feel better. Reactions like this are why social media is branded as a toxic environment and why a lot of young children branching out onto these sites soon display aggressive behaviour, as they’re copying the behaviour of those they see online.

This also turns into seeing more value in numbers than in real life comments and reactions. For instance, feeling more satisfied with 1000 likes on a photo opposed to a kind comment from a neighbour in passing. Do we really value the opinions of strangers online over those we socialise with in the real world? It seems plenty of people would agree, arguing these strangers are friendlier to them than some people they know in real life. However, do we really know who these people are just from a few comments and likes? This digital universe allows for endless comparisons against other people and can turn into an incredibly toxic environment where no amount of likes or comments is ever enough.

Bad Influences and Pressure

Social media is quickly changing every second with people all over the world posting and sharing constantly. It’s easy for our brains to be overloaded by positivity but all it takes is one comment for the world to crumble around us. These comments are often personal attacks, focussing on how you look physically, from a stranger who hasn’t seen you before that one photo. This leads into the ideal body image that is portrayed all over the internet, especially on social media (5). It means that those people who are shouting for this ideal image destroy the self-esteem of the person they randomly decided to target until they believe them too.

These comments often lead people into depressive states, fuelled by anxiety and loneliness. The internet can feel very open and unforgiving at times, especially when people make an effort to verbally attack you. The unrealistic expectations demanded by strangers online are too common for most people to ignore. It often leaves you questioning why you use social media at all.

Plenty of people are pressured by their peers to have a social media profile so they can interact online. It’s this fear of missing out why people end up online at a much younger age. Unfortunately, these expectations of younger people are more demanding of an online presence, leaving children open to virtual abuse without knowing how to protect themselves.

Take a break

We all reach a point in life where we know things are too much and we long to escape from it all. Thankfully, with social media it is as easy as closing the apps and turning your phone off. Being stuck inside a virtual world isn’t good for your health, both mentally and physically. Your body will be aching for some fresh air and real life interactions, both of which will heighten your mood and ease your worries. If you’re struggling to break away from the pressure of being online, ask a friend or family member to help keep you occupied and distracted. You don’t have to come off social media forever, but making time for your health and admitting it’s too much is beneficial to you. Filling your time with things you’d rather be doing and stepping away from the anxiety device that lives in your pocket will bring a new enjoyment to your life.

About Anthony Savage 

Anthony Savage is the Medical Services Manager at Sparta Health, having joined the team in 2017 and is responsible for the overall operational delivery of our high quality services to our clients. He has a solid background in workplace physiology, health and safety, as well over 12 years of delivering, and holding senior management positions, for leading injury and condition management providers.

He is known for his innovative approach in his design and execution of services and his ability to build enduring relationships.

References:

  1. Daily time spent on social networking by internet users worldwide from 2012 to 2019. 2020 January [cited 2020 October 1]; Available from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/433871/daily-social-media-usage-worldwide/#:~:text=How%20much%20time%20do%20people,minutes%20in%20the%20previous%20year.
  2. Chaffey, D. Global social media research summary July 2020. 2020 August 3 [cited 2020 October 1]; Available from: https://www.smartinsights.com/social-media-marketing/social-media-strategy/new-global-social-media-research/
  3. Sunter, N. Can social media use affect our sleep? 2020 March 9 [cited 2020 October 1]; Available from: https://www.sleepstation.org.uk/articles/sleep-tips/social-media/
  4. Festinger L. A theory of social comparison processes. Human relations. 1954 May;7(2):117-40.
  5. Edmonds, R. Anxiety, loneliness and Fear of Missing Out: The impact of social media on young people’s mental health [cited 2020 October 1]; Available from https://www.centreformentalhealth.org.uk/blogs/anxiety-loneliness-and-fear-missing-out-impact-social-media-young-peoples-mental-health
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