In the last decade, social media use has drastically increased among all ages. Today, according to the Pew Research Center, 72% of adults in the United States use some type of social media. The convenience of being easily connected to friends and family is often seen as a positive aspect of social media; however, there can also be many detrimental consequences of excessive social media use. A particularly concerning result of constantly being connected is an increase in anxiety and depression among social media users.

Why is social media causing an increase in anxiety and depression?

There are many factors that lead to social media users feeling anxious or depressed from excessive, daily social media use. Research has found that by observing other people’s social pages, individuals frequently compare themselves to others. This leaves people wrongly assuming that others are leading more fulfilling and happier lives. The result can be feelings of inadequacy, resentment, negative body image, low self-esteem, self-loathing, as well as the “fear of missing out” (often referred to as “FOMO”). These feelings can then induce, or heighten, symptoms of anxiety and depression in people.

Additionally, researchers believe that another key problem is that social media can greatly disrupt sleep, and poor sleep can lead to increased anxiety and depression. When people stay up late perusing their social media platforms, the blue light from screens can disrupt their circadian rhythm. Since many people have a tendency to keep their phones nearby when sleeping, it is common to check or reply to notifications when they wake up during the night, hindering their REM cycle.

In younger generations, cyberbullying has also become common, which can lead to mental health illnesses. Research has found that as many as 72% of teens have experienced cyberbullying at some point in their lives. Since cyberbullying occurs out of sight of teachers and parents, victims cannot escape it, as it stays online. The same research discovered that there is a stronger correlation between cyberbullying and depression resulting in suicide attempts than with face-to-face bullying.

What are some solutions?

A recent study found that people who limit their social media use to half an hour per day have significantly lower symptoms of anxiety and depression. Additional research revealed that those who deactivated their Facebook accounts for one month reported a decrease in symptoms of depression and anxiety, with an increase in happiness and life satisfaction. Even if 30 minutes per day is not realistic for some, simply reducing the average amount of time spent on social media can have a positive impact on mental health. Although the average time spent varies by country, globally, people spend an average of 2 hours and 24 minutes per day on social media.

Tips for managing social media use to decrease anxiety and/or depression:

  • Allow yourself a certain amount of time each day to check your social media channels and gradually reduce it (you can track screen time directly in your phone settings, as this gives you a breakdown of the time spent in each app).
  • At night, charge your phone in a separate room and use a traditional alarm clock. This way, you will not be tempted to check your phone if you wake up during the night or first thing in the morning.
  • Give yourself at least 30-60 minutes of “screen-free” time before bed. Otherwise, the blue light emitted from the screen will reduce your total amount of REM sleep. Try reading a book, magazine, or a Kindle e-ink reader (as this does not emit the blue light that tablets give off) before bed instead.
  • Commit to an hour or two per day of “unplugging” from electronics (you can put your phone in “Do Not Disturb” mode, “Airplane” mode, or turn it off entirely).
  • Give yourself one day per week free from social media channels.
  • If you are a parent, have an open discussion regarding cyberbullying and how to prevent it. Set boundaries for social media use, if you do not want to directly monitor your child’s pages, then limit the amount of time spent per day on social media (there are application settings to enforce this).
  • Spend more time with loved ones and doing activities that are “screen-free.”
  • Instead of checking social media channels in your free time, spend time outdoors, read a book, bake/cook a new recipe, play a board game, meditate, exercise, or try a new activity.

If you or a loved one is suffering from severe anxiety and/or depression as a result of social media use, or from another cause, our team at Feinberg Health Care Solutions is here to guide you. From coaching to determining the right treatment plan, we can help you find a solution to properly manage your mental health. Speak to an experienced professional today at 877.538.5425.