Social Media and the Impact on Our Mental Health

Social media has become an integral part of our daily lives. From scrolling through Instagram feeds and Snapchat to following Twitter timelines, we spend countless hours consuming and producing content on these platforms. While social media has undoubtedly brought people closer together, and made it easier to connect with others, there is growing concern about the impact it is having on our mental health.

Almost none of us are immune to the detrimental impact social media can have on us as individuals or within our families. According to a survey conducted by the Canadian Pediatric Society, 87% of Canadian teens use social media daily. Even more recently, The New York Times reported research that shows that “nearly all American teenagers engage with their peers through social media, with 97 percent going online every day and 46 percent reporting that they are online almost constantly.” (Spring, 2023).

According to a recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association – more than half of adults recognize that social media has a negative effect on their (and others) mental health. Studies have found that excessive social media use is linked to increased levels of depression, anxiety, and loneliness; further, research shows that social media use is associated with decreased self-esteem and a higher risk of developing body image issues, among other concerns.

This is something worth addressing.

One of the main culprits behind these negative effects are the unrealistic standards and ideals that are perpetuated on social media. People often curate and present the best versions of themselves online, leading to feelings of inadequacy and insecurity in those who compare themselves to these unrealistic standards; this is particularly true when it comes to body image, with social media being linked to increased levels of body dissatisfaction and a higher risk of developing eating disorders in children and youth of all ages and genders.

Another issue can be the constant exposure to negative news and information. Social media algorithms prioritize sensational or emotionally charged content, leading to a barrage of negative news stories and divisive political content for willing consumers. When consuming visual media takes up much of our ‘downtime’ this can lead to feelings of helplessness, anxiety and depression, and even suicidal thoughts. It’s imperative, we begin to get out of our heads (aka media) and into situations that build connection and care.

If the above-noted statistics weren’t enough, researchers have also begun to examine the impact of social media on the adolescent brain. Studies show that excessive social media use can lead to changes in brain structure and even function, particularly in areas related to reward processing and impulse control (APA, 2022). Furthermore, social media addiction has been linked to a range of negative outcomes, including decreased academic performance, and as alluded, social isolation. As educators, we are seeing the impacts of this in our schools and classrooms with almost all disorders of the mind on the rise.

So, what can we do about the negative effects of social media on our mental health?

One solution is to set limits on our social media use and replace screen time with other healthy and fulfilling activities. Research shows that people who limit their social media use to 30 minutes per day experience significant improvements in their well-being[1]. We can also make a conscious effort to consume more positive and uplifting content and unfollow accounts that make us feel bad about ourselves.

Another solution is to spend more time connecting with ourselves, others, and nature. Studies have found that spending time in nature decreases levels of stress and increases levels of happiness and well-being[2]. Similarly, social support from friends and family has been shown to have a protective effect on our mental health. The more time we spend with others and outdoors the more protected we are from the detrimental impacts of social media use.

Here are my suggestions for things we can all do to lower our dependence on the device!

  1. Talk: put the phones away when you are in the presence of people.
  2. Walk: leave the device at home and wander, alone or with a friend.
  3. Notice: notice the world around you. Look up. If people in your spaces are on their devices instead of connecting to each other – initiate conversation, a game, or even eye contact – smile at one other often.

Lastly, one fool proof way to move from device focused to detached is to look for experiences of awe: “Awe changes your sense of who you are. You start to realize, I’m not a separate person, I’m connected to all these people. If you’re looking for change, it’s a good emotion to seek.” (Dacher Keltner, Awe, 2023).

My challenge to you this week is to experience awe at least once a day if you can. If you can’t find it close by head outside! It’s spring and awe is everywhere! 😊

[1] Hunt, M. G., Marx, R., Lipson, C., & Young, J. (2018). No more FOMO: Limiting social media decreases loneliness and depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 37(10), 751-768.


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