Insights July 29, 2020

When it comes to mental health, is social media your friend or foe?

Living Word
By Living Word

Recent social distancing measures have had a big impact on mental health, leaving many of us feeling isolated and lonely. Even friends and family up the road, in the same city, suddenly seemed very far away. One thing clearly helped: the wide variety of social media channels available today. But what might this mean for our mental health? We take a look at the good and the bad of this growing dependence on social media.

Having to stay at home for months on end, with very limited opportunities for socialising, made many of us feel lonely – and loneliness can have a huge impact on your mental health and general wellbeing, as humans crave social interaction and connection with others. Among the negative impacts of chronic loneliness are increased stress levels, altered brain functions, an increased risk for heart problems, and substance abuse.

So what do we do to eliminate that aching feeling of loneliness in times of a global pandemic? We rely on social media, of course! But beware – too much of a good thing can always turn bad.

The bad

Few will argue with the fact that too much social media use can have a negative effect on your mental health. Many studies have shown that people who spend more time on social media in fact end up feeling lonelier and more anxious and isolated. While social media can in a way bring us closer together, it ironically also contributes to increased feelings of disconnection and tends to make us less likely to form close bonds with others. Moreover, excessive social media use can harm our in-person face-to-face relationships, and growing cyber bullying is another big problem.

The good

That said, social media really has helped us to stay connected with friends and family during lockdowns and other unprecedented challenges caused by the current pandemic. If you move beyond impersonal, shallow words and mere scrolling through endless streams of negative news and people showing off their fabulous lives, it is possible to use social media to your advantage and to boost your mood. Experts suggest focusing on communicating with just a couple of close friends, as social interaction should be measured in quality, not quantity.

Staying in touch with close friends is vital, while other forms of more excessive social media use is best avoided. It is better to instead go on a video chat, stream a yoga class or join a Netflix party with friends you already know well and want to stay in touch with. And if you find yourself struggling throughout this crisis, which most of us inevitably will at some point, there are great mental health charities to help you out, using social media too. For instance, some offer chat services to help you cope with anxiety and other common challenges.

If used consciously, social media might just help us through this pandemic. One huge benefit, of course, is that the coronavirus has yet to figure out how to spread via virtual webs! But be sure to limit your time on social media (why not try some gardening for a peaceful but uplifting change?), and be aware of the potentially negative effects. Try using it primarily for staying connected with the people you love, and you should do just fine.