Resorting to Facebook for a convenient ego boost, a quick reconnect with friends, or the chance to share your humble opinion may seem like an easy way to improve your mood and stay abreast of what’s going on in the world. But a new study finds that the more time people spend on social media, the worse they seem to feel.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh asked 1,787 American adults to report how much time they spent on 11 popular social media platforms (for non-work purposes). They also assessed study participants’ risk of depression via a standardized questionnaire.
Most participants spent an average of 61 minutes per day on at least one platform. And the more time they spent sharing, liking, tweeting, and hashtagging from morning ’til bedtime, the greater their risk of depression seemed to be.
“We were surprised,” study author Brian Primack, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, tells Cosmopolitan.com. “We expected there to be more of a U-shaped curve, with a higher risk of depression being correlated with no social media usage at all as well as social media usage exceeding the average time most participants spent online.”
There are a number of explanations for why social media is linked to depression, Dr. Primack says. On the one hand, perusing others’ curated photos showcasing the best moments of their lives may make many people feel inferior by comparison. On the other, the more hours a person fritters away browsing friends’ profiles, the more disconnected they may feel from the actual real world and the more time they may feel they’re wasting. (Disconnection and a sense time’s being wasted may foster a feeling of emptiness, meaninglessness, or a lack of purpose that exacerbates low moods.)
Additionally, a sense of competition with others to get the most friends, followers, or likes coupled with the temptation to derive self-worth from how many comments and shares your posts receive, may breed a dependence on external sources of validation that leaves more sensitive folks in the emotional dust when no one acknowledges a post they were hoping to get a huge response from.
Personality, Dr. Primack points out, could mediate the effect that thumbing through photos of all your friends’ latest vacation, wedding, or ostensibly awesome happy hours has on your mood. Folks with lower self-esteem or self-worth could interpret these images as confirmations of their own inadequacy while people high in self-esteem could find these photos exciting, motivating, or grist for experiencing Internet-derived joy.
What you’re exposed to when you dive into your social accounts is also a huge player in how positively or negatively they affect you. Consider signing on to a feed filled with angry political rants, updates on breaking tragic news items, and hundreds of posts about people struggling with, say, debilitating illnesses or interpersonal turmoil. Compare this to perusing a newsfeed peppered with adorable animal photos, funny quips, and inspiring quotes. Chances are, the latter would be more likely to make you smile while the former would make you feel anxious, aggravated, or sad — no matter how strong your self-image is.
Dr. Primack doesn’t advocate forgoing social media altogether as a solution to the potentially negative effects a bit too much Facebook or Instagram browsing can have on mental health. Rather, he says, his work stands as a reminder for folks to pay attention to how they‘re using social media — and assess if there’s any way they might tweak their online approach to court happier outcomes.
If you’re the one tearing into others’ appearances, intelligence levels, or you’re launching into hateful tirades about an article or status update that recently got your goat, chances are you’re not doing your psychological well-being any favors (nor are you benefitting anyone else, BTW). Seek happy distractions (see again: cute animals, baby photos) or post positive comments (“Love this!” “You’re beautiful!”) on your pals’ feeds, and you might be a bit more amenable to seeing the world — online or off — through a slightly rosier lens.
Of course, if you’re stuck in state of misery and you’re not sure how to untangle yourself from social media’s ups and downs, do remember that taking a tech break is rarely a bad idea. No need to swear off all digital interactions forever. But hitting the pause button to see who — or what — is actually in front of you could be that key to emotional well-being you keep missing out on by staying glued to a screen.
Follow Katherine on Twitter.
From: Cosmopolitan US
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