The itch to stay connected by the glow of your smartphone is doing more than straining your eyes at night. You need to scroll through classical art memes that are eerily relevant, through fitness gurus’ postings, staycation advice, exotic getaway recommendations and filtered, caught-in picture-perfect pause snapshots.
A simple slip of a finger tells a friend you think their status is funny or you love their new photo. You’ve been a good friend and stayed connected. That’s the pace of life, and you’re keeping up.
The brightly lit lives your finger scrolls through on your feeds only temporarily satiates the hunger of addiction, which doesn’t live up to the reality of daily life that feels badly lit by comparison. But it’s not real life that’s the trouble — social media is affecting our minds.
Instagram Has the Worst Effect
Sleep deprivation, body-image issues, anxiety and depression are affecting social media users, which tend to be mostly young people.
The worst offender is Instagram, which has about 700 million users around the world. According to a survey conducted by the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), social media is linked with a 70 percent increase of depression and anxiety in the last 25 years, among other concerns. Since nearly 91 percent of 16 to 24-year-olds are online to use social media, our youth are at risk.
The survey looked at the responses of 1,500 individuals aged 14 to 24 as users of various mainstream social media networks and how these networks impacted their sense of community, identity, body image, sleep and more. YouTube presented a net-positive reaction among respondents, but other social media networks returned net-negative reactions, including Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
As young women scroll these feeds, they compare themselves with images that have been edited and filtered. The marketing industry and media professional use many tools to trick the world into thinking their models — and therefore their products — are the most perfect, but it’s causing a real crisis.
Some of these tools include apps that will change your skin tone, make your eyelashes longer and your eyes bigger. They’ll smooth the awkward out of what makes a body human.
The Ill Effects of Social Media on a Young Person’s Mental Health
As young women use these networks at a critical time where their self-identities are being explored and solidified, their feelings surrounding the effects of social media are also critical. There’s a real fear of “missing out” across social media feeds that act on self-esteem, lowering it and potentially fueling anxiety and depression.
Young people spend hours on these networks, and a simple app that makes a figure curvier and adds makeup only adds to the deceptive layers of what’s real and what’s not, especially when it comes to self-identity. This places youth at risk — they are trying to keep themselves to a standard that’s impossible because it isn’t real. When they fail, their esteem and self-worth tank, too.
Another harmful fact cited in the Journal of Youth Studies was that one in five young individuals stated they’d wake up at night to log in and check messages, leading to daytime exhaustion. Social media is having ill effects on youth, exhausting young people on deep physical and mental layers.
The Balance of Real Life and Social Media
Social media does have some benefits. You can stay in touch with friends near and far, though it isn’t a substitute for real life interaction. Another positive aspect is the support some people feel from their friends or followers. In the previous study, 70 percent of social media users noted they received support on an emotional level in social media and opportunities to engage in positive expression.
There are many apps that allow young people to speak up and share their feelings in supportive communities without being stigmatized. Yet, as the study out of RSPH reveals, there are real consequences to the heavy use or reliance on social media to stay connected, be entertained and stand out in the crowd or fit in.
The Young Health Movement and RSPH now call for social media networkers, government bodies and policy makers to act and promote the positive of social media, while fighting the negatives. Their recommendations are to:
- Tag photos that have been digitally altered. Consider the response to model Rebecca’s Pearson’s decision to explain how she looked “perfect” in her Instagram feed.
- Identify users who suffer adversely from mental health problems and may be at risk for suicide and other serious concerns.
- Include an “introduction of a pop-up heavy usage warning on social media,” that has the support of young users with these recommendations.
On a personal level, users may monitor their own emotions as they interact with their feeds, filtering out negative influences and concentrating on the positives. Social media cleanses may be the right solution for the heavily addicted to reconnect with a balance in their daily lives and build healthier routines when falling asleep and urging people to connect offline over coffee.
When was the last time you had a cup of joe with a friend? Set a time, show up and be truly present, and shut off the smartphone.