At its core, digital media applications, such as social media allow us to connect with others around the globe. We are naturally social beings, and digital media enables us to talk and connect with others that we might not have otherwise been able to. However, now that the initial shine of the internet and social media has worn off, many are finding that it can actually make them feel more isolated and disconnected than they did before.
Every day, more and more people turn to social media to fill a hunger inside of them. They are desperately grasping for ways to see what others are doing and to feel connected to them. Unfortunately, this can lead to negative feelings, such as inadequacy, self-shaming, and isolation. When we see others living supposedly happy, social lives with things we don’t have and looking their best, it can make us feel worse about ourselves.
With mental health on the decline, research is being conducted to determine whether or not digital media use is to blame. With limited samplings, experts claim that further research is necessary, but their preliminary findings show a correlation between negative mental health symptoms and social media use.
The Negative Impacts of Digital Media Use
Though digital media cannot take all of the blame, studies show that increased social media use does play a part in adverse mental health outcomes, especially among young adults. Most human beings crave connection, so why is digital media—something meant to make connection easier—leading to poor mental health?
While more research is necessary to determine how or why digital media use affects our mental health, many believe that it is related to the negative feelings and experiences associated with increased social media use. These include:
Depression and anxiety:
When we spend less time having in-person interactions and focus more of our time on social media, we suffer more from stress, anxiety, and depression. Yes, humans need connection, but there needs to be more of a balance between digital connection and face-to-face connection. Being physically present with people boosts our mood faster than connections through a screen.
Feelings of inadequacy:
When we see others on the internet that have more things than we do, such as material objects, relationships, money, success, and happiness, it can make us feel inadequate about our own lives in comparison. Feelings of inadequacy can lead to spiraling negative thoughts, posing a serious risk to our mental health.
Similar to above, when you spend all of your time looking at pictures and videos of other people that you think look better than you, it can negatively impact your self-image. Many people start to shame themselves for how they look in comparison to others on social media, which can lead to self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and severely deplete their self-confidence.
On the flip side, some people become so obsessed with their image and how they look that they become self-absorbed. When all you care about is how you look, you center yourself and lose focus on connections with other people and the world around you.
When our mental health is impacted by digital media use, it can also negatively impact our personal relationships. Intimacy with partners, connections with friends and family, work relationships, making new connections—all of these suffer when we experience things like depression and anxiety due to an overuse of social media.
Fear of missing out (FOMO):
Fear of missing out on an experience is nothing new. When we aren’t invited to something or can’t make it, we can develop feelings of isolation. However, with social media, FOMO is heightened and made worse when we can more easily see exactly what we are missing out on. Seeing others having fun when we are at home alone can be triggering and negatively impact our self-esteem.
Bullying isn’t a new concept, but it takes more nerve and audacity to stand up to someone in person than it does over the internet. People are less scared of the consequences when they attack someone from the safety of their home behind a computer screen. This leads to much more prevalent and harsh cyberbullying, which can be even more hurtful and damaging to the victim’s mental health.
Our physical health and wellbeing is often dismissed when talking about how digital media use affects our mental health, but it is more than worth simply mentioning. Excessive sitting and staring at screens can lead to poor physical health, and poor physical health can exacerbate negative mental health symptoms. And of course, the worse our mental health is, the less active we become, which comes back around to our physical health—it’s a vicious cycle.
The Benefits of Digital Media Use
Of course, digital media use is not all bad. It’s all about balance. Social media is an excellent tool for social connection and even other things like marketing and eCommerce. We simply need to take a more mindful approach to our use of digital media to find a healthier balance, such as limiting our screen time, turning off notifications, and avoiding looking at our phones before bed.
By setting boundaries and taking a step back, we can begin to enjoy social media again and reap the rewards. There are numerous benefits to digital media, like:
- Social support
- Better access to mental health services (like intervention hotlines and online therapy)
- Community engagement
- Positive inspiration for lifestyle changes
- Access to more opportunities
On its own, digital media is simply a tool, but it’s how we use that tool that determines the outcome. If we use it as a tool for good, we can experience all of its many benefits. However, if we abuse it, it can pose a risk to our mental health and cause us to make poor choices and develop toxic behaviors.
If you find that your overall health and well-being are being negatively affected by digital media use, you may need to take a step back and reevaluate the attention and energy you are putting into it. It’s okay to take a break and set boundaries to support your mental health. Setting boundaries allows you to develop more healthy habits surrounding social media use.