How Social Media Influences Your Mental Health

February 28, 2024 Book Reviews, Social Influence 1 comment

Feeling stressed out and losing your mind over social media? You’re not alone!

All over the world, and certainly here in Singapore, social media has been touted as a major cause of mental health issues in the population.

This isn’t unexpected, considering that we spend well over two hours a day on social media. For younger social media users, the time spent on social apps are higher — up to 7 hours or even more on TikTok and Instagram each day!

Given that social networks like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and others are not going away anytime soon, it is critical for us to manage how we use social media.

(I’m especially concerned about this, given that I’m a social media marketer by profession!)

Thanks to the book Logged In and Stressed Out by clinical psychologist Dr Paula Durlofsky, we now have a better way to balance our mental health with our online activities.

In this book summary, you will learn how social media influences our lives, how it affects our mental health, and what steps we can take to better manage it.

Building Real Relationships in the Digital Age

“I have over five thousand friends and followers on Facebook, yet I still feel so alone.”

Heard of a statement like that?

Most relationships formed online can never replace real life relationships — ones with true emotional intimacy.

To improve emotional intimacy, do the following:

  1. Record your social media habits and ascertain how much time you spend online. Most smartphones have an app to track that.
  2. Commit to catching up in person with your closest relationships
  3. Be vulnerable and open in the presence of people you trust, like a best friend, partner or family member
  4. Do something creative that is offline — like painting, writing, drawing, crafting, gardening, or knitting
  5. Connect with nature — walk, hike, or run (my favourite activities)
  6. Practice mindfulness meditation at least once a day

Beware of Unhealthy Screen Attachments

Do you know that there are three main attachment styles?

  • Secure attachment: People with secure attachment are confidence, have healthy self-esteem, and can regulate emotionally with healthy reciprocal relationships
  • Anxious attachment: Often a result of inconsistent behaviours by early caregivers. Anxiously attached adults fear rejection, doubt their self-worth, seek reassurance and approval constantly, and often long for constant closeness.
  • Avoidant attachment: Happens when your early caregivers are unresponsive or unavailable. Avoidantly attached adults are excessively self-reliant, mistrustful and avoid intimacy of any kind.

Often individuals with unhealthy attachment styles have low self-esteem and may seek social media to fulfill their need for validation. This triggers a “cycle of anxiety” for anxiously attached individuals.

To rectify this, practice self-love and self-compassion. Eliminate harsh self-talk.

Enjoy time alone, be it going for a walk alone, catching a movie, or having a meal. Make a list of what you like about yourself.

Celebrate your accomplishments, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Do also take note of when you are using social media, and ask yourself why you’re doing so.

Avoiding Social Media Distortions

Heard of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)? Often this is compelled by our need to make both upward and downward comparisons against others on social media.

Sadly, what we see exhibited on social media often isn’t the whole truth — on the contrary, we tend to only post what’s good on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn or TikTok.

Here, the book instructs us with the following steps:

  • Be honest with our feelings. Regardless of whether we are feeling envy, jealously or longing, use these emotions opportunities for personal growth.
  • Be realistic about what we see online. Much of what is being portrayed is only a small sliver of the person’s story.
  • Minimize time on social media (or avoid altogether). Sometimes, not logging on may be better than doing so!
  • Practice reflection and gratitude. Appreciate whatever is good in your life, and avoid social comparisons.

Overcoming Negative Feelings with Media Literacy

Emotional health can be measured against these variables:

  1. How we feel about ourselves (self-esteem)
  2. Quality of our relationships
  3. How we modulate and work through difficult feelings (eg anger, disappointment, frustration)
  4. How we copy with difficult circumstances (our grit and resilience)

Often people with poor emotional health tend to scroll through social media when they are feeling low or sad. They succumb to the distorting effects of social media, and imagine themselves to be worse than they are.

By gaining greater social media literacy — our knowledge and competence in navigating and using social media — we’re able to better interpret and manage the way we use online media. This includes discerning what’s real and what’s fake.

Consider the following steps:

  1. Challenge cognitive distortions: Keep a thought journal, examine your thoughts, reflect on what you feel and experience
  2. Adopt radical acceptance: Love who you are, and develop a balanced understanding of your reality
  3. Think critically: Identify and think critically about untrue and unhealthy messages

Navigating Relationship Breakdowns in the Digital Age

When you break up with a loved one, and continue to “see” them online, it can trigger a “self-sabotaging cycle of constant checking.”

This isn’t healthy and may lead to a downward spiral in your emotional, mental and spiritual well-being.

Here’s what you should do:

  • Take a one-day hiatus from social media, and spend the time reflecting on how you feel afterwards
  • Create a safe space on social media — unfollow or block those who may trigger negative feelings
  • Remove all other triggers of a self-destructive social-media habit, like photos, memories, or other milestones with an ex-partner or family member or friend
  • Be hopeful — eventually time does heal all hurts

When Technology Becomes a Boredom-Busting Drug

Beyond its mental and emotional impact, social media may be used unhealthily when people are addicted to them.

In place of using drugs and alcohol, people may seek to use their computers (and mobiles) to make themselves feel better. Such self-medicating behaviour are destructive and may create more problems than the original problem you are self-medicating with in the first place!

To get unstuck, consider these actions:

  • Do at least one thing you enjoy everyday — like reading, working out, or just sitting and relaxing — and make it a priority.
  • Don’t feel bad about being stuck, just accept the emotion and move on
  • Cultivate self-awareness and regularly review what you consume and post on social media
  • Journal your feelings to uncover when you’re most likely to log on
  • Practice distress tolerance — learn to manage stress and crisis without the negative aftershocks that happen with obsessive technology use

Finding Self-Compassion and Self-Care

As I’ve alluded to in the earlier sections, one of the ways to cultivate positive social media behaviours is to embrace self-compassion.

Rather than engage in digital confrontations, make sense of what you see online and review it critically. Ask yourself why people (including yourself) are acting in certain ways. What does it say about their family history or their personal life experiences?

Identify how social media can augment your journey of self-compassion. Spend time with accounts that are inspirational and affirming.

If you feel pulled down by negative thoughts and feelings while scrolling through social media, recognise them. If necessary, pull away from screens.

Celebrate achievements of all kinds, both big and small. Embrace gratitude. Count your blessings. All of these help you to avoid overidentifying with negative emotions.

Discovering Your Digital Tribe

To make social media work more healthily for you, find like-minded individuals who are able to offer corrective emotional experiences. 

These may be groups or communities that can offer emotional support, encouragement and understanding.

Consider taking these five positive steps:

  1. Create an authentic social media profile that reflects who you truly are. (Read more about personal branding online here.)
  2. Join online groups that affirm your interests.
  3. Maximise positive lived shared experiences with those who are important to you. Share them and tag people who are in them!
  4. Connect with the right people both online and offline.
  5. Express your authentic voice and use them to forge meaningful connections with those who accept you for who you are.

Conclusion: Four Ways to Balance Your Online and Real Life

To use social media more healthily and sustainably in the long-term, consider these four recommendations.

#1 Prioritize Real-Life Relationships Over Screen Time

First, seek to connect offline or via one-to-one messages (or phone calls) rather than over a newsfeed. Limit time on social-networking sites too.

#2 Set the Right Boundaries

Next, learn to say no, and respond on your own time. Don’t over-extend yourself and set firm boundaries around using technology.

#3 Improve Your Frustration Tolerance

Consider too the importance of frustration tolerance. This measures our ability to withstand the discomfort of frustration, and is an important competence for people who constantly feel the need to check their social media accounts, or see if somebody important is texting them.

Accept your feelings of frustration, ride out these feelings, and practice mindfulness. This may involve deep-breathing exercises, being in the present moment, or using peaceful imagery — like sitting beside a river.

#4 Commit to Nondigital Self-Care Practices

Finally remember to take care of your physical needs by sleeping well, exercising regularly and eating healthily.

Tune in to your emotions, practice self-reflection, and create your own self-care rituals.

Be mindful about how you spend your time and with whom you spend your time. Schedule time to do the things you enjoy with the people you love!

By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.

One Comment

  1. Thank you very much for providing with me very helpful article. This article is parallel to me as I am also very much attached to social media. This article helped me getting ideas of detaching myself from social media.

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