Social media has a powerful effect on our brains. Each like or follow gives us a little dopamine rush, and about five to ten percent of Internet users can't control how much time they spend online. And researchers are starting to find connections between social media use and depression, anxiety, and isolation.
These problems are not happening to everyone, of course; research suggests that social media use doesn't create depression and anxiety as much as make it worse if it's already there. But it's important to be aware of social media's dark side. Here are five signs that indicate that you may need to log off Facebook for a while.
- You're comparing yourself with others. Do all your friends seem to have lives that are richer, happier, and more exciting than yours? Don't believe it! Social media is where people get to display for the world the life they want people to think they have-warts not included. But more importantly, a tendency to compare our lives with others-called social comparison, and strongly correlated with depression-is one of social media's greatest dangers to our mental health. Oh, and surprisingly, it doesn't matter whether you're comparing up (your friends are more successful than you) or down (you're more successful than your friends)-both correlate with depression.
- You're keeping tabs on an old flame. Using social media to keep an eye on an old flame or your archnemesis from college is taking social comparison up a notch-researchers call it the "surveillance" use of social media. How could you not be depressed by Instagrams of your ex's honeymoon? While a little of that sort of snooping might be irresistible, a lot of it leads nowhere good. In fact, many experts advise that you cut all social media ties with your former flame when the relationship ends.
- You do more looking than posting: Research finds that people who use social media to interact with other people do fine on Facebook, but the more your social media use is focused on looking at what others have posted, the more envy you're likely to suffer. If you're a frequent lurker, never poster-are you really enjoying yourself?
- You're not getting things done: There's no better procrastination tool than social media. You can even tell yourself you're getting something done, as you click through to yet another article about Today's Most Important News Story. Aside from the obvious problem-your boss might eventually notice that you're not getting your work done-procrastinators tend to be stressed out and report lower levels of well-being. So if your to-do list seems to get longer and scarier every day, consider whether social media is eating away at your life.
- You think you might be addicted: Social media addiction is still a new discussion with little related data available, but Internet gaming addiction is a recognized problem, and social media uses many of the same tools and rewards to keep us clicking back for more. When Cornell researchers looked at data from the website 99DaysofFreedom.com, where people can pledge to stay off Facebook for 99 days, they found that believing themselves to be addicted was among the reasons given by people who couldn't make it through the full 99 days-the researchers called it "social media reversion." (Less likely to revert: people who were in a good mood; who didn't believe Facebook watches their every move; or who had other social media accounts such as Twitter or Instagram to scratch the itch.) If you don't think you have control over your social media use, you may not.
No need to stay away for 99 days just yet, but consider becoming a more conscious consumer of your own social media, and see if those feelings of envy and FOMO start to dissipate.
Stresscenter.com's Attacking Anxiety & Depression program was developed by Lucinda Bassett, and Dr. Philip Fisher, MD, who leveraged the skills, methods and techniques of Cognitive Behavioral Modification as the core of the self-treatment process. Since 1983, the program has helped over 1.4 million people to recover from acute stress, anxiety, panic disorder, obsessive worry, and depression.