I don’t know about you, but I can spend hours on social media. Whether it be checking my Instagram feed, watching TikTok or looking up recipes on Pinterest, I am the first to admit when I may be using (or over-using) it – but I’m not the only one. It was reported that in 2021, in the United States alone, around 72 percent of people reported using some type of social media, making the use of social media fairly common.

However, while common, social media use is not always positive and can have significant impacts on one’s mental health. Platforms that are designed to connect people sometimes have the opposite effect, as spending too much time on social media can actually make someone feel more isolated. Along with increasing feelings of loneliness, too much social media can also contribute to feelings of self-doubt and lead to self-consciousness. Seeing other people’s so-called “perfect and put together” lives online makes it easy to compare your own. These feelings of loneliness and comparing yourself to others can then lead to an increase in anxiety or depression.

All that being said, social media can have some benefits, as well. While too much may lead to an increase in isolation, it can also help connect you to others, whether it be family, friends, or someone new. Along these same lines, it can also lead to an increase access to resources. During the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, most people were quarantined at home. This prevented them from attending events, support groups, or even seeing a doctor. However, with the help of platforms, such as Zoom or Telehealth, this allowed people to stay connected, receive medical advice, or even host/attend fun, virtual events.

Last, but not least, social media (and the internet, in general), allows for continuous learning. With the help of different digital platforms, it is easy to learn new skills/hobbies or improve your current ones, all the way from cooking to painting to music. There is a large variety of classes and/or workshops that are available online, which can ultimately help with self-expression, stress reduction, and just having fun!

So, while we can recognize the benefits, we can also acknowledge the negative aspects of social media and the ability to misuse it. The good thing is that is possible to improve your relationship with social media and use it to actual benefit your mental health, instead of harming it.

Here are some ways you can do so:

Limit social media use. Cutting back on social media use may be easier said than done. Luckily, a lot of phones have setting options where you can set “time limit” for apps, which may help with how much you use them. That being said, it may not always be how much you use social media, but when you use it. It is generally recommended to turn off all electronics at least 1-2 hours before you go to bed, as this could cause disruptions to your sleep. Not only this, but it is also recommended to avoid it first thing in the morning, as well. Instead, try something technology-free (and more relaxing), such as reading, walking/exercising, or doing a crossword puzzle. Even just sitting outside with a cup of coffee or tea is a good alternative to scrolling through social media.

Turn to other activities. Sometimes after a long and tiring day, all I want to do is sit on my couch and scroll mindlessly online. While this is fine to do occasionally, it would probably be better for me to do something more productive or beneficial for my mental, physical and emotional health. If I wanted to still stay close to home, I could take a walk around my neighborhood, do a puzzle, or play with my kitten – anything that isn’t technology-related, but I still find enjoyable.

Be specific. Meaning, be specific on who you are friends with online. If you follow a page or are friends with someone who is always posting something negative or making you feel bad about yourself, just unfollow or unfriend! While it may be difficult to avoid negativity all of the time in real life, you are more able to control it online.

Talk to a professional. If limiting time on social media or turning to other activities doesn’t work and you find your mental health being severely affected, then it may be time to talk to a mental health professional. A therapist can help you learn to identify any possible, underlying reasons for overuse of social media, set limits, and address any mental health symptoms you may be experiencing.

Social media is not inherently bad, but like most everything else, there actually can be too much of a good thing. While it can have benefits, such as creating connections and continuous learning, it can also be harmful for your mental and emotional health if misused/used too often. So, enjoy watching TikTok videos and posting to Facebook, but be sure to take a break when you need it!  

Staff Blogger: Mollie Clupper

Mollie Clupper works for MHA as a Communications and Support Specialist. Using her own experiences, she wants to help bring awareness and end the stigma surrounding mental health. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, drinking coffee, and spending time with loved ones.