Life / Health

How social media can hurt your mental health

Jessica Johnson, 29, had a love-hate relationship with social media — she loved connecting with people but often ended up feeling bad about her own life.

“Selfies are fun until you start over analyzing your looks,” she says.

“Facebook is fun until you see amazing things happening for friends that aren’t happening for you. It’s easy to measure yourself based on Instagram likes and Twitter followers, too.

“When you really think about it, it doesn’t make sense. But in the moment, it really affects you.”

Johnson is among roughly 73 per cent of adults online who use a social-networking site of some kind, according to Pew Research Centre’s 2013 Social Media Update Project.

And while these sites have become ingrained in our society, their effects on emotional wellness are often overlooked.

According to a range of studies, the negatives can outweigh the positives.

Sweden’s University of Gothenburg examined the link between Facebook usage and self-esteem, and their findings revealed strong negative correlations between the two.

As participants’ Facebook interactions increased, their self-esteem decreased.

A study at Western Illinois University, meanwhile, addressed the connection between social media and narcissistic behaviours. Study results confirmed that Facebook provides the perfect environment for narcissists, who have “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration and an exaggerated sense of self-importance.”

“What people choose to present about their lives online — or anywhere, really — is not the full picture of their existence,” say clinical therapists Corrine Carter and Melissa Kroonenberg of New Roots Therapy in Whitby, Ont.

“Thus, when we compare ourselves to others’ lives online, we end up comparing the full scope of our experience with only a segment of others.”

Carter and Kroonenberg, who often deal with clients who are experiencing emotional issues due to social media problems, also urge people to connect with the deeper meanings behind their reactions on social media.

They say investigating why social media makes you feel the way it does can reveal a lot about your emotional well-being.

“If you can connect with the underlying meaning of the situation, you can use that to take action and move toward what’s important to you, rather than focusing on the self-judgment itself, which diminishes your worth,” add Carter and Kroonenberg.

Johnson says it took her time to balance her emotional health with being an avid social media user.

“I started getting motivated by others’ good news on Facebook instead of being jealous. It feels great to have accomplishments of my own to share. And when it really gets to be too much, I take a break altogether.

“Social media really shouldn’t affect your self-esteem as much as it does. But if it’s going to, I want it to be in a positive way.”

Healthy 'Likes'

Therapists at New Roots Therapy in Whitby, Ont., offer tips for maintaining healthy social media intake.

Don’t compare. Even if we could compare ourselves to the full picture of someone else’s life, the comparison leads to a sense that our self-worth is conditional, and is tied to external factors. This leaves us with less control over our own experience.

Take a hint. Instead of letting self-judgment take over, use it as a cue that something in the situation is connected to your underlying values and be curious about what those underlying pieces are.

Motive. Ask yourself, “What do I want to get out of using social media?” By getting clear on your goals, you’ll be better able to determine when social media exposure may be impacting your stress levels and self-esteem.

Breaks. Make a point of taking breaks from the world of social media in order to connect with your immediate surroundings.