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Why Social Media Can Negatively Impact Your Mental Health

By Chris Jansen, The Dawn Rehab Centre

Social media can provide up-to-the-minute information and a convenient way to stay in touch with faraway friends and family – but if overused, social media can negatively impact your mental health.

Studies have shown that social media can be just as addictive as cigarettes or alcohol. Although the negative effects of compulsive social media use are less obvious, they can be just as devastating as the harm done by any other addiction.

The Effects of Emotional Manipulation

The most popular social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, differ in many basic respects. But they essentially run on the same business model – get as many users on the platform for as long and as frequently as possible, and charge advertisers for access to those users. Social media users are not the real customers – they’re the product. The advertisers are the real customers, and those entities are best served when users keep browsing and clicking.

In his book “Ten Arguments for Deleting your Social Media Accounts Right Now,” computer scientist Jaron Lanier points out that the profit motives of social media companies inevitably lead to manipulation models, where users are driven to certain sponsored posts. If the whole incentive is to keep eyes on ads, he argues, social media companies are compelled to make their platforms as addictive as possible.

Sites like Facebook and Instagram offer a system of rewards. Likes, comments, and shares give users a dopamine kick – much the same feeling that a slot machine player gets from a win. As the body becomes dependent on these chemical rewards, users find themselves perpetually eager for more, logging in frequently for the satisfaction of receiving new likes and comments. The algorithms used by these platforms actually put likes on a time-delay to make sure that users check back as often as possible.

Social Media Addiction

Many people enjoy social media in moderation and can use it sparingly without ever becoming obsessed with it. But others use social media so compulsively that it becomes a full-blown behavioral addiction.

Social media addicts check their accounts as soon as they wake up and check back many times throughout the day for notifications and updates. They tend to obsessively plan their social media posts and get irritated or angry when their posts aren’t appreciated. They also get anxious and experience a sense of withdrawal when they can’t access their social media accounts. Like any other behavioral addiction, the consequences can be devastating for their health and relationships.

Negative health effects of social media use

Studies have demonstrated the psychological distress that social media use can inflict on children. Many adults, however, erroneously believe they are immune to these same dangers. But numerous studies suggest that the more time a person spends on social media – no matter what age they are – the worse their mood will be afterward.

Physical consequences can also result from compulsive social media use. Some users have demonstrated increased heart rates and higher blood pressure – common symptoms of withdrawal – when they go offline.

How to get help

As with any other compulsive behavior, the first step to ending a social media addiction is admitting the need to seek professional help. Although social media addiction is a new phenomenon, there are some excellent programs available – some of them in scenic destinations, far away from the temptations present in people’s day-to-day lives. As but one example, The Dawn, addiction rehab in Thailand, helps social media addicts regain their ability to use the internet in a healthy, non-compulsive way.

Social media may be inseparable from modern life, but we all must nevertheless distinguish between the world outside and the world onscreen. Real mental and physical health should always take precedence over social media success.

About Chris Jansen, Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health Rehab Center

Alternative Text

Chris Jansen works at The Dawn, a leading alcohol-, drug- and mental health rehab located in the lush countryside of Chiang Mai, Thailand. He's particularly interested in the crossroads between mental illnesses and their effects on substance abuse.

Chris Jansen on the Web
More on: Addiction, Adult Mental Health Care
Latest update: May 22, 2019