Social Media has become a staple of everyday life, bringing people closer together than ever thought possible. Brands and companies advertise on it, celebrities gain massive followings, and people post everything from recipes to life updates to selfies. It is truly unavoidable in today's world, especially if you want to stay up-to-date on news, current trends and so on. But there is a downside to the prevalence of social media, one that goes beyond online bullying, which is a serious issue. The rise of social media related anxiety is a growing problem, one that could have irreparable effects.To understand the potential dangers of social media, first it's important to understand where social media started. While chat-rooms were becoming increasingly popular in the early 90's, it wasn't until 1997 that we got the first recognizable social media site with the launch of sixdegrees.com. After that, a multitude of other social media sites began popping up, but it wasn't until the mid-2000's that social media took off. With YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter all launching within 2 years of each other, social media quickly became the all-consuming entity it is today.
While social media no doubt has its benefits, many hidden dangers have risen from our constant use of it. For many, social media is simply a way for them to stay connected with far away friends, discover what’s going on around them, or advertise themselves or their business, but for some it can be a debilitating crutch or an unhealthy addiction. According to the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America), 20% of social media users cannot go three hours without checking their social media, while 30% of users spend more than 15 hours a week on their different social media accounts. But what happens when overuse isn't the only issue? To gain a better understanding of this social media related anxiety, we sat down with professional counselor Chris Ross. (In the interest of transparency, we would like to mention that Ross is one of our clients and can be reached here for additional information).
According to Ross, this issue stems from our society's growing inability to distinguish between what's reality and what's strictly entertainment. He goes on to explain how he views social media as "funneling the idea of scarcity", meaning that social media exacerbates the idea that our current lives are not enough. According to the Harvard Graduate School of Education, since the advent of social media over the last decade, there has been a coinciding rise in sleeplessness, loneliness, and anxiety among teenagers. Time.com claims that this connection could be linked to the difficulty of trying to navigate multiple social media platforms with varying friend groups and norms simultaneously.
Other research suggests that the issue of social media anxiety could stem from FOMO (fear of missing out) and the “compare and despair” attitude. When we asked Ross about this, he reiterated how most of what we see on social media is entertainment and not an accurate representation of reality. He continued with how most of what people post is simply the highlights of their life, premeditated and altered, and often decided upon by how they want others to perceive them and not who they truly are. Ross then brings up the book Hardwiring Happiness and how it explains that our brains are wired for negative information, how negative information sticks to the brain like Velcro while positive information like Teflon.
With so many apparent dangers of social media and social media related anxiety, navigating it unaffected may seem daunting. Luckily, there are methods that can help. According to Ross, questioning your initial reaction to social posts can help alleviate excessive worrying. Ross also refers back to Hardwiring Happiness, explaining how one can rewire their brain to be more accepting of positive information by simply taking an extra 15 seconds (3 deep breaths) when scrolling across a positive news story or post. Ross then goes on to discuss how a balance is needed. He explains that using social media isn’t inherently bad, obviously, but we need to take breaks from time to time, especially at night. Ross finishes by stating that for these methods to be helpful, they need to be done on a regular basis and not just a one-time thing.
With social media being almost necessary to excel in today’s world, it certainly is not going anywhere anytime soon. But by understanding the anxieties that can arise from an over-reliance on social media and the steps to deal with those anxieties, we can all use social media to our advantage and not to our disadvantage. If you would like to know more about this and similar topics such as social media, marketing and entertainment sign up for our newsletter below.