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Emotional Health

Tips for Being Happy in a Social World

The Psychological Effects of Social Media

Social media can be both a blessing and an annoyance, depending upon the type of user you are. Understanding the effects of communicating through social media is key to having a healthy relationship with it.

The Good

Social media has many positives, including:

  • Enabling connection and a sense of belonging.
  • Strengthening existing relationships and allows new ones to be formed.
  • Developing a sense of identity through discussion, photos and multimedia postings.
  • Empowering introverts, who tend to shy away from face-to-face communication. Social media allows introverts to socialize just like their extroverted friends.
  • Increasing efficiency by simply going online to chat with friends instead of having to pick up the phone and make arrangements to meet in person.

The Bad

Social media can have negative effects, including:

  • Addiction. Studies show 1.13 billion people log on to Facebook daily, and 40 percent logging on multiple times each day. It’s affecting kids too: A recent study suggests that too much social media time inhibits a child’s ability to read nonverbal cues and adjust behavior accordingly.
  • Restlessness and stress. Two-thirds of social media users admit they’re unable to relax when using their social media accounts.
  • Cyberbullying. One survey found 95 percent of teenagers who use social media have witnessed cyberbullying and 33 percent have been victims themselves.
  • Glamorization of certain behaviors, especially for teenagers. A study found 70 percent of teenagers (ages 12-17) who use social media are five times more likely to use tobacco, three times more likely to use alcohol, and twice as likely to use marijuana. Social media seems to increase the amount of peer pressure certain teenagers feel by seeing what their friends are doing.
  • FOMO. The “fear of missing out” occurs when you feel pressure to do what everyone else is doing, attending every event and sharing every life experience. This can cause anxiety and make users question why everyone is having fun without them. Surveys show that people can feel insecure after using Pinterest because they don’t feel they’re crafty or creative enough. And Facebook and Twitter can make people feel like they aren’t as successful or smart as their peers.
  • Poor work quality due to multitasking. Research shows the brain can’t fully focus on two things at once (like looking at Facebook while creating a presentation). Multitasking makes the brain switch quickly from one task to another, causing constant interruptions in thought patterns. Accuracy and quality lessen while levels of stress and distraction increase.
  • Self-esteem issues. Body image, mood, and happiness can all be affected by comparing yourself to others. Social media can also cause isolation as users can easily avoid face-to-face contact. A study collected data about Facebook users found avid users were overall more unhappy than those who used the site less.

Tips to Stay Grounded on Social Media

Social media can have negative effects, including:

  • Check your settings. Most social media sites have privacy options that can be customized for your specific needs. You should never share your personal information, like your social security number (including even just the last 4 digits), your birth date, home address or phone number. And protect all of your passwords. Online identity theft is common, so the less personal information shared, the better.
  • Think before you post. This will help you avoid uncomfortable conversations later. Remember, emotions and facial expressions aren’t visible (unless you’re using Skype or FaceTime) so you need to be sure that what you’re saying doesn’t demean, insult or otherwise offend. Don’t forget the old adage, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
  • Join online communities that provide support and encouragement. For example, many users have found success through an online weight management community when starting a weight loss program. Additionally, many physicians, dietitians, psychologists and therapists are online and can offer support, tools and resources.
  • Use social media sparingly. Social media can zap your personal communication reserves. Put parameters on your social media time, as well as how much you post or share. Set a few check-ins during the day and evening, and then, turn it off.
  • Don’t let the number of likes define you. Social media sites, such as Facebook, are just online communities, and the feedback received doesn't reflect your actual friendships and the other forms of support your friends provide.

Your well-being should take precedence over your volume of postings. Social media can’t provide a real-life dinner with a friend or a hug from mom. Social media is great, but it’s still a communication vehicle that should be used knowledgeably and in moderation.