Social media has its pros and cons. Here’s how I benefit, struggle, and manage my use to protect my well-being.
Like many people in their 20s, I’m chronically online. On top of being raised during the rise of social media and streaming services, I’m an entertainment and culture writer, so a big part of my job is staying up to date on trends and watching the latest film and TV releases.
But I have to be careful about how much time I spend online and on social media. A 2018 study showed that higher rates of social media use can cause higher rates of depression and loneliness.
I’m not writing this article to convince you to quit social media altogether. I don’t hate social media. I think it has quite a few benefits. But at the same time, I try to be mindful of my social media use to ensure I can maximize the positive effects and minimize the negatives.
Just 50 years ago, you couldn’t even send an email. Staying in touch with friends and relatives who live far away was much more challenging than it is today. I can unlock my phone, go on Facebook, and see posts from my family living across the country and friends I haven’t seen since elementary school.
Social media is a fantastic tool to make professional, friendly, or romantic connections. I found many freelance writing jobs through social media, connecting with other writers in networking groups and searching for calls for writers on Twitter.
I recently joined a crafting group for LGBTQ+ people in my city because I found it on Facebook. Plus, I’ve been on a couple of dates with people I met on various dating apps.
Social media also helps me stay up to date on what’s going on in the world. I follow many social activists and news accounts on Instagram and TikTok, which helps me stay informed without reading a newspaper or turning on the TV.
While social media helps us connect with more people online, it may prevent us from connecting with those in our in-person lives.
In high school, I was one of those kids with social anxiety, terrified of making new friends. Instead, I would go on my Tumblr account and chat with people online from across the world.
While my online friends held a special place in my heart, they could never fulfill the same role as a friend I could see, touch, and spend time with in person. Social media can feel isolating if you rely on it too heavily.
Social media also encourages people to compare themselves to others. There’s always someone hotter, thinner, and prettier with more friends, exciting activities, and fashionable outfits posted on Instagram.
Even knowing that these highly curated images are just a fraction of the person’s real life, I still feel less than when I spend too much time scrolling through post after post.
Additionally, keeping up with social media trends and posting cute photos gets exhausting. The time I should be spending having fun with my friends at an amusement park or the beach is spent taking pictures of everyone’s best angles to convince our friends and followers on social media that we had a great time and looked attractive.
Then, once I post the photos, I agonize over the amount of likes and comments I get. It always feels like I get fewer likes and comments than everyone else, making me wonder what I’m doing wrong. The popularity contest should have ended in high school. Yet, it continues with social media every time I post.
I think the most detrimental element of social media that impacts my mental health is how easily it can distract me from my life and my emotions. It’s so easy to unlock my phone, sit down, and scroll through TikTok for hours on end when I’m feeling down.
While I know it would probably benefit me to go for a walk, pull out my journal, or practice another healthy coping skill, it’s too easy to grab my phone and zone out on the couch. But whenever I do that, I feel worse than when I started scrolling.
We all know that social media isn’t going away. For many of us, the idea of ditching social media entirely is laughable. Luckily, we don’t need to completely eradicate our social media usage to maintain our mental health. I practice a few strategies to maximize the positive aspects of social media while limiting the adverse effects.
I’m conscious of my amount of social media usage and my mood to make sure I’m not overdoing it. First, I track my social media usage on my phone, which automatically tracks my screen time. This way, I know when I’m using social media more and when to dial it down.
At the same time, I pay attention to my mood and my thoughts. If I’m comparing myself to others or spending too much time stressing over social media posts when I should be relaxing, I remind myself to take a break from social media for a little while.
Sometimes, when I find myself scrolling for a while, I’ll stop and ask myself why I’m doing that. Am I trying to distract myself from uncomfortable feelings or situations? If so, I try to pick up a more effective coping skill that will actually help me feel better rather than postponing my negative emotions from bubbling up.
I also like to physically limit my access to social media whenever possible. I turn off all notifications from social media apps, so I’m less inclined to see something pop up on my phone that pulls me into a scrolling marathon or comparison anxiety.
Every few months, I delete my social media apps from my phone so I physically can’t use social media. This allows me to spend some time offline to recuperate. I also try to avoid taking my phone with me to the bathroom.
I often find myself glued to the toilet with my phone in my hand, even though I finished my business long ago. If I don’t bring my phone, I can significantly limit my social media usage.
Lastly, I make sure to spend as much time with my friends and family as possible to prevent feelings of loneliness and isolation, which are massive triggers for my depression.
I’m lucky because I have a fantastic relationship with my parents, and we eat dinner together every night. I also make sure to create plans with friends almost every weekend, even though most of my friends live at least a 1-hour drive away from me.
While spending time with my friends and family, I do my best to stay engaged, meaning I don’t look at my phone while we spend time together.
The research concludes that social media usage can directly link to depression and loneliness. At the same time, social media has benefits like letting you connect with people worldwide with a click of a button.
To reap the rewards of social media while negating the downsides, I try to stay mindful of my time spent online, place physical limitations on my social media use, and maintain strong in-person relationships.
Medically reviewed on September 20, 2023
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