Cyber societea: is meaningless social scrolling more damaging than we realise?

Most of us are aware of the harm that trolling has had on many lives. But have we ever really stopped to think what our habitual and almost subconscious scrolling of social media is doing to our mental health? 

From checking Snapchat in the checkout queue to posting an Instagram story while on a coffee date, social media is interwoven into almost every aspect of our daily lives. A recent report by Global WebIndex has revealed that in 2020, social media users are now spending an average of two hours and 24 minutes per day across various social networks – including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. According to a new Ofcom report, this figure hit record highs during lockdown, with people spending on average 36% more time on online social networks during the pandemic.

Social media is a great technology that unites people all over the globe; but ironically, multiple studies have shown that excessive use of social apps can fuel existing feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety. Often, this leads to a downward spiral of attempting and failing to find reassurance through social media, often in favour of prioritising healthier connections in real-life. 

The negative consequences of social media:

 Social media has a lot to answer for when it comes to young people, in particular, young women. Feelings of inadequacy about your life or appearance, depression and anxiety, fear of missing out (FOMO) and isolation are among the many consequences of a negative relationship with social media,

Why is this? 

First of all, social media is designed to become addictive. It keeps us constantly lifting our phones checking for updates. Think about it, how many times have we subconsciously lifted our phones to scroll through our channels, before realising that half an hour has passed and we are no closer to doing something productive, or have seen something that has annoyed us?

This constant habit means that there has emerged a focus on other people’s online lives rather than our own offline. These habits can often cause self-comparison and worsen existing feelings of self-doubt.

Dr. Tim Bono, the author of When Likes Aren’t Enough  warns against the dangers of social media habits for young people’s self-worth. He explains:

“Within moments of logging on to social media we have instant access to others’ accomplishments, vacations, job promotions, home upgrades, and culinary creations. It’s nearly impossible not to get swept into the cycle of comparison.”

Dr. Tim Bono

As a result, instead of the taking to time to look after ourselves or spending time with people that will help us to overcome our insecurities, we have gotten into the habit of seeking validation of our worth through the form of likes on an Instagram post or Facebook status. We envy other people’s lives or the clothes they wear or the bodies they have instead of learning self-love and appreciating our own fortunes.

 A recent report by the Mental Health Foundation found that, when they asked a group of young people to describe their online experience, their responses were overwhelmingly negative. For example, participants described themselves on social media as “fake”, “brutal”, “exposed to hate”, “judgemental”, “critical of self”, “jealous”, and under “pressure to be liked”. A tendency to compare themselves to others was a common experience.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Instagram – I love uploading pictures with a nice filter, seeing what my friends are up to, or what my favourite fashion bloggers are wearing. I am also partial to salivating over the odd food account. However, we need to remind ourselves that the ‘perfection’ that we see online is not real life and that we are only seeing the highlights of other people’s lives. 

That being said, social media can be a really positive platform if used in a healthy way. We need to rethink our online habits and perhaps when we are feeling low, resist the temptation to scroll and rather do things or spending time with people that genuinely fulfil us from the inside out.

So, how can we create a healthy relationship with social media?

  1. Actively spend less time on social media apps.

Research has proven that those who spend less time on social media have better mental health.

Like many others during lockdown, I suffered from increased levels of anxiety, anxiety that was undoubtedly heightened by the endless amount of time that I had to spend mindlessly scrolling through social media. A habit that I eventually realised was feeding my insecurities and making my fears about the future worse. After deciding to log out of all social media platforms for a week and feeling positive improvements in my mental health, I realised that I had to make a conscious effort to use social media less, or for better means.

 Log out of social media so that if you subconsciously click on the app you have a moment to reconsider whether you could spend your time better elsewhere. Another method is to set a time limit on apps.

  1. Use the time that you would have spent online to start more positive habits

Change your focus. Make an active decision to use the time you spend offline to do things that will improve your mental health in the long-term.

We can all get ourselves stuck in a rut whenever we are feeling low, it’s normal. However, making a conscious decision to do positive things to improve your mental health rather than being glued to your phone screen will really make a difference.

Going on a short walk or doing some light exercise will work wonders for your headspace – stick in your earphones, get a podcast on or your favourite tunes playing, and the endorphins will be flowing. Phone a friend or start that book that has been gathering dust in your room.

Another way to help you live more in the moment rather than through your phone is to practice mindfulness. Now, if you’re anything like me then the thought of sitting still and meditating for a long period of time seems practically impossible. However, I find that taking five minutes in the morning when I wake up to be grateful for the day ahead really helps my outlook for the rest of the day.

  1. Make your online experience a positive one.

Follow pages or find online communities that make you feel uplifted and boost your mental health. Instead of seeking out content that makes you feel negative about yourself, find accounts and people that promote positivity and talk about issues that matter. This will help to both improve your self-esteem and to educate yourself and ultimately, be a better person overall. Some recommendations are @humansofny, @florencegiven, @rozannapurcell, @morganharpernichols and @shityoushouldcareabout.

Lastly, stop comparingYou are a unique and fabulous individual, embrace that rather than being lured into the false depiction of perfect you see online.  

Social media is a powerful technology that can be used for great means; there is no reason why your experience of it has to be negative. Stop and think about whether you are picking up your phone to scroll social media for positive means or simply because you are bored or feeling a bit low. Instead, call a friend or spend some time with a family member.

By changing our online habits, we will do wonders for our mental well-being.

Other means of support:
Samaritans: available on 116 123 (UK) for free, 24/7.
Mind: available on 0300 123 3393 (UK), they are available Mon – Fri 9am – 6pm.
CALM: for men seeking emotional support. Available on 0800 58 58 58, they’re available 5pm–midnight, 24/7.

Featured photo: ROBIN WORRALL on Unsplash

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