Americans have a love-hate relationship with social media. While these handy apps provide a means of staying connected to friends, family, and business acquaintances, social media can also be a double-edged sword.
For someone in recovery, social media can play a helpful role as long as you are using it with a balanced approach. It can be great for gaining access to Facebook recovery groups or for following recovery influencers for inspiration. In fact, loneliness or isolation in early recovery can be somewhat mitigated by participating in social media recovery forums.
But along with those positives come some risks to mental health associated with excessive use of social media. Because boredom is also a problem in early recovery, some may become too enmeshed in their social media activity if for no other reason than to fill their spare time. Spending copious hours on these platforms is not only unproductive, but can also start to have negative mental health effects. Continue reading to learn more about how social media can impact mental health.
Social Media and Mental Health Consequences
On the face of it, you might wonder what could be harmful about scrolling mindlessly through our social media feeds. But therein lies much of the problem. Instead of engaging in real life activities, social media can begin to dominate our free time.
The fact of the matter is that, of the “friends” or people we follow, very few are actually close friends. This means we spend hours scrolling through people’s comments, meme’s, photos, and posts that have little to do with our own personal social sphere. While this can be enjoyable as a short-term activity a couple of times a day, social media use can quickly morph into a time guzzler.
And let’s not forget that social media itself is addicting. The way the programs work, with the constant feedback to posts via “likes” and comments, is very similar to the way a substance works. Each time your post or photo receives attention it triggers a dopamine response in the brain’s reward center. This reinforces the continued use of the platforms, anticipating how many comments or likes your next post will produce, and this becomes a reward-response cycle similar to substance use.
There is also the risk of someone in recovery seeing images of family or friends engaging in substance use that could spark a concerning response. They might feel left out of the fun because they weren’t invited to the event due to being in recovery, or that just seeing the photos of people drinking could possibly trigger a relapse.
6 Ways Social Media Causes Mental Health Issues
In addition to these concerns, there is also the impact on mental health to keep in mind. There is ample evidence that social media can cause harm to our emotional state. Consider these six ways that social media causes mental health problems:
- Makes You Feel Bad About Yourself. When scrolling through a feed full of carefully crafted photos and clever Instagram stories it is easy to begin feeling less-than. You compare your life to these seemingly perfect people and begin to feel depressed. Social media can negatively impact your self-esteem.
- FOMO Makes You Anxious. As social creatures we thrive on being included in festivities. The fear of missing out (FOMO) on something can stoke anxiety and drive excessive social media use.
- Causes Disrupted Sleep. When you become addicted to social media it becomes harder to shut it off, even at bedtime. Social media feeds are the first thing you turn to in the morning and the last thing you view before bed. If you become engaged in social media at nighttime it can decrease or disrupt sleep time.
- Stokes Negative Emotions. In such politically charged times it is common to see rants and nasty memes parading through your social media feeds. These posts can trigger negative emotions, like anger, resentment, or frustration.
- Leads to Feelings of Isolation. This may seem illogical, but spending too much time in virtual social landscapes leads to feelings of loneliness and isolation. This is due to social media supplanting the connecting and relating with real life friends and family.
- Makes You Seek Validation. The system of social media rewards—of hearts, likes, and positive comments—keeps you in a constant loop of seeking the validation and acceptance of others. Like a substance, we keep going back because we believe these superficial social media rewards will make us feel better about ourselves.
Although there are some clear positives from participating in social media, maintaining wellness is all about balance. Protect your mental health by limiting your exposure to social media to a certain amount of time each day, such as an hour or 90-minutes. Stick to this and enjoy the positive aspects of social media while sidestepping the bad.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.