The rapid rise of social media is one of the biggest social changes of our times. Across all platforms, there are now billions of active social media users according to most estimates. It’s transformed our lives in so many ways: how we interact and how we find out about the world are changed for good.

This comes with many upsides. We can meet like-minded people all over the world and keep in touch with old friends. Through social media, people have made lifelong connections, found work, and much more. In moderation, social media can boost the brain’s feel-good chemicals like serotonin. But there are many pitfalls too, and it’s not easy to avoid them.

There are obvious downsides, like trolling and verbal abuse. But even without these, excessive use can lead to and exacerbate other difficulties like stress, sleep deprivation and anxiety.

At Socium, we’re a team of private mental health professionals. In this blog post, we’ll use our expertise to explore how social media affects mental health. We’ll also offer our expert guidance on ways to cope.

The downsides of social media

Social media can negatively affect mental health in a number of ways. It’s easy to assume that this is only a concern for adolescents and young adults, but social media use is prevalent in all age groups.

One very widespread concern is social media addiction. We’ve mentioned how social media and the chasing of “likes” can boost serotonin. The trouble is that this is fleeting, and many people find themselves stuck in a loop of endless scrolling, refreshing and commenting to chase that feeling. Before you know it, hours can pass. It’s not just the lost time that causes problems – this can have knock-on effects on sleep patterns and stress levels, as well as any pre-existing difficulties with anxiety and depression.

Social media can cause feelings of inadequacy when we compare ourselves to the apparently “perfect” lives people share online. Psychologists call this social comparison. It could be to do with body image, or just the sense that other people are having more fun.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but research from the University of Pennsylvania suggests that social media can also make people more lonely, rather than less. This could be down to social comparison, or it might be because the mood boosts are so short-lived and disappear when we log off.

There’s also the way we speak to each other online. Cyberbullying and trolling are constant concerns, and online arguments seem to flare up constantly. These can affect our mood severely.

These are some of the most common downsides to social media use. Next, we’ll run through some coping strategies to help manage.

Tips on coping

  1. Limit your time online

This sounds obvious, but it’s important. That University of Pennsylvania study shows a clear causal link between reducing social media usage and a decrease in depression and loneliness. There are plenty of strategies for reducing social media usage. There are apps that can track your time and notify you when it’s time to log off. You could just switch off notifications, so you don’t get pulled in. Or you could simply set a limit and stick to it. However you go about it, logging in less can make a huge difference.

  1. Think before you follow

It’s not just how much you’re online that matters – what you’re doing makes a big difference too. Don’t just doomscroll and follow people for the sake of it. Think carefully about how your activity affects your mood. If anything or anyone doesn’t make you feel good, why not put quality over quantity and unfollow them?

  1. Avoid confrontation

It seems as if every other tweet and comments section causes an argument of some sort. Try not to get involved. If you do, ask yourself – do you really need to reply? It’s easy to get sucked in, but rarely constructive.

  1. Don’t put up with bullying or abuse

Some people still don’t take cyberbullying seriously. The stereotype is that since you can “just” close your screen, it isn’t really a big problem. This is simply wrong: cyberbullying is just as harmful as any other form of bullying. The same goes for trolling, harassment and other abusive online behaviours. If anyone’s doing it to you, block them and report them.

  1. Take it seriously

Sometimes, we call in-person communication “real life”, as if online interactions weren’t real. They are, and so are their effects on our mental health. It’s important to be honest with ourselves and take this seriously. If social media has you feeling low, or frustrated, or negative in any other way, this is as real as any other difficulties.

Next steps

You might just need to log off and focus on something else, but if you think you’re feeling anxious, depressed or unable to cope, you may need further support. At Socium, we offer a private assessment service. This is a 90-minute consultation with an experienced Registered Mental Health Nurse, who will assess what you’re going through and advise on the next steps.

Unlike NHS referrals, there’s no wait. You can get a rapid-access appointment either face-to-face or by video call, to ensure that you get the support you need when you need it.

For more information, you can get in touch via our contact page or call us +44 203 384 0007.