Social Media and Its Mental Health Effects

Spinning on your chair, clutching your phone, switching between Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat mindlessly. Do these sound familiar to you? Is this what you have been doing yourself during the quarantine? With the advancement of technology which enables us to have better access to different social media, the pull-to-refresh motions have been a daily routine in my life. Every pull-to-refresh motion gives me warmth and comfort quickly followed by loneliness and emptiness. What I don’t know is that these actions and feelings have actually drawn me closer to depression and anxiety in ways that I am unaware of, sabotaging my mental health.

The covid-19 pandemic has led to enormous lifestyle changes for all of us. We find ourselves with more time to reflect, explore and stay with ourselves. This can prompt us to have little epiphanies and a sudden wish to tweak our lifestyle and ourselves. Yet, this strong desire may feel nothing like before. It mingles with apprehension and fear. You could be feeling excited to reinvent yourself but on the other hand also feeling pressured to follow through with those ideas. You may be unaware that social media may have contributed to this pressure.

This is partly due to comparison. The use of social media has activated a lot of unconscious social comparison. Although we are all familiar with the maxim “Comparison is the thief of joy”, we cannot help but compare ourselves to others whenever we see their glowing posts and feeds. People portray the best part of themselves on social media; our friends’ lives seem to be full of success and few setbacks, yet we are only too aware of the struggles in our own lives, making it easy for us to fall into a downwards spiral of comparison. Studies have shown that this can potentially lead to lower self-esteem, inattentiveness and poor sleep quality. Rather than conforming to our own lifestyles and daily routines, we are made to believe that it is time for us to change our daily regimens, with the overwhelming feeling that we must use this quarantine time to better ourselves and be a more competitive person. Some people may pressurize themselves into learning something new and try different workout combinations even if they don’t find it enjoyable.

The ubiquitous use of social media provides us with a magical power that enables us to know what our friends are doing most of the time. However, this may not be necessarily a good thing. The urge to constantly check on our phone can be attributed to Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). FOMO arises when you think you should be there but you are not; or when you feel left out when someone you considered important did not invite you to a certain event. It is understandable to have such a feeling when we are exposed to so many of these posts each day. Whenever we feel bitter and empty after using social media, FOMO may have crept up on us. This fear can cause us to lose our sense of belonging and feel depressed.

Given all the harm social media can cause, shouldn’t we all just cut off social media completely and delete all social networking services? Let’s not be too hard on ourselves, given the fact that social media networks will only be more pervasive in the years to come and it will be extremely difficult to omit it completely from our lives, so we need to learn how to live with it.

Plan the amount of time you want to spend on social media before going online. Research shows that when we use social media mindlessly, it can heighten our depression and anxiety levels (Shensa, A., Sidani, J. E. & Dew, M. A.,2018). As social media is notorious for tricking our brain’s reward centre, we may not have enough discipline to curtail the time we spend on social media. If that’s the case, we can take advantage of different productivity apps from the app store like Forest or Apple’s screen time to keep track of our phone usage and thereby limiting the time spent on it.

Be present. We typically don’t post photos of us having gatherings with families or moments of me-time as we may think they are not as ‘instagrammable’. However, it is often these tiny moments that allow us to feel relieved and refreshed. Whenever you fall into the trap of comparing yourself with others and wanting to change your own life to conform to what others post online, stop and take a deep breath. Try redirecting yourself into doing something that truly makes you feel comfortable and joyful.

In this time and age, social media is an omnipresent accompaniment for us and it will only be more pervasive in the future. We must take actions to protect and maintain our emotions to develop positive and healthy mental health. Remember, it is in our own control to choose what is good for our health. Practising mindfulness and reducing your use of social media may be difficult and take time, but don’t be too harsh on yourself and you will slowly learn to be more aware of what is sapping your energy and emotions.

Reference: Shensa, A., Sidani, J. E. & Dew, M. A. (2018). Social Media Use and Depression and Anxiety Symptoms: A Cluster Analysis. Retrieved from

Editor’s note: Depression and anxiety disorder is not something we can take lightly. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety.