How Social Media Affects Your Mental Health (guest post)

How Social Media Affects Your Mental Health

Guest Post by Daniela McVicker

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We live in a time where social media has taken over our everyday lives.  Both older and younger generations constantly use their  phones to communicate with friends and family, as well as entertain themselves — and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are playing a very important role in all of these actions.

While social media can help connect people, improve information sharing, and provide hours of entertainment, there are also many negative aspects connected with their usage.  Famous people can promote unhealthy standards which an average person would never be able to achieve and sustain.  Taking this into consideration, here are some of the ways in which social media can affect your mental health.

It Can Promote Interaction and Create Friendships.

For people who are lonely, the internet can provide them with a social circle they most likely don’t have in real life.  As social media is concentrated around accounts which promote certain types of content, it is a lot easier to find other people with similar likes and interests.

Coming in contact with people who share your interests can help you feel more confident about your choices and help improve your mood.   Talking about things you enjoy and learning  interesting things from people with similar tastes will certainly help your mental state improve. 

While the internet can limit face-to-face contacts between people, it can help those who are lonely feel like they belong and help them have someone to talk to when they need it. While many online friendships and relationships don’t allow people to meet in real life, it is still a great opportunity for human interaction for people who are shy, ill, or home-bound.

It Can Also Make Users Feel Isolated.

At the same time though, no matter how many friends someone has online, they cannot really replace the experience of having real-life friends to spend time with. Online friendship is limited by the distance the screens create between the users, and even though you can Skype and call the other person easily, you are still not actually spending physical time together.

This can make a social media user feel isolated and even feel like they’re not worthy of having real-life friends. The reality is that for most people, opening up to a stranger online is much easier than striking up a conversation with someone in an everyday life scenario.

A good way to view online friendships is as an opportunity for improving your social skills and finding new ways to strike up a conversation with people who have similar interests to you in everyday life.   Since you won’t have the pressure of replying to the other person immediately, you will be able to teach yourself how to pick your words better and be more social in an easier way. This will definitely help boost your mental health.

 It Can Make Users Compare Themselves to Unrealistic Images.

Another reason why social media can affect a person’s mental health is that almost every platform tends to support and promote unrealistic images of perfection.   Social media influencers have become very popular in our day and time and are loved, supported and followed by millions of users.

Platforms such as Instagram tend to present users with social media influencers who always look perfect, use the most expensive beauty and clothing items, and appear to just be living a dream life. The reality is that their lives are not as perfect as they appear to be online.

For example, most of the pictures people post on social media have been retouched or altered so that the users hide their own imperfections from the world.   Or they only post their very best pictures or the ones that make it look as if their lives are perfect:  perfect family,  lots of friends, always looking perfect, etc.   For younger generations that have not yet come to terms with the fact that what they see online may not be what the person is really like or what their life is really like,  this can have devastating consequences on their self image.

This can affect their mental health negatively by making them obsessed with chasing an image that does not really reflect reality. Working towards self-improvement is a great thing, but setting achievable and realistic goals is most important for one’s mental and physical well-being.

It Can Provide a Source of Support in Difficult Situations

Have you ever wondered if there are other people out there that might be going through a similar situation as you? Whether that has to do with a chronic illness, a relationship issue, or anything else that you might think of, the internet is bound to provide you with a forum on social media platforms targeted toward people who struggle with the same issue you do.

A great example is a Facebook group for people who want to support each other and get support on their weight loss journeys. Not only are they great sources of education for the people struggling with losing weight, but they also provide the participants with a social circle which will always be there to support them and help them keep moving on their weight loss journeys.

No matter what the issue, being part of a supportive online community can help the person improve themselves while also improving their mental health. Finding people who go through the same problems as you is very difficult or even impossible in day-to-day life, so the online support group can give them the motivation they need to feel better and start improving themselves and the way they view the world around them.

The Bad and the Good of Social Media Platforms.

While social media platforms tend to promote unrealistic images and set high expectations for their users, they can also offer a plethora of benefits. There are many people out there who are lonely or isolated and can benefit greatly from feeling like they are part of a group and have some online friends they can talk to when things are rough.

Social media platforms can affect users’ mental health both positively and negatively but in most cases, this effect is related to the personality of the user as well as the way they use their social media accounts.

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Daniela McVicker is an editor for Topwritersreview. She is also an experienced writer with a degree in social psychology from Durham University. Daniela is primarily focused on writing about self-improvement. She has authored a number of insightful and motivating articles like “Making The Right Choices Every Day” and “7 Steps To Open Yourself To New Opportunities & Possibilities”.

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Getting unfollowed by a friend.

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Someone I’ve been blogging buddies with for 3 – 4 years just unfollowed me (on Twitter — I don’t know about here on WordPress yet because I can’t keep track of who is following me and who is not so for now, that will remain a mystery).

I’m more hurt than I expected to be, since my friend and I hadn’t spoken in some time.   There was never a falling-out or disagreement or parting of the ways (that I know of), but we just sort of lost contact.  I noticed some time ago that she stopped commenting and even Liking my posts.   I did know she was very busy with her family, and writing a book too.   At the same time, I started getting politically involved and the focus of my blog changed along with that.   Maybe that’s what the problem is.   It’s not that my friend disagrees with my feelings because I don’t think she does, but I think politics is just an area she doesn’t like to focus on (and I can’t say I blame her for that, if that’s what it is).   But, I’m not sure that’s what it is.  It could be anything really.

I don’t know.  I’m kind of hurt, so I sent her a DM asking why she unfollowed me, because I really would like to know.    I valued our friendship, even though I wasn’t that great about keeping in touch or answering messages promptly.      Maybe she unfollowed me by accident — it does happen sometimes.   Since she still has an active blog and a Twitter account, I know it isn’t one of those cases of “disappearing friends” that suddenly are just gone and you have no idea what happened to them or even if they are still alive.

If you are reading this and you know this is you I’m referring to, drop me a DM or an email please?

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Further reading:

When Bloggers Just Disappear

My stupid ego stands in the way of empathy.

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There’s been something on my mind that’s been bothering me a lot, but I’ve hesitated posting about it because it makes me sound like a terrible person.  But I’ve always aimed to be honest on this blog, so I’m not going to make an exception this time.

A few weeks ago, I made a new online friend.  She’s in a severe depression right now due to receiving some bad news. She was so grief-stricken she had to go into the hospital and get treated for her depression.   Since then she’s been confiding in me by email, because she’s too shy to publicly comment about her situation.   For about a week or two, we corresponded almost daily.   Our emails to each other were long and deeply personal, and they proved therapeutic for me as well as for her.

I’m no therapist, but I’m always willing to correspond via email and try to direct people to the proper resources or actually help them directly if I can.   I felt like I could relate to this woman; I identified with a lot of her issues. She said she felt the same way about me.  I began to think of her as a friend, someone I cared deeply about, even though we never met and we’d only been corresponding for such a short time.   I felt a great deal of empathy for her situation.  These empathic feelings are  something rather new for me, because only recently I was too busy working on my own issues and trying to recover from my own trauma that I didn’t have the time or inclination or even the ability to really be able to empathize with anyone else.   Lately though, I’ve been rediscovering the empathy I possessed so much of as a child, and it’s a beautiful and wonderful thing.  I want it to keep growing because it makes it easier for me to connect with people and makes it possible for me to be authentic and help someone else in need, which is what I’ve been aiming to do more of.

My new friend told me that writing to me helped her a lot, and I was extremely touched by this.  I told her she was helping me too, which is true.   I began to look forward to her emails, because, well, the things she told me made me feel good.   I felt my ego puffing up with pride like a loaf of baking bread.   I began checking my inbox several times a day to see if there were any new emails.  I was getting a little obsessed, to be honest.  I was jonesing for that feeling of being needed, of feeling like I was important to someone, of knowing that someone I liked and cared for valued me that much.

I haven’t heard back from her in a few days.  Now I’m becoming insecure and hypervigilant and wondering if I said something wrong or overstepped her boundaries or if she just got tired of writing to me.    I kept reading over our emails trying to find anything, any hint at all, that I might have said something offputting that ran her off or made her want to stop emailing me.   I found nothing but obsessively, I kept looking.

After 3 days of no correspondence, I finally emailed her again.  I was extra careful not to sound too needy, and because she’s so fragile right now and came to me for help (and not the other way around), I tried extra hard to not to project my own “stuff” into my email to her.  I read it over several times and it sounded alright to me, but I still worry she may be able to pick up on my neediness.

I realized with horror that my worry about her possibly abandoning me was more powerful than my concern that she might have had to go back into the hospital (or just couldn’t get online, or was busy, or whatever).    My insecurity made my email sound more stilted and less natural than usual.  I no longer feel like I can be as open and honest, because of my own stupid fears of being offensive or overbearing and making her think badly of me.  It isn’t her fault I feel like this–it’s my own ego getting in the way of the real empathy I have for this person.

This happens to me all the time, and is one of the reasons I’ve sometimes thought I’m actually a narcissist.  Everything is always about me, my ego, what other people are thinking about me, am I being validated, am I still valued by them, are they going to leave me, do they secretly hate me?  Even when all the evidence is to the contrary, I still look for the microscopic speck of dirt in my bowl of ice cream–and always find it even though it isn’t really there.

Yes, I do have empathy–and a lot more of it has been freed to me lately–but when there’s any uncertainty or insecurity and I begin to feel hypervigilant and paranoid.  I start fretting that maybe I’m being deliberately ignored or God forbid, abandoned, and all that wonderful, healing empathy I’m learning how to use goes flying out the window and everything becomes all about me and my stupid ego again.

I still care about this individual and want to help her, but I want my empathy to flow naturally and my ego to stay out of it, because all that does is fuck everything up.  I’ve been praying for this to change, because how can I ever really be of help to anyone else if I’m always worried about what other people are thinking about me?   This isn’t about me; it’s about her and trying to help her heal, not getting some sort of ego boost for myself.

I’m not going to email her again.   I’ll just wait now, and if I never hear from her again, I can live with that.   Maybe she got what she needed from me–the encouragement she needed–and that should be enough.   I hope she is okay.

If nothing else, then I have learned a hard lesson about pride and ego: pride comes before the fall.  True empathy requires humility and the ability to set your own ego outside the door.