The impact of Social Media on our mental health and daily lives

Have you found yourself constantly staring at your phone screen, rather than looking up to absorb the world around you? Social media is a powerful distraction from daily life, but it shouldn’t become your life. 

Last updated: 23rd Nov 2020 at 10:54am

In this article, we look at the impact of social media, what damage it can cause on our lives, and what we can do to have a healthier relationship with these apps.

History of social media

There are over 7 billion people in the world, and at least 3.5 billion of us are online, sharing our lives with friends, family, and strangers across multiple platforms. 

Social media has vastly changed the world since its introduction decades ago. We rely on it for communication, announcements, promotions, campaigns, news updates, and much more. Starting in the early 2000s, MySpace was the first platform to take off, but Facebook, YouTube and Twitter quickly followed suit. 

Here’s a breakdown of how long we’ve been using the most popular social media platforms:

Platform

Founded

Launched

Users (approximate)

LinkedIn

2002

May 2003

250 million (monthly)

Facebook

2003

February 2004

2.7 billion (monthly)

YouTube

2005

December 2005

2 billion (monthly)

Twitter

2006

July 2006

330 million (monthly)

WhatsApp

2009

June 2009

1.5 billion (monthly)

Instagram

2010

October 2010

Over 1 billion (monthly)

Snapchat

2011

September 2011

238 million (daily)

Most of these platforms were conceptualised with different names and have changed over the years, but regardless of the transformation they’ve gone through, they’ve come to be known as global successes. 

But with great power comes great responsibility... 

Impact of social media

Ofcom’s Communications Market Report (2019) found that 79% of UK adults own a smartphone, making accessing social media that much easier. They also discovered that traditional text messaging (SMS and MMS) is falling, instead people are choosing to use messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp to communicate. 

As social media consistently grows in popularity, so do the risks:

  • 18-24 year olds spend an average of 3 hours and 14 minutes each day staring at their phone, leading to an increased risk of health conditions
  • Ofcom found that many people were growing concerned with the amount of harmful behaviour stemming from social media, including the global spread of fake news, the abuse and bullying on the platforms, the exposure to inappropriate or upsetting content, and the impact on mental health

Instagram was ranked worst for mental health in teens, with YouTube having the most positive impact. With so many people obsessed with posting fake and altered images online, it’s no wonder that social media has become a tool for harm in recent years. 

Impressionable young people follow inspirations, friends and celebrities who share only the glorified aspect of their lives, leaving others to compare their own situation with an imaginary one. 

Social media isn’t always real. 

The pictures aren’t always real. The captions aren’t always real. The descriptions and feelings and expressions aren’t always real. People choose what to share and say online, and their home life - outside of the screen - could be drastically different. 

Social media is a way to promote a different version of yourself, usually one more desirable, but instead of spending hours absorbing this alternative reality, we should put the phones down and spend more time in the present. 

The damaging effect of the ‘like’ button

Probably the most damaging feature on social media is the ‘like’ button. 

A study on the power of the ‘like’ button on social media has shown that seeing it mirrors the same brain waves as eating chocolate or winning money - releasing the dopamine hormone, the hormone responsible for producing the ‘feel good’ happy emotion. 

This means that many people get a hormone boost from witnessing likes on their photos, creating a damaging effect when reversed. As a result of this, Facebook and Instagram have both discussed the possibility of removing reactions like the ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ button, as they produce strong connotations of worthiness and disappointment in the user. 

Likes aren’t everything, and they don’t define who you are. What you do in the real world defines who you are as a person, not your social media self. 

Ways to have a healthier relationship with social media

Adopting healthier routines and perceptions towards social media is the first step to developing a more positive relationship with the internet. Some ideas to kickstart this include:

Make a social media schedule

Make a schedule to dedicate a certain amount of time per day, or per week, on social media. Make sure to stay diligent and occupy yourself with other activities outside of your decided timeframe. Setting a time limit on social media is perfect for ensuring you don’t get overwhelmed or too absorbed in the falsehood of it all.

Monitor screen time

If you’re not as vigilant as you wish to be, you can download apps which monitor your screen time. This can be used as an indicator of how much time you’re actually spending online, or as a motivator to install apps that can block access to social media for a set amount of time.

Think before you post

It’s very easy for people to simply post their thoughts without taking the time to consider how they will be received. Before you post something, consider if it’s relevant, ensure it’s not offensive or targeting people, and debate whether it’s worth posting. Social media is a haven for random streams of information nowadays, but you don’t have to contribute if it’s not providing value.

Unfollow toxic accounts

Never be afraid to unfollow, unlike, or block accounts and people who publish content that impacts you negatively - even if they’re a friend. You’re under no obligation to absorb information that doesn’t contribute to your wellbeing and health.

Increase your productivity

Utilise your time more wisely by staying away from social media and filling that spare time with something productive and worthwhile - this could include brain-training games, learning a new skill, reading, or exercising.

Don’t use it if you don’t need it 

Don’t pick your phone up out of habit, searching for a pastime or distraction. We have become too familiar with relying on technology to get us through the day; try to resist the habitual urge to dive to your phone when you have spare time.

Changing your relationship with social media will ultimately benefit your mental health, and physical health, as too much screen time can be harmful to your body. 

Final thoughts

We hope this blog has encouraged you to step back from social media, and remind yourself that life is outside of your screen. Whatever occurs online is not a reflection of yourself or anyone else. It is a fabricated form of reality that is not real. Pay attention to what’s going on outside of social media. 

If you’re interested in using social media apps in moderation, we’ve put together the best messaging apps so you can keep in touch with friends and family. If you feel your mental health is suffering due to social media, other than our advice above, you should consider learning about meditation apps

What are your resolutions for 2021? Will you spend less time on your phone, browsing social media, and more time appreciating the reality around you? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter.

No contracts, no limits
No contracts, no limits

With no contract you have the freedom to flex your usage whenever you need to

Roam like you're home
Roam like you're home

Use your bundle in 50 european destinations for no extra cost

Speed and reliability
Speed and reliability

Powered by the nations largest network you can relax knowing you have the best coverage

Excellent service.. advisor sounded alive and positive... Big thumbs up

Andrew, Gloucester

I've been with ASDA mobile for some years now and I'm happy with the service I get so thank you

Susan, Sheffield

Keep up your fabulous service, the best!!

Ann, IOW

Very nice experience for a novice 74 year old.

Barry, Northampton