I scroll through my Instagram, Twitter and Facebook feed countless times a day. They are usually the first things I check when I wake up and the last thing I see before I go to sleep and I can hardly do something exciting without recording it on Snapchat.
Selfies, memes and animal videos flood social media and, in turn, my mind every day. Keeping track of these sites helps me feel connected to my friends and is the main way I keep up with news.
But is this habit bad for my mental health?
If I think about how, often, what I see on social media has been the cause of my sudden low mood, the answer is pretty clear.
A few articles have been published lately that seem to think so too. The BBC cited a previous study which showed that “passive following” on Facebook makes us feel jealous and resentful, with holiday snaps being the worst offenders.
We can all relate to this feeling- one that is so common it’s been named ‘Fear of Missing Out’, or ‘FOMO’. There’s nothing quite like the jealously that comes from seeing flawless pictures of a beach and a poolside cocktail, or Facebook check-ins to airports and sunny selfies, whilst you’re sat at home watching some Come Dine With Me re-runs.
People often use social media to present a prefect ideal of their life, only selecting the photos or updates that make us look the best. This is the social media user’s worst kept secret, but it’s something I tend to forget when I’m checking Instagram yet again and comparing my appearance to the filtered perfection of others.
Feeling envious isn’t the only problem. A recent survey from the Office for National Statistics found that more teenagers are suffering from mental health problems- and increased social media use is to blame.
I’m fully aware of how Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter can all increase my anxiety and make me feel low, but I still keep looking, and I still keep positing. It’s become a dependence, one which may be a mental health issue in itself.
Social media is addictive, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m addicted. If I don’t have the option of using social media, I can happily do without- but if it’s just a click away, I can’t help myself. Like with any drug, overuse and dependence does us more harm than good.
I use social media to distract my mind when I’m feeling down, and on these days I find myself picking up my phone once again, even though I have seen those Instagram photos already, and when I’d much rather be listening to whatever my mum is saying.
It’s a harsh cycle. I also use social media for the short sharp bursts of dopamine that come with a bunch of likes on a photo or retweets, but they are short-lived, fake highs which I use to try and combat low-self-esteem and, essentially, boredom. I am attempting to lose myself in my phone to avoid the negative thoughts and bad mood that’s just hit me, yet a few minutes into scrolling my news feed and I’ll spiral into overthinking.
Yet social media has the potential to do great things. It can be a platform for talking about our mental health, for finding people that feel the same way you do and coming together to break down stigma and quit seeing mental health as a taboo topic.
On good mental health days I avoid it when I want to and it can be fun. It also means we are more connected with the people and things we care about than ever before.
However, the sad reality is that it is more often a place of intense competition and the unconscious desire for self-validation. I partially rely on social media for confidence boosts, and when this doesn’t happen, I’m left feeling deflated.
I read an article in The Spectator recently which spoke about how we are outsourcing our memories to the internet. What if we are doing the same with our happiness?
We may be relying on social media far too much to paint the picture of our lives, and to dictate our peace of mind. After all, we can’t always look as good as our best Instagram selfie.