social media

Is Social Media Impacting Our Mental Health?

I am not a Luddite. In fact, I advocate for social media and technology more than anyone. I am astoundingly fascinated with how the internet has connected me to my distant friends, relatives, and well-wishers. This might be one of the greatest innovations that humans might have created since the dawn of the human civilization.

But what is social media really doing? Is it merely functioning as a means of communication and connection between people? It might be a hard pill to swallow, but we all have somehow turned into products. How so? My relatives, who are almost the same age as me, put on makeup for hours before they film themselves for a short 1-minute TikTok video. My mother and aunt ask me to take hundred pictures from hundred different angles before they find that one picture which doesn’t show the small moles on their faces even on zooming. Heck, even I take 300 selfies before I send one as a snap to my friends. Well, it’s a human trait to try looking beautiful, but what if it becomes too out of hand?

Yes, social media might have taken things a little out of hand. We can view social media as a reel of each person’s life. It documents the achievements, the wonderful moments, etc. that everyone wants to share with their friends and families. A place which stores our wins. A place where we just look good. It is most certainly a wonderful thing to share our joyous moments, but it has brought forth an immense problem in rest of the people that consume it.

Even though we know deep down within ourselves that no one lives the perfect life that is portrayed in the social media, we can never stop comparing our “behind-the-scenes lives” with their reel life. “Why does my family never look as happy as theirs? When will I ever be able to climb that mountain, go for that trip? When will I ever be that beautiful?” Questions, as such, haunt us every moment of every single day. We try too hard to portray ourselves just as how our peers did. This, as a result, raises insecurity, anxiety, and heightened sadness within us.

Now, is the reel life actually just deteriorating the mental health of only the viewers? No, it is equally, if not more, affecting the life of the person who posted it. When the reels or the highlights I mentioned above does well, as users, we encounter social currency. What is a social currency? Just as how we pay some money for our lotions, our daily food, our education—all of which are products—we get paid too. Not in money but in likes, comments, and shares. As posed above, we turn into “products”. Gradually, we crave so much for the instant gratification that we check our notifications every minute to check whether someone “love reacted” or “care reacted” or “plain liked” us.

The consistent tings and tongs fuel our dopamine and we start craving for it day after day. Gratification is a feeling that comes when we succeed. But what if the fake success fuels our daily life? We attach our self-worth, our self-confidence in how people react to us and our social media page. It gets exponentially bigger every day. Then at one point, we say to ourselves, “Let me post one more and I will quit the social media.” The one more never ends and before we know, we find ourselves in a rabbit-hole.

It’s almost as if we are in a casino. Yes, social media can be compared to casinos. You chip in one coin. You enjoy it. Then you keep on chipping it, hoping to achieve more and more of that dopamine feel. Isn’t this similar to every drug we have heard of? Isn’t social media addicting people to itself similar to how a drug does? The attachment these days has turned so much worse that if we don’t get enough likes or comments as expected, we feel anxious and delete our posts. Truly, our lives in social media has decided when our anxiety should be triggered.

But this isn’t limited to just our posting or viewing. The most prominent impact on our wellbeing has resulted from excessive online harassment. What do Facebook pages comments section look like? Rarely does it look positive and hopeful. Most of the time, it is full of hate comments. If you don’t believe me, try peeking at football pages, as an example. If someone posts something, or even shares something in the comments section itself, there are always people who don’t believe in that ideology coming down with every hate comment they have to make the other person shut. Imagine what this will trigger? This might look small. But when micro problems will combine, it will turn into macro, and finally to a humongous problem of depression and anxiety.

Cases like Tyler Clementi were seen all because of the treacherous form of online harassment. Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student, had to commit suicide in 2010 because his dorm roommate posted his sexual life on Twitter “as fun”. We read about these big cases, but what about the online harassment we face each day? How much toll does it take on us?

Consider even us posting our friends’ funny picture online on their birthday. It’s surely humorous. “Oh, one mean comment? Does it matter?” It might look as if it doesn’t but when combined, it invites a huge trouble for the well-being of our mind. How will your brain start to calibrate itself if you tell yourself you are a loser each day for one month? Even if we might not be participating directly, how daunting is it to read those comments, those posts, and that news which shares and involves every harassment in the world? It truly eats our soul, mind, and body.

Now, should we quit social media? No, I am not here to give an advice, so I want your decision to be entirely yours. Even more, I don’t think abstinence is even an option. It has been deeply engraved in our lives already, and we cannot escape it. Social media isn’t essentially bad too (except how it might tamper with our privacy, but it isn’t the point of the article). It’s an innovative platform which is trying to connect people. It’s more the grim side of us, which makes us compare ourselves, throw hate comments, and crave for validation, that is affecting our well-being.

So what could we do? First step was recognizing the problem. It has already started with you coming here and reading this. You probably felt problems with social media, and you gave this article a go. It’s commendable that you’re taking this step. Now, start being mindful of it. Be aware of how you react to your phone. Do you look at it hastily every time you hear a bell ring? Why do you scroll the contents so much that isn’t even remotely associated to you or your life? Reflect on this and keep logging it in a diary or a notebook.

Next time you use and consume social media, try to minimize it and get it down. You could also go for social media detox, or social media cleansing. This is something which started in 2015 with the celebrities quitting social media for a day, a week, and even a year because they wanted to re-caliber their brains. We could also go for it. Sure, first few days will be tough. We might even experience what behaviorists call as FOMO or the fear of missing out. “What if I miss the connection? What if I miss that opportunity?” These questions might haunt us, but we really won’t be missing anything if it isn’t associated with us.

FOMO is something your brain creates after addiction to anything—whether it be drugs or social media. It doesn’t exist. It might also introduce us to phantom vibration syndrome. They define the condition as the constant feeling of the phone vibrating all the time. Remember that it is normal. Your brain is trying to relapse back to using and consuming media. Finally, the last step would be to not attach ourselves to what the online world deems us as we are. We could move out, create better social experiences, and have actual “LOLs” and genuine 24 hours to enjoy! Good luck and best wishes dear readers for a better and happier life! 😊

— Bibtashu, Kathmandu

* This is a submitted post *  

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