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Marta Peral Ribeiro

Marta Peral Ribeiro
– Communication Consultant –

The impact of social media on users’ mental health

Social networks are a tool for us to do what we’ve always done: communicate.

But for many people, the daily experience of accessing social networks becomes toxic because they develop feelings of inferiority and missed opportunities.

They question their value, their identity, their beauty, and, ultimately, their life.

Marta Peral Ribeiro
– Communication Consultant –

The impact of social media on users’ mental health

Social networks are a tool for us to do what we’ve always done: communicate.

But for many people, the daily experience of accessing social networks becomes toxic because they develop feelings of inferiority and missed opportunities.

They question their value, their identity, their beauty, and, ultimately, their life.

Using Twitter, tennis player Naomi Osaka recently announced her withdrawal from the Roland Garros tournament. No, the reason is not COVID or an injury, but rather her mental health – the social anxiety she is subjected to at press conferences, in addition to all the pressure inherent in her work, affect her performance.

Naomi Osaka's text on mental health
Source: Twitter Naomi Osaka
Will Smith a apoiar Naomi OsakaSource: The Blast

On another social network, Will Smith expresses his support for the tennis player:

Supercar BlondieSource: Twitter Supercar Blondie

Also Supercar Blondie, known for her videos driving cars such as Lamborghini, Bugatti, or Ferrari, has published a video on her network where she openly expresses the symptoms of stress and pressure she feels due to online pressure.

Followed by millions of followers around the world, Blondie refers to the amount of comments and opinions she receives on her digital platforms, the effort she makes to create content and how all the stress generated affects your sleep.

The theme of mental health seems to finally get the attention it deserves. And if social networks are a channel to talk about it, they are also one of the great causes of anxiety and depression for many people. But why, exactly?

The context

Offline life already gives us enough reasons to be anxious. And the pandemic has only made that worse: we have become even more concerned about the uncertainty of the times ahead and plunged headlong into the online world, especially on social media.

This Populus report was carried out a year ago in the UK, but the reality in Portugal will not be far from this:

gráfico com os tipos de atividades praticadas durante a pandemia no Reino UnidoSource: Statista 2020

Is there a direct proportionality between them?

2 hours a day

It is estimated that there are currently 3.6 billion active users on social networks, connected for at least 2 hours a day. And the trend is to continue to increase.

Conflicts between colleagues in teleworking

An article in Exame magazine addresses the conflicts that have been emerging in the virtual environment over a year in teleworking, which would not have happened if they had been in a face-to-face environment. Messages exchanged in the company's chats, namely on Whatsapp, often give rise to misinterpretation.

Young people are the most anxious

The issue is especially worrying among the younger users. 90% of 18- to 29-year-olds use the networks (and use them increasingly earlier). Which is not surprising, since Generation Z was already born between smartphones and social networks. Their relationship with digital, their mobile mentality and the impact they have on the very development of social networks are proof of this. But what about the effect that networks have on them?

Anxiety factors linked to social networks

Comparison with others

In most cases, social media profiles emphasize people’s beautiful side and achievements: their face and body in shape, the trendy places where they are, the incredible scenery in front of them, the fun brunch with friends, the perfect family, among other glories.

It is not that this corresponds exactly to reality, but our tendency, more or less conscious, is to compare ourselves with others. And it’s almost guaranteed that our perception is that we’re not as good as they are.

Dependency symptoms

Social media activity is initially a source of entertainment. Then it becomes a kind of necessity and quickly acquires the boundaries of dependence, resembling a drug.

Effectively, every time we receive a notification, a like or a positive comment, a dopamine discharge occurs in our brain.

In fact, social networks are built for this purpose. It is not by chance that the feed is endless, or that suggestions appear tailored to our liking.

Social capital

The term social capital defines the influence exerted on social networks (whether in communities inside or outside digital) and its ability to differentiate itself from the competition.

And this factor is related to the type of interaction we receive. Basically, the more followers and likes, the greater the social capital.

But is it wise to quantify our value or anyone’s based on that?

Changing the sense of identity

When our self-esteem is affected by the number of views and “likes” we receive, the notion of our identity changes as well.

And if our personality is shaped according to what happens on social networks, there is a risk of creating a new persona. Which, in some cases, can be positive, because a person can find a social representation in networks (as with minority groups, for example).

But in many other cases it is not.

Network security and privacy

There is increasing talk of sharing data with third parties and how everything we do and say on social media is being controlled, making Orwell’s dystopia, 1984, frighteningly close to reality.

In addition to this monitoring, which is not only a harassment of users’ privacy but also feeds your feed with personalized suggestions, there is abuse among users. From cyberbullying to hackers attack, to child harassment and others.

Anything but being left out

Being afraid of missing out on something, of being excluded, is a real fear and is associated with a human being’s intrinsic feeling: the desire to belong.

Social networks convey the idea that anything interesting can only happen there. As though we’re going to get bored, lose friends, some event, or a one-time opportunity if we don’t have access to Instagram or Facebook.

Nomofobia

Mobile phone phobia is an exacerbated reaction when we are without the smartphone, either because it was forgotten at home because it is broken or simply ran out of battery.

In other words, it’s the fear of being unreachable. Here are some indicators of nomophobia:

  • Permanent verification of notifications (messages, emails, phone calls)
  • Take your smartphone everywhere – including to the toilet
  • Nervousness when there is no Wi-Fi
  • Difficulty turning off equipment, even at night
  • Distress when smartphone battery is at the limit

Have you realized you’re nomophobic? You’re not alone.

What’s next?

Social networks are not going to disappear anytime soon. Deleting your account from Whatsapp,  Instagram, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook or TikTok is not a solution for everyone. But how to deal with the stress they entail?

1. Become aware of this anxiety

Recognizing the time we spend on social media and our behavior on them can come as a shock. How often do you check if you've received new messages? What feelings arise after checking them? And when you get 10 likes in a photo you posted?

2. Shut off, Reduce, Filter

Always being available and ready to check for one more notification causes constant interruptions and anxiety. Whenever possible, turn off your smartphone. If it's not possible, you can filter notifications and accounts that don't add value to it and determine usage times (smartphones often have this feature in Settings).

3. The good, the bad and the Instagram

A Study by the Royal Society for Public Health of around 1,500 young people (14 to 24 years old) conducted in the UK on the effect of networks on the mental health of young people, found that Instagram is the social network with the worst psychosocial impact.

4. Resolving conflicts in person

In order to avoid conflicts with colleagues, communication needs to be clearer and more direct. Thus, it is preferable to avoid exchanges of messages on the company's chat that can give rise to conflict and try to resolve them in person.

5. Moments of silence

Are you one of those people who barely wakes up and immediately checks messages and emails? Or start working on the computer still in bed? This is a growing and dangerous trend. It is essential to create moments of silence to prepare for the challenges of daily life.

6. Eat and rest

Meal times are a break time in the middle of the routine. Keeping your head busy while eating is halfway to accumulating anxiety – without counting on eating faster. Did you know that resting also requires focus?

7. Critical thinking

Especially for young people, it is important to encourage them to think critically about the information presented to them online and to be critical thinkers when surfing the Internet. As for children, we present more suggestions to help deal with the digital addressed here.

And what can happen to you if you give up social media?

  • You’ll have more time to rest.
  • You can continue to have friends – and more time to be with them.
  • You can continue to communicate with people all over the world.
  • And discover or rediscover other forms of entertainment.
  • You’ll get a more realistic idea of who you are.

As marketeer Bailey Parnell said,

“When we talk about the dark side of social media, we’re actually talking about the dark side of people.”

This means that it is up to each one of you to evaluate how you use these resources, both in relation to yourself and to others.

Is the purpose of this article to encourage someone to abandon digital platforms? No, not at all. But if it helps those who feel anxious to understand the motives and bring awareness of the impact of mental health on our lives, the goal is achieved.