7 Social Media Habits That Can Be Harmful For Your Mental Health, According To Experts
There's no denying that social media plays a pivotal role in most people's lives nowadays. Whether casually scrolling through Instagram, receiving back-to-back notifications from Facebook groups or Twitter mentions, or chatting with friends on WhatsApp, social media is a constant for many people. While there are incalculable benefits — like staying connected to friends and family across the world, or increasing accessibility — experts say that certain social media habits could be having a a negative impact on your mental health and wellness, without you even realizing it.
Over the course of a lifetime, people spend an average of five years and four months on social media, according to a study from influencer marketing agency Mediakix. What's more, the MIT Technology Review revealed this past January that research has shown the average person in the United States. spends 23.6 hours online — way up from 9.4 hours in 2000. That's a lot of time on social media platforms — and if you're not mindful of that time being spent, experts say it can mess with your sleep, your mood, and other factors that contribute to your overall mental wellness. Here are seven social media habits that may be hurting your mental health.
1. You Experience FOMO, Or A Fear Of Missing Out
FOMO, which stands for a "fear of missing out," is a very real psychological fear that you're being left out, and some experts says social media can make it worse. "The fear of not knowing what the last trend or challenge is, or not being social enough could end up affecting a person’s sense of worth," therapist and founder of She is Strong and Mindful, Lorena Ramos, MA, LCSW, tells Bustle.
If you feel like you're constantly refreshing your feed just so you can stay up-to-date with what everyone else is up to, it may be a sign you have a case of FOMO. Staying present in the moment, and setting aside time for "grounding" techniques could help tackle some of the negative feelings that you're missing out.
2. You're Following Accounts That Hurt Your Self-Esteem
Alanna Harvey, the Chief Marketing Officer and Co-Founder at Flipd, a digital wellness company, tells Bustle, "Following accounts of people who make you feel bad about yourself is not a good habit. For example, accounts of people who travel to luxurious places might make you wish you could afford traveling there too, or a body-builder might make you envious of their figure." Instead, seek out accounts that don't showcase people, but instead show 'grammable food or travel destinations, says Harvey.
3. And, You're Constantly Comparing Yourself To Others
Similarly, when it seems like everyone on your feed is living it up, it can be difficult not to compare this to where you're at in your own life. However, this habit can be super unhealthy. "There is an unconscious predisposition of comparing our lives with the ones of others, which results many times on feelings of dissatisfaction with our routine, job or social life," says Ramos. "This constant comparison and social media envy could result in feelings of unhappiness, sadness, low self-esteem, and stress."
Ramos adds that for folks who already struggle with depression or other mental health issues, "comparison with others 'happy posts' could lead to feelings of hopelessness [...] — especially when the person does not have a strong support network outside of [their] online life."
Try to remember that many people spend hours of their time editing and curating their social media posts — sharing photos and posts almost exclusively of their good days. If you find you get caught constantly comparing yourself to others, try to replace some of your time spent online with practicing gratitude for what you do have.
4. You Have Negative Interactions Online
It's safe to say that most of us, if not all of us TBH, have gotten into a spat or two on social media, whether about politics or a hot take you disagreed with. As tempting as it may be to comment, you should try to choose your internet battles wisely, as it can impact your mental health. "Even if you're not fighting with someone online, engaging negatively with another person or angrily commenting on something that irks you usually isn't worth it," explains Harvey.
She adds that, "If it helps to let the feelings out, then write the comment, but don't publish it. You'll get your feelings out without experiencing future negative consequences, and you won't feel compelled to check for updates that could make you more upset."
5. You Have Headline Stress Disorder
"Headline stress disorder" is term coined to describe the distress people feel because of the news. While it's not in the DSM, it definitely has some real effects. Considering the Pew Research Center found 68 percent of Americans report getting news from social media, there's no doubt that Facebook and Twitter may be behind your headline fatigue. As Ramos explains, "The term headline stress disorder started to be used more and more since the last presidential election, as many people expressed feeling more stressed out and anxious when reading the news."
The best way to combat it? Try to take time every day to unplug from social media, turn off news alerts on your phone, and disconnect from the 24/7 news cycle.
6. You Follow Too Many Accounts
If you can spend hours on your home feed just because you follow thousands of accounts, it may be time to hit the "unfollow" button for the sake of your mental health. "Following hundreds of accounts gives you an endless supply of content, but a lot of it is irrelevant or unimportant to your life," says Harvey. "Is it really that important to follow a friend's friend that you met one time at a party? Probably not, and keeping tabs on so many other lives shouldn't be a priority."
7. You're Obsessing Over Likes
After sharing a new photo or post, how many times do you check back to see who has liked it? Being obsessed with how many likes, comments, or shares you get on social media can be detrimental to your health. Ramos explains that "the amount of likes a picture or post receives can influence a person’s mood and self-esteem."
Moreover, Harvey says, "Even the most popular Instagram influencers will say they're obsessed with their likes and new followers to a fault. The problem is that this takes up your mental capacity to pay attention to other things, and to truly enjoy being present; It increases your anxiety, and need to check for more."
To be clear, social media isn't automatically dangerous for your mental health, and it can have plenty of positive aspects. But being aware of your browsing habits and how social media makes you feel can make your usage better for your mental health.