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The Void Social Media Fills

Instant connection and its effects on mental health

Sovereign Health/Shutterstock
Source: Sovereign Health/Shutterstock

Social media is taking over the world, as an estimated 1 in 4 people around the globe use social networking sites. The average American spends 7.6 hours a month on social media. Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram are among the most popular social media sites, while Snapchat and online dating sites such as Tinder follow closely behind.

Social media sites enable people to connect with each other no matter on which continent or in which time zone they reside. Status updates, pictures, messages and friend requests are the main ways to connect with people. Even pets now have their own Facebook and Instagram accounts; you can follow your favorite Fido the Dog at the quick click of a button.

Although it allows people to stay in touch with loved ones around the world, can social media become an addiction? Does portraying your life on the Internet falsely boost self-confidence? After all, it is all about the best pictures, the most likes and the number of shares that drive people to check their status updates on such a frequent basis. Rarely do people post their daily struggles on their social media accounts, partially because we are driven by society to showcase the best parts of our lives and not our struggles.

Hunger for positive feedback

Chances are you will be checking your Facebook newsfeed when you wake up in the morning; it has become a daily routine for many. Studies have shown the impacts of positive reinforcement on the brain from participating in social media. In fact, participants in a well-known study demonstrated stronger activity within the brain’s nucleus accumbens when they received positive feedback about themselves than when they saw another person receiving positive feedback.

Let’s face it, positive reinforcement is difficult to resist and can lead people to become addicted to Facebook or other social media sites. Status updates and photos on social media often present an idealized version of that person’s reality.

Thirst for instant gratification

The motivation for instant gratification, and the idea that bigger and better can achieve happiness, influence what people share on social media sites. This can lead users to constantly compare themselves to others and think less of their own lives, potentially leading to negative feelings such as jealousy or low self-esteem.

It seems that teenagers are affected the hardest. Research studies have shown that teens who use social media for more than two hours a day show tendencies toward a mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety. Although a direct causality has not been shown, evidence does show a correlation between social networking and depression in teens. This may go back to the theory of instant gratification and low self-esteem, or may be due to the rising issue of cyber bullying, which often occurs on social media.

“It could be that teens with mental health problems are seeking out interactions as they are feeling isolated and alone,” states Hugues Sampasa-Kanyinga, M.D., the study’s lead author.

What matters most

Social media can bring people from different worlds together. The connectedness and friendship that sites such as Facebook provide can be life changing, especially when your loved ones live far away. The downside is that technology has changed today’s relationships and, as a result, face-to-face interpersonal skills are disappearing among people. At the end of the day, keep in mind what matters most in life: connecting in person, human touch and lasting, authentic relationships. Don’t get bogged down by the popularity of Facebook statuses or Instagram photos, as that truly can become addicting.

Contributed by Kristen Fuller, M.D.

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