There have been many reports about the possible health effects of being active on social networking sites for hours on end. It’s important we understand these effects because three billion people – around 40% of the world’s population – use social media. It’s recently been suggested that excessive and uncontrolled devotion to social networking can do harm centered around the possible addiction effects. Addiction arises because of the fact that the social media activity stimulates the pleasure centers in our brains, which, for example, are activated when people click the “Like” button on a posting, reply to it, or make other comments on social media sites. Facebook posts by others and Tweeting are the main culprits.
The key to one’s mental health is that social networking stimulates dopamine production, the neurotransmitter responsible for strong desires’ formation including drug-related desires.
To be more specific, the following harms have been identified.
Stress. People use social media to vent about thinks that upset them. Social media use makes it more likely they will vent as compared to just seeing someone on television make an offensive remark. In 2015, researchers at the Pew Research Center studied whether social media induces more stress than it relieves. In the survey of 1,800 people, women reported being more stressed than men. Twitter was found to be a “significant contributor” because of its increased awareness of other people’s stresses. But Twitter also acted as a coping mechanism.
Mood. A good or bad mood may also spread between people on social media, according to researchers from the University of California, who assessed the emotional content of over a billion status updates from more than 100 million Facebook users between 2009 and 2012. Obviously, this will depend on the nature of the social media interaction.
Anxiety. Feelings of restlessness and worry can harm one’s mental health. Maybe you are waiting for response to a message sent to someone and it doesn’t come right away. You might think: Was he upset by my communication? I need to know – and now!
Depression. Some studies show a link between depression and social media use, such as low mood and feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. Researchers found higher levels of depressive symptoms among those who reported having more negative interactions. The problem here is whether the depressive feelings can be correlated with social media use and/or other factors.
Sleep. Research has found that spending more time in artificial light rather than darkness can inhibit the body’s production of the hormone melatonin, which facilitates sleep. Sleep may be disturbed because you start to regret something you just communicated and it disturbs your sleep. One word of advice here. Stop all social networking activity a couple of hours before bedtime.
Self-Esteem. A 2016 study by researchers at Penn State University suggested that viewing other people’s selfies lowered self-esteem, because users compare themselves to photos of people looking their happiest. Furthermore, some peoples’ posts are what I call “delusions of happiness” regardless of what transpires in their lives. It can make us think: Why isn’t my life so happy?
Well-Being: Well-being is a dimension of physical and mental health. Excessive time spent on social networking takes us away from outdoor, health-oriented activities that give use a more positive feeling about ourselves when endorphins are released. Happiness and well-being are connected so feelings of anxiety or depression negatively affects well-being.
Relationships: It’s virtually impossible to sustain relationships without using social media. However, the time spent on social networking means face-to-face communication is reduced and when conflicts occur they might be dealt with from the cold perspective of social media. It’s difficult to convey one’s feelings about another person without the intimacy of direct conversation. We gauge people’s honesty by doing so.
Attention Span. Some people believe overuse of social networking limits attention span and can cause deterioration of attention concentration and ADHD. During such activity, people’s attention dwells on one thing not very long and constantly switches to another one. It also forms habits of learning information – you learn in short spurts; you constantly switch from one thing or another. This can create problems in classroom learning.
We all know that nothing is likely to change with respect to our habitual use of social networking as a form of communication and questions about the harmful effects on our mental state will persist. It’s too late to ‘close the barn door after the horse has bolted.’ My advice to parents of youngsters is you have to be the adult in the room and set limits for your kids. Two hours before bedtime take their electronic devices and return them in the morning. You have to limit their time on social networking sites while they are young because in their teenage years it’s too late (perhaps even earlier). All their friends are on line so they want to fit in with the crowd. Peer pressure overcomes common sense practices at that point.
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, Emeritus Professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, on March 22, 2018. Dr. Mintz is a writer and speaker on ethics issues and consultant on le