Is Social Media Bad For Your Health?

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Do you spend too much time on your computer or smartphone? Are you always scrolling through Facebook to see what others are doing? Or who has liked your post? These behaviors are very common today. Unfortunately, they can negatively impact our health. 


3 Negative Effects Of The Internet/Social Media


1. Depression and Anxiety

Many people intend to use social media as a means of connecting with other people. Community can have positive impacts on our health, but this appears to only be the case when the connection is made in person and not through social media. In fact, the use of social media often has the exact opposite impact. Instead of the person feeling connected, they feel more isolated. This sense of isolation can result in feelings of despair and depression. In fact, researchers can predict the onset of depression by assessing that person’s social media data. [1]


Social media also affects our self-esteem. We are affected by the number of “likes” that we get with different posts. We also compare ourselves to other people who are posting pictures of fancy dinners, extravagant vacations, etc. If we are not also having those same vacations or not getting enough “likes”, we can feel like a failure and become anxious or depressed. [2] 


2. Structural and Functional Changes in the Brain

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Internet and gaming addiction has been shown to cause structural and functional changes in the brain. Some of these structural changes include decreased cortical thickness in the frontal lobe, atrophy of gray matter and a loss of integrity of white matter in the brain. [3] These changes in the frontal lobe can lead to issues with planning, organizing and impulse control. They can also lead to a decreased sense of well-being and affect future relationships. [3] This now means that we don’t feel well which increases negative thoughts that make us feel even worse. If that is not bad enough, the resulting struggle in forming relationships leads to increased isolation and not having a community around us to help us through difficult times. 


3. Disruption of Sleep and Metabolism

Researchers at Northwestern University have shown that the bright lights (i.e. blue light) from computers and phones can negatively impact our metabolism. [4] This can lead to weight gain and insulin resistance. This same study showed that exposure to blue light during the evening can lead to a decreased subjective feeling of sleepiness. [4] Other studies have shown that the more someone is on social media the more likely they are to have some form of sleep disturbance. [5]


Sleep disturbance can have wide ranging effects on our health whether it is a short term or long term issue. Some of the effects of short term sleep disturbance in healthy people include increased pain, emotional distress and mood disorders and memory issues. The effects of long term sleep disturbance in health people include high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome/issues with weight and type 2 diabetes mellitus. [6] Please note that these effects are seen in healthy people. Just imagine what the results are for people who are already experiencing a health issue. 


3 Steps To Minimize The Negative Effect Of Social Media

Does this mean we need to get rid of social media? Not really, but there are some things we can change or do differently to minimize the effects described above. 


1. Remember It Is Not Reality

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We need to remember that people tend to only post the good and not the negative. No one is living a fairly tale life that is free from stress and other issues. Keeping this in mind can help us not compare ourselves to others and decrease our risk of depression and anxiety. Another thing that can be done is that we can all begin to post/share some of the bad things that happen. We can share the times we lose our temper with our loved ones, when a meal does not turn out perfectly, etc. 


2. Set Limitations

What about only allowing yourself to look at social media at certain times of the day? This could keep you from being on your phone too long/often and experiencing the negative effects of social media exposure. Another limitation that can be helpful is to avoid any “screen time” before bed. You could start by not looking at anything at least 30 minutes before bed. You could increase this time slowly until you are avoiding “screen time” 1 to 2 hours before bed for even better results. 


3. Take A Day Off

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What if you took a vacation from your phone, social media and all electronics one day every week? This will be hard for most people to do, but it is possible. Instead of looking at your phone or social media accounts, spend time with your family and friends. This opens you up to making real connections with real people. 


Is It Only Negative?

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We have focused on the negative aspects of social media, but there are good aspects to it as well. It can help you reconnect with people that you have lost contact with. It can also play a role in some instances of improving your health since you are able to “talk” with people who may be experiencing the same issue you are. Social media is like most things. It is not inherently bad in and of itself, but we have an uncanny ability to make it detrimental for us. Isn’t it ironic that an article that is addressing some of the negative aspects of social media is being displayed on social media and can only be read online? Yes it is and it shows that life can have a sense of humor.



Disclaimer:

This article is for educational use only. Nothing contained in this article should be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This article does not constitute the practice of any medical, nursing or other professional health care advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions regarding personal health or medical conditions. Never disregard, avoid or delay in obtaining medical advice from your doctor or other qualified health care provider because of something you have read in this article. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, you should contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and are experiencing a medical emergency, you should dial 911 or call for emergency medical help on the nearest telephone.


References/Citations:

1. https://www.aaai.org/ocs/index.php/ICWSM/ICWSM13/paper/viewFile/6124/6351


2. https://www.anxiety.org/social-media-causes-anxiety


3. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mental-wealth/201402/gray-matters-too-much-screen-time-damages-the-brain


4. . Cheung IN, Zee PC, Shalman D, Malkani RG, Kang J, Reid KJ (2016) Morning and Evening Blue-Enriched Light Exposure Alters Metabolic Function in Normal Weight Adults. PLoS ONE 11(5): e0155601. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0155601


5. Levenson JC, Shens A, Sidani JE, Colditz JB, Primack BA. The association between social media use and sleep disturbance among young adults. Preventive Medicine Volume 85, April 2016, Pages 36–41 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2016.01.001


6. Medic G, Wille M, Hemels ME. Short- and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption. Nat Sci Sleep. 2017;9:151–161. Published 2017 May 19. doi:10.2147/NSS.S134864


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