My phone buzzes. I look over and see a notification from Facebook and my heart quickly begins to race. I open the app and there it is — the bright red notification button telling me someone has “liked” my photo. A sense of excitement rushes over me, and for the remainder of the day, I anxiously check Facebook, waiting to see how my post engagement will play out.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care about the number of likes or comments I receive on a social media post. In fact, it sometimes boosts my self-esteem and gives me reassurance that people still “like” me.
But this high is only temporary.
As much as social media makes me feel “good” about myself, it simultaneously makes me feel sad and disconnected. In recent days, I’ve started to notice that the more time I spend browsing through social networks, the less I enjoy it and the more isolated I become.
The higher the usage, the greater the feeling of isolation
Studies have shown that people who spend a lot of time on social media are at least two times more likely to feel socially isolated. Social media use displaces more authentic social experiences because the more time a person spends online, the less time there is for real-world interactions.
“When a person is spending more and more time on social media, they’re disconnecting from real life and are feeling less connected with themselves,” said Shannon Poppito, PhD, a clinical psychologist on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas. “It’s not the real life multi-dimensional experience of connecting and feeling a sense of belonging.”
It’s possible that one of the reasons people continue to use social media is the need to fill a void. But, ironically, social media has created a new void in our lives — through social comparison.
“As you disconnect more and more from life, you’re going to feel more depressed and directionless,” Dr. Poppito said. “Being involved in social comparison impacts your self-esteem and your self-worth.”
By continuously engaging in other people’s lives through social channels, we begin to compare our “behind the scenes” with their “highlight reels” — seeing only a filtered glimpse of their world and not the entire raw footage. Therefore, when we compare every aspect of our self, from relationships to body image, we feel more depressed and dip further into a false reality.
Dealing with social isolation
According to Dr. Poppito, the prevalence of social media is greatly affecting the psychological and social development of children.
“In early childhood, children need less unidimensional technological stimulation and need more multidimensional stimulation and socialization in the outside world,” she said. “The human brain requires multi-sensorial interactions early on to promote healthy neuro-connections and functioning later in life.”
Unfortunately, when children replace multi-sensorial interactions, such as face-to-face socialization, communication and play, with uni-dimensional technologies, their brain development is altered.
“The young brain becomes stymied, or even over-stimulated, by ‘social’ media that, ironically, does not promote healthy human socializing or communication — further thwarting healthy socialization at later developmental milestones in life,” Dr. Poppito said.
If you begin to notice that you’re saying “no” to real-life engagement, it could be a sign it’s time to take a break from social media.
And just as children need to “turn off” from social media and technology, so do adults.
Dr. Poppito recommends limiting the quantity and quality of time spent on social media, as well as trying to go cold turkey for a while. But most importantly, Dr. Poppito suggests investing your time to stay connected in the ‘real world’ and make time for face-to-face interaction with friends and family.
At times, it may seem that social media is completely negative, but it’s not. Social media offers many rewards, allowing us to stay connected to loved ones instantaneously, reconnect with old friends and find commonalities with those in the world around us. Yet, as the world evolves around this powerful communication tool, it doesn’t take long for us to abuse its functions. I’m just as guilty as the next person when comes to the social media addiction, but I’m making it a priority to put my mental health first, not my Instagram profile.
We only get one life to live — let’s remember to live in it.