By Alane Burgess
Social media platforms have become an essential part of life for the estimated 3 billion people around the world who log on daily. They keep us connected with family and friends, provide access to all types of information and the opportunity to build professional contacts to name a few of their popular usages.
Their presence in our lives is something that has been celebrated annually on World Social Media Day, June 30, since 2010. This represents a time period during which social media platforms have expanded in use across the globe as well as in this country. According to the Pew Research Center, such platforms are now used by seven in 10 Americans. In 2005, only 5% of Americans did, a figure that grew to 50% by 2011, and stands today at 72% of the public, according to the center’s research.
The use of social media can have a downside as well, as other surveys of users have reported.
Ongoing studies across the globe indicate that these platforms impact some users negatively, lowering self-esteem, disrupting sleep patterns, and raising issues of addictive behavior in their compulsive use.
It’s no secret that people bully and harass others online or that how one sees oneself can take a hit when viewing what others post — or boast — online about how they look or what they have.
We are all vulnerable to disappointment that can put us at risk for mental health concerns when it comes to social media and expectations. Are we seeking validation for our feelings and comments, supportive comparisons for our lifestyle and new friends? Are we using it as a substitute for in-person engagement or even professional behavioral health counseling?
What I suggest to my clients is to consider how much time they spend daily on social media platforms and how it impacts their mood. Studies suggest links between increased symptoms of general anxiety and depression among users of multiple social media platforms.
I also stress that visiting social media is not a fix for loneliness, but an indication it is time for more focus on off-line activities for the benefit of our emotional wellness and physical health.
The Pew Research Center data shows YouTube and Facebook as the most widely-used online platforms with Americans across age, educational and income levels, with Instagram, Pinterest and Linkedin also popular.
Visiting and posting on them and others can be both fun and helpful as part of our daily or weekly routines. It is, however, as we celebrate this World Social Media Day June 30, important to be aware of their role and impact in our lives and to know when it is time for a digital detox. It is good to step away from such interaction for a day or two to know that we can and, if not, evaluate why.
Alane Burgess is the Clinic Director of the Mental Health Association’s BestLife Emotional Health & Wellness Center in Springfield; Aburgess@mhainc.org.