The new high: You’re depressed not because “your life sucks” but because of Facebook and Instagram
“He is only 19 and so accomplished, what am I doing with my life?”
“My hair never looks like that model on Instagram.”
“Man! He is having the time of his life and I am just stuck in this miserable job!”
“Why am I just sitting here in my pyjamas at home while this guy is vacationing in Bali?”
Do you recognise the pattern in these statements? Have similar thoughts gone through your mind recently? If they have, you were probably thinking like this while surfing through your social media, being too depressed to do anything. Unfortunately, we do not realise just how damaging excessive social media use can be.
Is the impact of social media on our mental health worth talking about?
Yes, it is! Most of us come across news of individuals committing suicide, either due to depression or due to being bullied and harassed online. I used to think that one should not pay heed to random comments they receive online by individuals sitting miles away behind a screen. However, the impact of people’s negativity on your mental health cannot be denied any longer.
People use their social media quite irresponsibly, letting their ‘dark side’ out and end up hurting people. Also, due to this social media addiction, we are shaped to recognise our worth based on other’s opinions.
According to recent research regarding mental health, effects of social media use on our mental health is comparable to drug addiction. Every like we get and every comment we receive is like a shot of dopamine which gives us a false sense of happiness. To experience that feeling again, we check the number of likes one more time, we post online one more time, to feel happy one more time. We get ‘high’ on others’ appraisals.
Social media is a highlight reel of our 24 hours. It only shows the bright and accomplished side of our life. The scary and sad part is that we compare our daily life with other people’s highlight reels, which in conclusion becomes a source of depression, causing our mental health to deteriorate.
Why did I quit?
One day I realised that I had unconsciously checked my phone 30 times while watching a one-hour movie. I was compulsively using social media in every second of my free time. For a professional, free time should be all about mental and physical relaxation, however, for me that was not the case.
Every day when I woke up, the first thing I did was check my phone. Whenever I was watching some tutorial on YouTube, I was randomly checking my Facebook after every minute. My focus had become as bad as that of a child. I was acting like an addict. Then there was the constant fear of missing out on an event, which I realised was mainly fuelled by social media. All these symptoms indicate the waning state of mental health.
Hence, I decided to take a break from all the social media platforms for a few weeks, in order to observe its effects on my mental health and see whether I could actually get better by taking a break.
What did I do with my free time?
After deactivating social media, I had the time and choice to mentally and physically improve myself by doing the things I love. Few of these activities and their effects are stated below:
1. Learned a new song using my ukulele: Learning to play a musical instrument improves memory and increases co-ordination between mind and body.
2. Resumed exercise: During exercise, our body releases chemicals like serotonin, endorphins and dopamine which are linked to pleasure. Regular exercise also keeps us proactive.
3. Started writing a research paper which was long overdue: Fighting against social media addiction is also a fight against procrastination. I found both of these things to be complexly linked. Instead of spending time on Facebook and avoiding the things I had to do, I concentrated on the task at hand and managed to work on it.
4. Travelled to another city, got to see it with a whole unique perspective: Without having an urge to capture aesthetic shots for my Instagram story, I found myself deeply bonded with the culture and lifestyle of the natives.
What did it change?
Leaving social media turned me into more of a doer than a whiner. I started spending my time after work more actively. Before that, most of my time after 5pm included me scrolling from one social media platform to another.
As I felt more active, I confronted my habit of procrastination which in turn made me more motivated and productive. Feeling motivated and productive helped me focus on my goals. I educated myself in this time period more than I had in the last two months.
Also, quitting social media created a social gap which was filled with more real life social interactions and activities; memories of which will be part of my life for the rest of my days.
What should we do about this social media crisis?
When we are talking about the internet, we need to have the sense to use it carefully and responsibly. Just like our words can hurt a person in real life, they can affect them even if they are behind a screen. We should exhibit the same standards we have in real life in the virtual world as well. Social media should not be used to bring down other people; it should be used to increase our productivity, coordination and communication.
Moreover, we need to work on ourselves and realise our worth through our own eyes. Our happiness should not be linked to how many likes we get on Instagram or how many comments we receive on Facebook, determining our self-worth is very important. Our levels of dopamine should not rise by seeing the amount of engagement on our posts; they should rise by looking at our parents smile or making memories with loved ones.
There are so many times that people rethink about posting something on their profile just because they worry that it would not garner much attention. Do you not see how this attitude is unhealthy in itself? One needs to be authentic, if something excites you, post about it, regardless of who would like it.
Social media has been there for years now and you’re probably already addicted. However, it is not too late to monitor yourself to see how addicted you really are. There are many apps online that help you monitor how much time you spend on your social media platforms. If the level of addiction is high, maybe try and take a break and replace it with fun activities that you like to do. Social media time needs to be fixed and one should try not to exceed it. Using social media should help expand your learning horizon; you should not use it to replace real-life activities!
Platforms that were created for the purpose of increasing connectivity are now disconnecting us from ourselves. Use them to spread awareness, use them for communication and use them to share your stories but do not make them the centre of your life.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.