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Rachel's Edit: Mental Health and Social Media: What’s the Link?

Social media is a man-made invention that is still very much in its infancy, and similarly to the emergence of anything new, it’s easy to reminisce on what times were like before this change. It has become a tool that dominates our day-to-day lives, and it’s needless to say that many are still cautious about how it affects our mental health, and rightly so.


So, what’s the truth?


Social Media and the Brain

·      Serotonin – Studies have shown that the use of social media can increase the production of serotonin. Often referred to as the ‘happy’ chemical, serotonin can affect both your mood and heart rate.

·      Dopamine – Commonly known as the ‘feel-good’ chemical, social media usage directly activates the brain’s reward centre by releasing the dopamine chemical. This feel-good, quick release contributes to our desire to keep coming back and replicate that good feeling.

·      Adrenaline – Using social media causes a release of adrenaline in our bodies, as our brains are constantly deciphering whether the information that we consume is a ‘threat’ or not. These bursts of adrenaline can come from alerts, announcements, notifications, and the light and sounds that accompany them.

Though these chemical releases appear to be positive, they pose a risk of developing addictive behaviours. The more we use social media, the more we want to replicate this happy feeling. Excessive usage inevitably leads to excessive exposure.

Having a high screen time can lead to bad habits such as ‘FOMO,’ low self-esteem, and comparison. Additionally, our concentration and focus can take a serious toll.


Self-Monitoring Your Usage Can Change your Perspective

So, how can we rebuild a healthy relationship with social media?

We’ve all been guilty of doom scrolling. It’s not a nice feeling to check the time and realise hours have slipped by and all we’ve done is scroll through Instagram or TikTok. Our time is precious, and although social media can be brilliant, it’s important to foster healthy habits when using the apps.

Below are some recommendations for healthy habits, to implement, that will protect your mental health when using social media

Change Your Mindset - Start Viewing Social Media as a Tool

Ask yourself what function social media serves for you. Do you enjoy using it to catch up with friends, learn new skills, or keep up with news? Once you figure out what you enjoy about it, you can begin to tailor the content you’re consuming to target those needs.

Block and Unfollow – Be Mindful of What You’re Interacting With

It’s natural that over the course of time, you’ve started to follow a lot of people and organisations, and the likelihood is that some content may be boring or irritating you. Combat this by getting selective about the people and organisations that you follow. We can develop resentment towards content we don’t want to see. Remember that you are in control of the content you consume. Hit ‘unfollow’ where needed and protect your peace.

Understand the Algorithm – Curate the Content you Consume

The content you see on social media is largely generated by algorithms. These are used to monitor and analyse what you’re interested in to deliver personalised content to your feed. The more you interact with content, the more you’ll see it. The ‘interaction’ can be as simple as watching a video or hovering over a post for a period of time. This is why it’s extremely important to seek out content that inspires and uplifts you and engage with this.

Create Boundaries - Prevent Bad Habits

A study from 2018 reported that nearly 70% of participants checked social media in bed right before going to sleep. This innocent act can have a detrimental effect on our sleeping patterns; not only does the blue light from our phones supress our ability to produce melatonin, social media stimulates the brain when we should be winding down. Instead of keeping your phone on your nightstand, opt for putting it into a drawer or in another room to limit the temptation to scroll.

Reap the Benefits

There are certainly pros and cons to social media, but the key to a healthy relationship with it is managing your usage.

The chemical reactions in our brain prove that social media is something that should bring us happiness, so let’s start making that happen.

When used correctly, we’ve seen the power of social media work its wonders in many ways.

·      It’s pivotal for information sharing and community building.

·      It’s a brilliant way to increase representation for marginalised communities.

·      During the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, social media provided a feeling of togetherness that we sorely needed.

·      It is a game changing way to increase accessibility, allowing people from all walks of life to benefit from a range of resources such as virtual events, tutorials, and support groups to name a few.

·      It’s a place to easily share your skills, offering valuable networking opportunities.

Social media is a powerful tool for connection and validation, giving people affirmation and a sense of belonging. By self-monitoring your usage and being selective about the content you consume, you can begin enjoying social media for its true purpose – fun!


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