Radwan: Social media and mental health

How it affects us


Courtesy of Mohamed Hassan

The idea of social media tying us down has become more of a reality than a hyperbole

Aziz Radwan, Staff Writer

Social media has become a non-negligible part of our lives. Some people have become so addicted that they check their notifications from the moment they wake up to the last thing they do before they sleep.

Before we had any social media, staying connected with our friends and family was limited. Hence, the idea of moving to another city or state was very hard for some because their loved ones would be left behind. Settling in a new place requires some time to make new friends. During this period, feelings of loneliness, stress, anxiety and even depression are more likely. As human beings, we need companionship in order to thrive and improve our mental health. 

Although social media in today’s world helps us stay socially connected regardless of our physical location, does it improve our mental health? Does it have the same effect of socializing as in-person events?  Why have people become so addicted to it? It feels as though excessively checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat activates dopamine, the “feel-good” chemical, in our brains. However, dopamine is not the only effect of using social media. 

You may wonder why there are, for example, Instagram addictions, even though the habit of taking pictures has been forming for nearly a century. Well, Instagram has built-in features that make it addictive. When you take a photo on your phone, Instagram gives you the option of filtering and color adjustment to make your picture look more appealing with only a few finger taps. Before Instagram was available, enhancing pictures required some Adobe Photoshop expertise; it probably took hours to improve a photo in Photoshop. With Instagram’s accessible use, you can do what could be done in Photoshop within minutes or even seconds.  Once you are satisfied with the picture, you share it with your Instagram followers.

As soon as you post your picture, you expect an immediate reward: likes and comments. You might immediately wonder who and how many will see your Instagram post. If one of your close friends does not engage with the post, you may assume something is wrong. 

Other excessive Instagram users who capture and post photos regularly will probably have a fear of missing out, or FOMO. They get anxious when their phones are down or if there is no internet connection. The fear of missing out in today’s society has heightened people’s perception of life for themselves.

That said, Instagram’s features encourage users to highlight their best moments for others to see. Documenting activities creates the impression that our friends are living their best lives with little to no worries, while our own lives suck because we have very few good moments in comparison. We need to realize that Instagram posts are just the tip of the iceberg. Everybody around us goes through many emotions in our daily lives, from despair and sadness to hope and happiness. When Instagram shows the good moments and leaves out the bad ones, it does not reveal everything about that person. Because of this, our minds are manipulated to think that our lives are not up to par with others, leading to feelings of insecurity. Low self-esteem can be especially prominent to those hooked on Instagram and even other social media platforms.

As social media continues to grow and develop, it is unrealistic to advise people to refrain from using them if they want less stress, anxiety or FOMO. The more realistic solution would be to first raise awareness among the younger generations, especially teenagers, around social media and its falsity. Secondly, social media should not be used excessively, but rather in moderation, which can be achieved by limiting the number of connections on platforms, since fewer can be better. Turning off notifications can also help us reduce the urge of immediately responding to posts, and therefore we will have a day with fewer social media distractions. In short, we should have control over social media, not the other way around.