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Psychological & Emotional Effects of Social Media

Updated on February 17, 2019
MickeyBattle profile image

I've studied psychology, criminal justice, addiction therapy, and journalism. I use my voice to help those that are not heard.

My Experience with Social Media

By now, the majority of us know what social media is, and we are frequent users of this form of communication. My first interaction with social media was through Myspace (I'm old, I know). Personally, I loved how you could personalize your space, and make it your own. My page was full of things from the nineties, and I loved it. Then, it all changed for me. I had my first experience with cyber stalking, and I my first real experience with the strong emotion of hate. My stalker hated me, but she tried to be me. She would spread lies about me through her page, yet she copied my identity. It was the most bizarre behavior I had encountered thus far in my life. Her actions made me rethink this thing called "social media".

Shortly after this, Myspace was a thing of the past; and Facebook was all the rage. Speaking on a personal level, I've always disliked Facebook. It took our individuality away, and made all of our pages exactly the same. I've never been a fan of Facebook, and I am shutting my page down today. I can't tell you how great that feels. With Facebook, I found that I shared way too much. I would find myself stuck to my tablet, clicking and sharing away for all the world to see. I didn't like what I was doing and who I was becoming. I decided to give Instagram a try, thinking it would be a bit mellow. I was wrong. I started out by sharing a few photos of myself, my husband, and our furbaby. Then I started sharing pictures of my art, my political and worldview beliefs, and random stuff. While I haven't had any issues with other users (which is mainly due to the narrowed down audience that I allowed to view my page), I did find that I started to get obsessed with gaining and losing followers. I had to take a step back from the situation, and look at myself with a hard glare. Why was I doing this? Why did it matter to me that I had followers? The truth is, it didn't (and still doesn't) matter at all. From my experience, the majority of my "followers" were just trying to get a large following so they would follow everyone they could in order to get their name and agenda out there. I can happily say that I shut my Instagram page down this morning! It becomes an addiction of likes, subscriptions, followings, etc. It becomes a dark and lonely world. Personally, I want to go out and live and not worry about taking a picture of my food, myself, or my environment so I can get likes. I just want to be.

For the past year, I've really thought about it, and how it changed me in a way. I'm an artist, an animal rights activist, pro-equality, pro-choice, anit-Trump person that pisses people off, and an all around hippie. I try to share truthful information with people, but sadly, they don't always like it. I've lost friends and family over my beliefs, and I've been verbally attacked by total strangers due to the fact that I don't believe what they believe. This made me think, "Is it possible that social media has affected the way we interact with each other? Have we forgotten how to respect one another?" In my opinion, the answer is yes, to an extent.

Through the internet, we have this thing called anonymity. The harsh screen with it's blinding light protects us from others, so we can either choose to act with compassion or be as brutal as we'd like. It really seems like humanity has lost some of itself through social media. We get into arguments with total strangers for varying reasons, we get upset if we don't get enough likes, and we lose contact with people more and more; and sometimes we don't care. What happened to the days of picking up the phone? No one seems to want to actually talk these days. We are a nation of small talk, and talking just to talk. So where do we go from here? Will social media continue to grow, or is there a breaking point? How has social media changed us on an emotional and psychological level? These are a few of the things that I will discuss in this opinion and scholarly article.

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Is Social Media Rising or Falling?

This seems to be an endless argument, will it stay or will it go? At the moment, it seems that social media is here to stay. While there are momentary rises and drops on different social media platforms, one can look around and see that social media is a fairly constant force in this world. All you have to do is watch a YouTube video and hear the person on the screen say, "Like, subscribe, share, click that little bell, follow on Instagram and Facebook" to know that it is here to stay. At least for now.

According to Zephoria.com, "worldwide, there are over 2.23 billion monthly active users (MAU) as of December 31, 2018. This is a 9 percent increase in Facebook MAUs year over year. This is compared to 2.27 billion MAUs for Q3 2018 (https://zephoria.com/top-15-valuable-facebook-statistics/)." Let's look at it this way, there are 7.53 billion people on this Earth. 2.27 billion human beings on planet Earth are on Facebook. Looking at Instagram, we can see that this network has 1 billion monthly users. "Instagram is now the fastest growing social network (Southern, M. 2018)". While Facebook currently has the most users, Instagram is not far behind. Could this be due to our own needs to be noticed? With Facebook, you can communicate with others through posts and blogs. On Instagram, you can communicate; but it is primarily by commenting and liking another users photographs. Are we moving away from communication, and toward a reward based system of likes and follows?

It's obvious that social media is on the rise, and does not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. So what makes us flock to social media? Why do we enjoy interacting with others through a system of likes and shares, and how does this affect us on an emotional level?

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Emotional Effects and Affects of Social Media

In order to be unbiased, it is important to note the positive and negative effects of social media in order for the reader to have all the necessary information. So, although I am not a fan of social media, I am going to give you pros and cons of social media; and how it effects/affects the user.

Negative Effects

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Sleep Problems
  • Eating Disorders
  • Increased Suicide Risk
  • Losing Communication with Others

One of the main reasons a social media user may experience depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, sleep problems, eating disorders, and suicidal ideation is due to cyber-bullying. "Bullying and cyberbullling can have long term effects on the victim, and can lead to mental health issues (Ortega, R., Elipe, Pl, Mora-Merchan, J., Genta, M., Brighi, A., Guarini, A., Smith, P., Thompson, F. & Tippett, N. (2012)."

One can also experience emotional effects from social media for several other reasons. For instance, depression can come from not getting enough likes, from arguing with others, from not having necessary social contact and depending solely on social media to get said contact, and from experiencing loneliness. We can experience anxiety, low self-esteem, sleeping problems, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts and actions due to social media as well. If a person doesn't get the attention they are trying to get through social media, this can cause a myriad of emotions and psychological problems. The opposite can be said as well. For instance, let's bring anonymity back for a moment, let's say that you share a photo of yourself where you feel beautiful. Due to people feeling anonymous on the internet, some are drawn to being rude to others. They may say awful things about you, and it's easy to take this to heart. This can lead to depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, low self-esteem, eating disorders, and even suicide. We sometimes we allow others to dictate how we feel about ourselves, and we shouldn't. I allowed someone to make me feel awful things about myself for the majority of my life. I get it. Sometimes we have to break away, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Before moving on to the pros, I'd like to discuss social media and children. The majority of people today have a smartphone and/or tablet. Children are using these devices in classrooms around the world. While a majority of these devices are provided by the school, and have social media blocks, let's get honest for a moment...your child is taking his or her phone to school. Instead of learning, some children use their device(s) and go on social media sites. This can cause the child to become distracted, and not focus on his or her education. It's even argued that social media can make children hyperactive. "While this is mostly viewed from an observational standpoint, the effects of social media are real and can cause harm to the individual (Mammoser, G. 2018)".

One more con, losing communication with others. Today, it seems that people would rather text or private message instead of talking on the phone or in person. This can cause us to lose contact with important people in our lives. For instance, I tell people that I am not going to be on Facebook a lot, if you need me...call me (today I'm leaving Facebook). What do they do? Comment on the post or private message me. Instead of having human to human contact, we prefer this digital connection that may or may not work for some. I'd rather talk on the phone, or better yet, get out there and live, and spend actual face time with the people I love.

Enough with the cons, let's move on to the pros of social media use. I found some very interesting information here, things I didn't think I would find.

Positive Effects

  • Bridging Communication
  • Community for Like Minded Individuals
  • Social Activity
  • Creativity
  • Self-growth

Social media allows us to communicate with people around the world. For some, this is wonderful. Some people prefer to use digital communication, and social media is great for them.

Another positive is that social media allows for like-minded communities. If you are a certain religion, sex, sexual orientation, etc. you can find active communities on social media that can help you with struggles and supply information for growth. This is a wonderful thing.

Social media also allows us to be social activist without leaving our home if we cannot for some reason. It also allows us to meet up with others, learn important information about various causes, and make groups for these individuals so they can stay up to date on meetings in their area. The way this world is these days, this is a very important part of social media. We have the ability to fight for those that do not have a voice, by giving them a digital and active voice.

Social media is also a place for creativity which has wonderful emotional effects on others. Art, whether it's music, ink, pencil, paint, poetry, or whatever has a powerful impact on us. We are moved by the feelings and emotions that the artist uses to convey his or her moment in the art. Social media has allowed users to share and create art, and get help from other artists without having to leave their home. This is a beautiful thing.

All of the positives discussed above can lead to self-growth. By talking and creating with others, we can get to know ourselves and we can grow as a person. This is one thing that social media allows. It can help us emotionally grow by knowing love, kindness, empathy, sympathy, etc.

Social media is a double edged sword. On one side, we have negative effects and on the other we have positive. Could this be fixed with moderation, or is it based on the individual? How can something so simple, cause so many pros and cons?These are a few things for the social media user to think about.


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Psychological Effects of Social Media

It can be easy to see the psychological effects of social media for some, but when you are experiencing the effects; it can be difficult to understand what is occurring. One psychological effect of social media that seems to be an issue more than others is addiction. At first it may seem silly to think that you are addicted to social media, but it happens. Addiction doesn't stop with alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, and so on. It wonders into all aspects of life. Addiction is, "the quality or state of being addicted" which is, "having a compulsive physiological need for a habit forming substance": and "strongly inclined or compelled to do, use, or indulge in something repeatedly" (Merriam-Webster. 2019)". Social media can present as addiction by constantly needing to check in and see how many likes, comments, shares, and followers your posts have gotten. Do you find yourself on your phone or tablet scrolling through social media for several hours a day? Do you find yourself constantly checking to see if someone likes what you posted? If so, there is a chance that you are addicted to social media. Basically, if you neglect your personal life and have a mental preoccupation with social media (Walton. 2017), you could be suffering from social media addiction. It's easy to do. When you get a like, share, subscribe, follow, etc.; it gives you a boost of happiness by providing you with serotonin. This makes you happy, and you start to become addicted to that feeling. The problem is, you have become dependent on the high that social media gives you. Once this high goes away, you can become depressed and even feel alone. These feelings can take you down a dark path if you aren't careful.

Loneliness and depression are two other psychological effects of social media. One typically goes with the other. When we are depressed, we often feel alone; and when we are alone it can lead to depression. That is why these two are sharing time in this article. When happiness is gone, we can crash. It's like having bipolar disorder. When mania hits, you feel like you are on top of the world; like nothing can stop you. Personally, I feel high with mania and to be honest, I love it. Before you know it, depression sets in; and down you go. Depression makes me feel hollow and alone. This roller coaster of emotions is a dangerous ride, and while it eventually evens out; the ups and downs are somewhere down the the track...lurking. This can happen with loneliness and depression as well. If you stop getting the attention you once had, as well as the interactions, on social media; you can become depressed and feel alone. This can often lead to unhealthy actions like comparing yourself to others and jealousy.

Comparing yourself to others and jealousy, are two things that we've all done. I know I have. Social media can cause this to happen rapidly. If you like how someone else looks, and you notice that he or she has more followers, likes, and shares than you; it is easy to become jealous and compare yourself to that person. Let's face it, everyone wants to feel special. Some turn to social media for this need, others don't. Either way, we all feel jealous at one point, and we all compare ourselves to others. This is normal human behavior. Sadly, social media seems to amp these feelings and cause them to effect us in a negative manner. For instance, let's say that you post a picture of yourself on Instagram. You feel beautiful, and you want a little attention. You post the picture, and soon the clicks and comments start. After a while, people lose attention and start clicking and commenting on another person's photo. How do you feel? If you process it, and move on, that's wonderful. If you start to beat yourself up, compare yourself to that person in a negative way (if I had a nose like her, if my chin looked like his, if I had her breasts, etc.), and become overly jealous; this is impacting your mental health. We experience emotions all the time, but most of the time we can process the situation and move on. Social media has a way of making us compare ourselves to others, and this can lead to serious problems within ourselves. I should note that a person's looks aren't always the reason for comparison and jealousy. Sometimes a social media post can cause these feelings as well.

We are human, and we fragile. We have these emotions that cause us to feel wonderful, and cause us to feel sadness and agony. This is normal. We are suppose to feel emotion, but it's important to know that feeling too much of a certain thing can be bad for you. Please don't let a thing like social media make you feel less than.

If you are feeling depression, pain of any kind, or suicidal for any reason please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ to get help. You are not alone. If you think you might be addicted to social media (or anything else), please contact the National SAMHSA Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or visit samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline. There is help out there, just reach out.


References

The Top 20 Valuable Facebook Statistics-Updated January 2019. Retrieved from zephoria.com/top-15-valuable-facebook-statistics/

Southern, Matt. (2018). Instagram Has 1 Billion Monthly Users, Now the Fastest Growing Social Network. Retrieved from searchenginejournal.com/instagram-1-billion-monthly-users-now-fastest-growing-social-network/258127/#close

Ortega, Rosario, Elipe, Paz, Mora-Merchan, Joaquin A., Genta, Luisa M., Brighi, Antonella, Guarinin, Annalisa, Smith, Peter K., Thompson, Fran, & Tippett, Neil (2012). The Emotional Impact of Bullying and Cyberbullying on Victims: A European Cross-National Study. Retrieved from onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ab.21440

Mammoser, Gigen (2018). The FOMO is Real: How Social Media Increases Depression and Loneliness. Retrieved from .healthline.com/health-news/social-media-use-increases-depression-and-loneliness

Merriam_Webster. (2019). Retrieved from merriam-webster.com/dictionary/addiction

This is a wonderful resource, please reach out if you need any help with anything in life: https://family-intervention.com/resources/intervention-help/
This is a wonderful resource, please reach out if you need any help with anything in life: https://family-intervention.com/resources/intervention-help/ | Source

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

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    • bhattuc profile image

      Umesh Chandra Bhatt 

      2 months ago from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India

      Exhaustive and interesting. Nice reading. Thanks.

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