a variety of items with social media logos on them

Written by Jennifer Nolan, Licensed Professional Counselor

The social media phenomenon

In recent years social media has experienced widespread popularity.  With three billion users worldwide spending an average of two hours per day, social media has changed the way we interact with one another and even how we express ourselves. Although there are many obvious benefits of social media such as allowing one to stay in touch with family and friends around the world and providing real-time news and information, we must also consider the downfall of social media use such as social peer pressure, the substitution for “face-to-face” interaction, and how it affects mental health.  

Social media’s impact on mental health

There are numerous research studies that have concluded in conflicting findings of social media use and the impact on our mental health.  Depression, anxiety, sleep disruption and low self-esteem were identified as potential harmful effects of social media use while conversely, the ability to connect with others with shared interests, feeling encouraged while pursuing goals and the capacity to promote productive ideas have all been recognized as positive aspects of social media.  

In a Humboldt University and Darmstadt Technical University study, 600 Facebook users participated in a survey regarding their feelings after using the social media platform.  One out of three users reported predominantly negative feelings, such as frustration and envy.  

Carl Rogers, psychologist and one of the founders of the humanistic approach to psychology, theorized the concept of our real self and our ideal self.  The real self is who you are right now in reality and your ideal self is who you want to be. The greater discrepancy between your real self and your ideal self is related to your level of distress.  For some users of social media the creating of the “online self” by editing facets of self for the approval of others may ultimately leave one feeling stressed and discontented.

In another study conducted by the Young Health Movement and the Royal Society for Public Health surveyed determined that 14- to 24-year-olds believed that social media is contributing to bullying, body image anxiety, and feelings of depression and loneliness. Instagram was found to be the worst social media platform.

Over eighty million photos are shared on Instagram on an average day.  People post fabulous pictures of their life, while you’re just sitting around reacting to them.  Comparing achievements and experiences can lead to jealousy and to the conclusion that others are living the life of their dreams, while you are stuck in the ordinary.                                                

How counseling can help

In my practice as a therapist I find it is important to be aware of the extent of my clients’ social media use and the potential impact on what they are bringing into the therapy room.  It is important to have discussions regarding self-acceptance, setting and enforcing boundaries, and identifying distorted thinking. In my work with clients, I explore and encourage meaningful connections and thoughtful conversations that share feelings, values, expectation, and optimism.  

A goal I have is to help clients recognize their strengths outside of their personal appearance.  We discuss the need to be conscious of limiting the amount of time spent scrolling through other people’s profiles which could help them focus more on themselves, and thus feeling an increase in confidence and fulfillment.  I encourage a healthy use of social media in a way that creates an outcome of positive emotions leading to increase life satisfaction.

It is unlikely social media use will decrease in our future, so it is important to find the balance and acknowledge the risks as well as the rewards.