Facebook, Other Social Media Ruins Your Mental AND Physical Health

Facebook, Other Social Media Ruins Your Mental AND Physical Health
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You might have read in the news that people are “breaking up” with Facebook due to the social media platform’s abysmal privacy and security record. But this is just one small, clear example of how Facebook may be negatively impacting your life. Actually, it could be bad for both your mental and physical health. [1]

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Or, at least, it could make you feel like you’re ill.

Recent research suggests that people on Facebook thought they had more symptoms of physical ailments like sleep problems and fluctuations in weight after comparing themselves to other users. In many cases, their self-esteem and sense of well-being dropped after using Facebook.

If this finding sounds familiar, that’s because experts have been linking social media use to mental and physical problems for years, primarily mental health. Instagram, in particular, has been linked to a decreased sense of well-being in young people, and it’s not surprising. Instagram is full of posed “selfies” that have been edited to make it appear that users have flawless skin and perfect figures.

In 2015, a study showed that teens who spent at least 2 hours a day on social media were significantly more likely to have mental health problems such as psychological distress and suicidal thoughts.

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A study published last year shows the more time teens spend on social media and streaming videos, the more likely they are to develop symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

A majority of the studies that have looked at the effects of social media on health have focused on teens and young adults, but people of all ages can be affected by the constant barrage of (fake) perfection they see online.

Bridget Dibb, a senior lecturer in health psychology at the University of Surrey, said in a press release:

“Comparing ourselves to others is not a new concept. However, with the rise of social media, it is becoming a part of our everyday lives.”

She added:

“An entity like Facebook, with 2.27 billion active monthly users, has never existed before. The long-term effect it has on individuals is unknown, but it is clear that comparison with others is associated with perceptions of ill-health.”

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Evaluating Your Own Self-Esteem

For the study, Dibb and her colleagues evaluated participants’ own measures of self-esteem, physical health, and life satisfaction compared to other Facebook users.

The study showed that females are overwhelmingly more likely than males to suffer anxiety and depression, and they had stronger perceptions of physical symptoms of ailments. The team observed that the more time people spent on Facebook, the more opportunities they had to view themselves negatively compared to others, especially when it came to health and lifestyle. To the user, these symptoms are very real. The team even noted that users experienced muscle tension when using Facebook. [1] [2]

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Researchers think that many people use Facebook and other social media platforms to fill in the “gaps” in their lives, but sometimes the only thing that accomplishes is a greater sense of emptiness.

It is unclear if Facebook causes physical and mental health problems, or simply worsens them and makes people hyper-aware of what they are experiencing. It is possible that those very symptoms are what drives some people to log onto Facebook in the first place – filling in those “gaps.” [2] [3]

However, it was clear that the connection between comparisons and symptoms was more likely to occur in people who already struggle with self-esteem and confidence. People with higher self-esteem reported fewer symptoms and ailments. [3]

Dibb said:

“The results show that people who compare on FB report more physical symptoms than those who don’t compare – this means that comparison on FB makes us more aware of common physical symptoms – which could be negative, as we know that physical health is associated with perceptions of quality of life. But the results could also mean that those with more physical problems tend to compare more on FB and this may be positive in helping them manage their health.  So, being aware why and how you are using FB is important.  The results are not saying that social media is damaging health in itself.

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A previous study found that using social media causes the brain to release the “cuddle hormone,” oxytocin. The brain literally cannot tell the difference between a real social interaction like hugging or kissing, talking to a loved one, or interacting on social media. Each “like” or comment a person gets on social media triggers a release of oxytocin.

So, even though social media use can have negative ramifications, it’s not entirely evil.

The study was published January 8, 2019, in the journal Heliyon.


[1] UPI

[2] Yahoo! News

[3] Forbes