If you’ve ever known the pain of not reaching 11 likes on Instagram, or realising that you weren’t invited to that party on Snapchat, you’ll understand how social media can sometimes determine our emotional status, even if it’s for a short while. But how much do our newsfeeds really affect our state of mind and is it becoming a problem?
In a recent study by the Australian Psychological Society researchers found that 18-35 year olds were the age group most affected by social media and the idea of FOMO (the fear of missing out), which in turn can lead to raised stress levels.
Social researcher Mark McCrindle explains why this is the case, saying “social media has become an addictive medium, and we are getting compulsive about our use of it. We view it in our pocket [on our phones] and the constant notifications mean that it becomes intrusive in our lives, interrupting the natural cycles of the day.”
And this constant barrage of messages, images and news is growing, with Facebook (as of February this year) now reaching 15 million Australians. That’s 62.5% of our population. So as social media’s reach expands, understanding how its use affects our emotions is increasingly important. But how can you tell if the positive benefits outweigh the negative?
“You may notice that your mood decreases after you go online,” explains clinical psychologist Gemma Cribb. “You may become anxious about what you post and how it 'looks', becoming obsessive about checking [your phone]. You may find that you can't relax or pay attention to other things if your phone is around, and you may start to put managing your online profiles ahead of planning your real social life.”
For some people, the pressure of their digital social life is too much and the only option they see is giving up social media altogether. “Facebook changed,” says mother of two, Nancy, 36. “It has become a means to show the world how fabulous we all ‘apparently’ are. Initially I felt a little like I was missing out when I deleted my account. I wondered if there would be events that I just didn't get the invite for, or friends that I would just never speak with again. But after two weeks I just moved on. The connection I have with my actual friends is still strong.”
However, quitting social media may seem extreme to the majority of users (and for some it’s not a possibility for work reasons), so not-surprisingly the bigger trend according to McCrindle is ‘social media fasting’ (SMF). “We haven’t seen many people regret giving up social media,’ he says. “But what we are seeing more and more of is people tuning out for a while. There are movements like screen-free Sundays, and families who log off on Friday afternoon and log back in on Monday morning. Those sorts of concepts are becoming more mainstream because people are not happy with the kind of social media saturation that we experience on a daily basis."
Interest in ‘social media fasting’ has also lead to a rise in tech-free holidays, such as yoga retreats with no-phone policies, and fitness-based travel with an emphasis on being outside (and screen-free). At the same time, research shows that social media users are gravitating away from traditional platforms in search of like-minded online and offline communities. These kinds of support networks tend to offer more positive feedback – and potentially less stress.
So while it’s incredibly difficult to say if you’d be happier without social media, one thing is for sure, its affect on our lives is far reaching. And if giving it up all together isn’t an option, perhaps experiencing some ‘social media fasting’ might just be what the doctor ordered.
In the meantime, clinical psychologist Gemma Cribb has some advice for ensuring that your newsfeed doesn’t affect you in a negative way:
1. Give yourself a limited time every day to engage in it.
2. Make sure you put your phone away so it’s harder to automatically check it when you are trying to engage in other tasks.
3. Remember that what everyone posts is an idealised version, not reality - their ‘PR’ so to speak.
4. Do not count likes or comments and do not post things solely to get likes or comments.
If you feel that social media is affecting you negatively and you need to talk to someone, contact www.beyondblue.org.au.