At first glance, it may seem like a surprising notion that social media can affect your wellbeing. When we consider how much time people spend engaging on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others, however, it really makes sense that social media does have certain health effects.
Anything that takes up large amounts of your time, including work, watching TV, exercising or driving, has some impact on your health. The question is whether media usage is good or bad for us. The simple answer is that it can be both. Fortunately, there are ways to help reduce exposure to its harmful effects while maximizing the benefits.
Ways That Social Media Impacts Your Health
There are a number of ways that social media can have an influence on your health.
- Addiction to social media. People who are addicted to social media may experience negative side effects such as eye strain, social withdrawal or lack of sleep.
- Stress. If you spend your time researching problems or arguing with people, you may experience stress, and you are at risk of negatively impacting your health.
- Emotional connections. Social media can help you connect with more people and stay in touch with those with whom you’re already close. Connecting with people has proven health benefits.
- Information. You can find a large amount of health-related information on social media. This can be quite helpful. On the other hand, if you take random advice without doing proper research, it can also be harmful.
As these points illustrate, there’s no simple answer to whether social media is good or bad for you. Because it’s such a pervasive influence on modern life, it has many positive and negative effects. Let’s look at some of these in a little more detail.
Social Media Addiction
Social media addiction is a real phenomenon. As more people carry around smartphones and other devices wherever they go, it becomes harder to escape the internet. And people increasingly spend their online time on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
For people who are addicted to these sites, it can have a harmful effect on their lives and even their mental health. Any addiction is potentially harmful if it saps your energy away from other activities, such as work, physical activity and offline relationships. There are various ways that social media addiction harms your mental health.
People use social media for many things, such as socializing, finding and sharing information, shopping and simply as a diversion. Some of these activities are fairly neutral while others may cause strong emotions.
Positive connections with people are important for your mental health and even physical health. There’s plenty of evidence and studies that social isolation is associated with a shorter life span, not to mention a diminished quality of life. While interacting with people on social media is not enough, and not a substitute for live interactions, it can be beneficial nonetheless.
Seniors and those who are disabled, who may have limited mobility, can use social media to connect in ways that they otherwise could not. Elderly people can talk to their grandkids. Someone stationed overseas in the military can talk to his or her spouse back home. Friends who live in different states can chat online. These are just a few of the ways that social media can improve people’s lives.
On the other hand, the media and its content can cause stress and other negative emotions. The increasing issue of cyber-bullying is a good example of this. There are also people who are attached to trolling or arguing about everything from politics to sports. If interacting on social media causes stress, it can have negative health effects and health problems.
Impact on Physical Health
Social media can directly impact physical health. This is usually associated with the way you use it. For example:
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. If you do too much keying, you run the risk of experiencing problems that affect your hands or wrists. There are also specific problems associated with keying on mobile phones, which can strain the tendons of your fingers. These problems aren’t all caused by social media. It can just as easily be caused by having to type term papers for school or reports at work.
- Eye problems. You run the risk of getting eyestrain from staring at screens for too long.
- Fatigue. This is another symptom of overusing social media. If you’re staying up too late posting on Twitter of Facebook, you may be losing valuable sleep.
- Lack of exercise. Social media can cut into time you might otherwise be spending outdoors or exercising.
- Distraction. One of the most dangerous potential consequences of social media addiction is driving while being distracted. As recent stories have confirmed, you can even get hurt texting and walking.
The above are harmful effects that aren’t caused by social media per se, but by overdoing it or increasing your exposure to it or being online or texting while you should be concentrating on something else. Some of these, of course, also apply to activities other than social media, such as texting on the phone, writing emails or browsing internet sites.
Accessing Health Information
There are innumerable places to get health information online. If you’re active on Facebook, you probably have friends who post their favorite health advice, especially when it comes to mental health. You may subscribe to the pages or tweets of celebrity doctors or people who have created diets or techniques when dealing with a mental illness. You could learn about a potential therapy, cure or drug that’s truly helpful for you or someone you care about.
On the other hand, if you accept everything you see on social media uncritically, you could end up taking bad advice. You should never mistake a tweet or Facebook post as expert opinion. Even if it’s given by a qualified expert, that person hasn’t examined you. At most, you should use social media as the first stage of your research.
Staying Healthy on Social Media
When used consciously and in moderation, social media can have a positive impact on your life and even your mental health. Here are some general tips to keep in mind.
- Use social media at certain scheduled times. Don’t let it interfere with your work, studies or offline relationships.
- If you have difficulty getting off social media, try productivity apps that limit your access to certain sites. If you have a serious addiction problem with social media use, seek professional help.
- Use social media to research health issues, but always consult with your own doctor before taking any advice.
- Stay off social media and any communications platforms while driving or doing anything else that’s potentially hazardous and risky.
- Stay positive. Don’t waste time arguing with people online.