You know when you pull down your phone screen to refresh your twitter page? And that little wheel spins round and round while the next set of tweets loads?
Did you ever notice that even with full signal and speedy Wi-Fi, sometimes it takes a comparatively long time for the app to refresh? Well, that’s because that tiny wheel is linked directly to how much time you’ve spent on the site and how much you’ve already refreshed the page (source: Armchair Expert podcast).
Basically, your twitter feed is testing you to see how committed to it you are. Your social media is playing games with you, and like any toxic relationship, social media is responsible for causing increased levels of anxiety and for further damaging people’s mental health.
Whilst social networking sites such as Instagram and facebook have done brilliant work towards connecting disparate communities, and helping individuals to feel included, simultaneously they have exponentially increased the number of dangerous or triggering images that users are exposed to.
This has a reverberating effect on mental health, by creating unhealthy comparisons and by exposure to images that can be disturbing. According to the centre for mental health, social media has been linked to poor self-esteem and self-image as a direct result of peddling unrealistic expectations in terms of image and activity.
Furthermore, the culture of digital approval which is fostered by sites that capitalise on interaction; likes, shares and comments is really worrying. When people start to equate their worth with the number of people who double tapped their most recent photo, it raises some serious questions about where our values lie as a society.
In an effort to curb this effect, Instagram has partially concealed the number of people that engage with a user’s pictures, with ‘adam, brian and ‘others’ liked your photo’ as opposed to ‘adam, brian and 24 others’. But does this go far enough?
It’s no real wonder that rising social media use breeds a rise in anxiety. Seeing other people seemingly spend their time more in a more valuable way, or in a more ‘cool’ way than you do, can trigger FOMO or fear of missing out.
The phenomena of social media-related anxiety isn’t confined just to adults. Studies increasingly show that teenagers who use social media frequently show corresponding increases in their levels of anxiety and depression. This suggests social media use and its negative impact is having a lasting effect on the pliable minds of the next generation.
This is not to say that social media is all bad, by any means, but the health of its users suggest that it does need to be approached and used with caution. If you are a frequent social media user, then it might be sensible to review the way you interact with it.
Simple steps to stay safe include unfollowing anyone who makes you feel ‘less than’, engaging any features your accounts offer that break down your screen time, and reduce your activity.
Keep a very close eye on any adolescents in your life to ensure that they are receiving only positive exposure to social media, and check that they are looking after their mental health while using the platforms.
Social media can be fantastic, we just need to treat it like the addictive substance it is.
Leah is a literature graduate from Bristol. Likes: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, My So Called Life, Goodfellas, and Ally McBeal.