Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok, Facebook, and other social media platforms can do a lot of good — they help us stay connected to friends and family.
They can also offer support systems for everything from social issues to losing weight.
However, there’s also the not-so-great side of social media.
If you’ve watched “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix, you might even be considering deleting all of your accounts for fear of being manipulated and used by the platforms.
But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Learn the negative effects of social media below and find out whether you should take a break, plus the best ways to do so.
1. Feelings of Anxiety and Depression
A study published in the American Journal of Health Behavior found an association between greater time spent on social media and increased risk for depression and anxiety.
Several things seem to be at play here:
For one, “feedback on posts can make people anxious if they don’t get enough likes, comments, or reactions,” says licensed clinical psychologist Dustin Weissman, PsyD. “Those reactions can also lower one’s mood if they are critical, negative, or harsh.”
For another, since everyone posts “perfect” images, “we can’t help but compare ourselves and wonder why we’re not doing as well,” explains Brian Wind, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and chief clinical officer of JourneyPure.
2. Low Self-Esteem
It’s almost too easy to scroll through social media and feel inadequate seeing exotic vacation photos or perfectly styled selfies.
“But don’t forget that photos can be filtered and angled to give a specific appearance,” says Cody Braun, CPT, assistant manager of fitness at Beachbody.
“Our view of what is real and natural becomes distorted when we obsess over what others portray as glamour and perfection. This can cause us to have unrealistic expectations, and when we do not reach these goals, we lose self-esteem. We start to doubt our abilities and worth based on the perception that others have achieved more than us,” he explains.
All of this can cause greater feelings of anxiety or depression.
3. Increased Stress
Nobody would ask for more stress in life, yet extra stress is one of the negative effects of social media.
To start, there’s a sense of pressure to keep up with all of the posts (hello, doom scrolling in 2020!).
“Imagine trying to run up a mountain that continually grows each minute as fast or even twice as fast as you can run up it,” Weissman says. “That is what trying to keep up with social media can feel like.”
Plus, those posts may have unsettling information or lead to debates with others, increasing stress levels.
Then there are feelings of inadequacy and fear of missing out (FOMO).
Lastly, the more time we spend scrolling, the less time we have to engage in work as well as pleasure, says clinical psychologist Jennifer Barbera, Ph.D., C. Psych.
Procrastination is a surefire way to boost stress, and when we cut out stress-reducing activities like exercise or reading, it’s no wonder we feel more frazzled from all the scrolling.
4. Poor Sleep
Social media and sleep do not complement each other. First, our devices emit blue light, which disrupts circadian rhythms, making it harder to fall asleep.
Second, stress and anxiety from social media can lead to poor sleep patterns, Braun says.
Third, if you feel the need to respond to every single notification and message, you could stay up all night waiting, Weissman says.
5. Communication Deficits
“A lot is lost in conversation when it is done through text,” Weissman explains. When you don’t have body language or tone to help you determine if your friend is being serious or sarcastic, you may misinterpret things.
“People also have less of a filter when communicating online,” he adds. “Behind the safety of their screen, some are more likely to communicate in a way that may lack empathy and compassion.”
All of this means that when we do talk to someone IRL, we may keep things to more of a surface-level conversation because we’re not as comfortable handling unpleasant emotions, he adds.
We also may experience challenges perceiving nonverbal, emotional, and social cues, Wind says.
And, as anyone who’s “researched” a dating app connection before meeting in person knows, you may have less to talk about in person since everyone is already updated on each other’s lives over social.
The immediacy of social media doesn’t help either. “We expect replies from others within a few minutes and may start to get anxious if we don’t see a reply,” Wind says.
6. Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome is “when someone doubts their achievements or skills and thinks they have only succeeded by luck and can be exposed as a ‘fraud’ any moment,” explains Wind.
It’s likely no surprise, then, that this phenomenon is often one of the negatives of social media.
“When we get favorable comments and compliments, we may feel like an imposter who is about to be found out any moment because our lives aren’t as glamorous as they appear to be on social media,” he explains.
7. Increased Loneliness
Social media can create a paradox: We think we are more connected with others, but “that interaction never fully satisfies the innate need for social connection,” Barbera says.
For example, no amount of likes can replace a hug. (Remember those?)
Additionally, there’s the risk that you may cut back on IRL interactions since you “see” people online, Wind adds. All of this can actually make you feel lonelier.
8. Less Time Spent Doing Healthy Activities
One upside of social media and the Internet are all the workouts and healthy recipes you can access.
However, other aspects of the platforms can erode your healthy living habits.
“People become fixated or dependent on social media and can end up investing less and less time on other important areas of their life such as spending time with family and friends and engaging in hobbies or activities,” Barbera says.
“When this happens, people end up living their life less and less in line with their actual values, and this leads to a less satisfying life,” she adds.
How to Take a Break From Social Media
It’s totally possible to use social media and not lose yourself.
That said, if you notice any of the following, the experts we spoke to say you may benefit from cutting back on your screen time to minimize the negative effects of social media:
- You notice an increase in urges to check your email or social media.
- You find yourself spending more time than you intended on your phone.
- You can’t spend time with friends or family without checking your phone.
- You’re unable to go anywhere without your phone.
- Other people express concern about your usage.
Whether you notice these things or simply want to cut back, start by seeing how much time you’re spending on each social media platform.
Then set a specific goal to reduce your time.
Tips to Spend Less Time on Social Media
Turn off notifications and consider an app blocker or screen time filter to help. It’s also beneficial to have other activities so you can distract yourself in a positive way.
“Fill your time with productive activities that will help lead you toward the life you desire,” Braun says. That could be workouts, recovery or mobility exercises, a mindfulness practice, or just getting outside without your phone.
If you feel the need for a bigger change, try a digital detox.
Whatever you choose, if you worry about FOMO, first of all, accept that FOMO is real — and beneficial.
“You cannot be everywhere with everyone,” Wind says. “It can be healthy to miss things and learn about them later or not at all. This is in part what makes time spent with others that much better. It allows for the opportunity to ‘catch up’ and share stories.”
Then, as you go about activities with friends, family members, pets, or even on your own, be present, he says.
“Some of my fondest memories in life are moments where I was on my own and accomplished something or reflected on all the things that were going well,” Wind adds.
As you notice the benefits of cutting back on social media, you’ll probably find it easier to scroll less often and feel better mentally, too.