Having occasional doubts, insecurities and anxieties is completely natural. It’s inevitable that we don’t always feel 100% good about ourselves all of the time: that’s what makes us human. However, your daily scrolling through Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and more could actually be magnifying these problems.
One drastic thing which separates us from the generations above us is our daily use of technology and social media. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the rate of mental health illness is rising more and more (roughly 1 in 4 people in the UK suffer or have suffered with a mental illness). The correlation between the level of information we receive and the rise of these strains on our health at large at too obvious to ignore.
Although a lot of older adults are starting to use social media and smartphones now, it was introduced to them later in their lives. There is a massive difference between being introduced to something when your adult brain is fully formed (around your 30’s), and having always used it, not remembering a time without it. Especially when it’s something incorporated into your daily routine, the way social media use is for most of us.
“Roughly 1 in 4 people in the UK suffer or have suffered with a mental illness”
An example of this would be learning languages: I spoke another language before I learnt English but because I learnt English so young I speak it fluently without an accent. I sometimes don’t even remember the language I spoke originally. However, those who learn a new language at an older age tend to struggle more learning it and getting rid of their accent. In other words, the younger you are, the easier it is to adapt to new environments and habits as the neurons and synapses in the brain have not fully formed yet. So maybe the infamous saying “old habits die hard” actually has a neurophysiological meaning behind it.
I know what you’re thinking: how does this relate to me scrolling through Twitter?
If we’re constantly on social media sites, observing the lives of others and comparing them to our own, and this is what we’ve been doing for as long as we can remember whilst our brains are still forming, it is inevitable that these habits will become more prominent and become second nature to young people.
It particularly doesn’t help that a lot of people aren’t completely honest on social media platforms. We are selective in what information, such as pictures we post, which tend to make us appear in a more favourable light. No one is going to post the spot they woke up with to Instagram, or Snapchat themselves running for the bus but still missing it. This in itself is detrimental to our mental health, as young people seem to care more about the opinions of others than ever before. Additionally, seeing the glorified version of other peoples’ lives is bound to cause comparison, leading to feelings of inadequacy, anxiousness and insecurity, which can then stem into mental illness.
“University students experienced psychological withdrawal symptoms”
Aside from comparison, social media can also lead to cyberbullying, which has become a more common cause of depression and social isolation amongst young people. The psychological addiction criteria is met when it comes to many social media users, including neglect of personal life, escapism, mental preoccupation and concealing the addictive behaviour. A study from Swansea University found that university students experienced psychological withdrawal symptoms, like feelings of anxiety, when they withdrew from using social media. A follow-up study found that physiological effects were also experienced, as would with any other addiction, seeing as our psychology and physiology are very closely linked.
Of course, social media is not actually evil and moderate use of it is fine. It maintains connection with those we otherwise may have lost touch with, kills boredom when waiting for a train or during revision breaks, make us laugh and so on. However something to try and consciously remember, is that social media is not real life. (This has been written about by our own Elle Magill). It’s important not to get into the habit of comparing yourself to people on there, as this is a habit that you don’t want to stick. If you feel you may be suffering from depressive or anxious symptoms due to social media, or feel like you’re become addicted to it, try to take a break and see how it goes; you may learn more about your flatmates or become that little bit more productive with your uni work.
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