It’s time to come clean about your social media diet. Do you mindlessly gorge, like a greedily banqueting Tudor monarch, on every morsel of political proselytising, #foodporn imagery and toxic rants, with the calorific side dishes of fake news and erstwhile schoolmates’ saccharine overshares? Or do you eat clean, with a lean intake of Twitter browsing and not much else?
If it’s the latter, lucky you. For most of us, social media is consumed as ravenously as the latest drop of Yeezys are by sneakerheads. Be honest: FashionBeans isn’t the only tab open on your browser right now, is it? We’d wager there are a few Facebook windows, Twitter or Instagram running in the background and some trivial videos involving at least one silly cat. You’re likely well over your RDA already. But don’t worry: it’s not your fault.
Actually, worry a bit, because it’s probably having a real, measurable impact on your life. According to the increasingly loud collective voice of finger-wagging experts everywhere, social media could be contaminating your legit social life, as well as ruining your relationships and ability to properly consume information. In other words, it’s making you sad-face emoji and a bit stupid.
But, much like with real food, the poison is in the dose. Overindulge and you’ll get fat on misery, sure. Keep things under control, though, and your online diet can still be nourishing. To that end, here is the science behind what social media is doing to your life, plus how to swipe control back from your phone.
What Happens When You Overuse Social Media
It Lowers Your Self-Esteem
Back when research into social media was in its nascency, a link was already being established between its use and some potentially nasty side effects for your personal image. In a study published in the Journal of Website Promotion (catchy name), researchers discovered that including strangers in your friends list has a negative impact on self-esteem. It’s now taken as read that spending excess time looking at selfies skews your self-image.
It Buggers Your Posture
…and your breathing. A study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science saw a notable uptick in bad posture, neck problems and even respiratory difficulties in participants with the highest social media usage. Your head weighs a lot. Leaning it forward to get closer to Emily Ratajkowski’s latest swimwear is doing a number on your neck.
It Makes You Depressed
The more time you spend on social media, the more likely you are to be depressed, says a study in the Journal of Depression and Anxiety. The researchers didn’t just point to general correlations; their test found that it’s doubly damaging to people who curate false lives online, presenting an exciting version of themselves that’s hard to maintain offline. Finding the right light for your abs or always having an aesthetically interesting dinner can be exhausting.
It Damages Discourse
Social media negativity became a trending topic itself after Chamath Palihapitiya, former vice president for growth at Facebook, came out and said: “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works.” He’s since qualified those comments, but his sentiment was clear: likes and smileys rip the nuance out of important conversations.
If it’s not bitesize, hashtagged and viral these days, it’s hard to find and probably not talked about. Palihapitiya said that sites like Facebook cause us to mistake popularity with truth.
It Makes You Covetous
Danish researchers analysed over 1,000 people and concluded that the online world makes us unhappy. They made particular reference to those who suffer ‘Facebook envy’ being at most risk of depression, due to constant insidious ‘social comparison’ (think of all the times you’ve punished yourself by looking through the holiday snaps of a seemingly richer, taller, handsomer, more awesomer connection). Dislike.
But It Can Also Make Us Happy
It’s important to note that all these negatives are based on over and improper use of social media. Some studies suggest it can, in fact, be a force for good, especially when you don’t spend more time on virtual relationships than real ones. A paper published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication found a direct correlation between intensity of Facebook usage and life satisfaction, civic trust and political engagement. Done right, social makes you more, well, social.
Take A Break
The best social media diet involves intermittent fasting. That Danish research into ‘Facebook envy’ and the unhappiness it creates also found that a week-long stint offline equals an increase in both life satisfaction and personal well-being.
It’s not the first study to suggest that a hiatus can undo much of the damage. Block out a week each month and delete Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and any similar platforms. Surprisingly, the world won’t fall apart around you.
Blaming social media for sadness is like blaming cake for putting on a few extra pounds. Facebook themselves have recently acknowledged that improper use can be troublesome, but that’s down to how you use it. Mindlessly scoff down fistfuls of nonsense, and you’re on your way to an addiction and poor mental health, they say. Properly engage and comment, and the experience is much more rewarding.
Use A #Filter
Blue light has been found, in study after study, to affect your brain, eye health and sleeping patterns adversely. Much of social media’s purported negatives could be chalked up to poorer sleep quality, an improvement in which is the closest thing we have to a panacea for all of life’s ills. A study in the journal Chronobiology International found that filtered light does no such damage. So if you can’t resist Trump’s latest tweets while tucking yourself in, at least view them through a filtered lens by using the Night Shift mode on your phone.
Make A Cut
Check your friends. Following someone like YouTube millionaire Casey Neistat due to #goals is likely just giving you major envy. Equally, finding #inspo in a fitness influencer’s daily selfies is, according to Australian scientists, probably chipping away at your body image, too. Plus, as the earlier study stated, too many strangers equals low self-esteem.
It’s time for a cull. A big one. Take control back from your friends list and unfollow with reckless abandon. This is a detox of your social media intake in the most literal sense. Bad connections are like bad calories. Toxic ones are like consuming food that’s gone foul. Your diet’s due a cleanse.