Kristen had a falling out with friends, and now it hurts to see them on Facebook having fun without her. She keeps checking to see what they are up to, though she knows it upsets her. Rick was feeling sad and alone, so he would turn to Instagram to pass time; but this only made him feel lonelier. Stories like these are common. Yet, people also love being on social media. So, the natural question arises: If social media can be bad and good for you, how should you engage with it?
Recently, a group of researchers affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania collected a week’s worth of data on the use of Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram by 143 undergraduate students (ages 18-22). They also surveyed the students’ mood and sense of well-being. Then the subjects were divided into two groups, with one group not changing their social-media use and the other group limiting their use to 10 minutes per day per platform. After three weeks, the researchers found that subjects who engaged in less social media experienced less depression and loneliness. This was especially true for people who are more prone to experience depression.
This study supports existing literature that says social media might make people feel lonelier because of the seemingly infinite ways that people practically shout, Look how great my life is! This can make people feel worse about their own lives, especially when they were already down on themselves.
While the study may not apply to other age groups, everyone can benefit from thinking about their use of social media. Like so much else in life, you’ll likely do best to use it in moderation.
Make sure you spend in-person time with others. While it can feel good to connect with others on social media, there is no substitute for being right there with family and friends.
Pay attention to any distress you feel after being on social media and adjust accordingly. Do you feel sad? Lonely? Angry? Or, maybe you feel a combination of different emotions. If you are more upset after your online time, think critically about what platforms seem to trigger you, what emotions you are feeling, and what may be causing those emotions. Based on what you observe, you might decide to avoid certain platforms, limit the time on social media, or block connections with particular people.
Note when being on social media makes you happier. You might notice that you enjoy the accolades when you post about getting a promotion, achieving some goal, or sharing some other good news. Perhaps certain groups are particularly supportive when you are struggling. Whatever the reason, be sure to keep whatever works in your toolbox for building a happy, connected, and fulfilling life.
Whatever researchers say now or discover in the future, follow the same common sense “rules” for engaging in social media as you do for in-person relationships: Engage more in relationships that are a positive influence and limit those that bring you down.