Technology and the internet are supposed to be bringing us closer together and almost every social media site pushes that concept as a reason for using these free services. Certainly, social media helps us meet different people and learn about other cultures throughout the world, but it may also be negatively impacting our psychological health. New studies indicate that people are feeling lonelier than ever before and social media may be the cause.
Studies Hint at a Larger Problem
It seems more people feel lonely today than ever before in the past and that’s not just true of the United States. England has actually created a new position within their government, appointing a Minister of Loneliness, whose job it will be to discover why people are feeling lonely across all age groups. The Minister of Loneliness will also be tasked with finding ways to combat loneliness for the elderly and disabled, among others.
The reason for so much concern is that loneliness poses real health risks and has been compared to “smoking 15 cigarettes a day” in the way it can boost the risks of developing cardiovascular disease, as well as instigating mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, depression, and dementia.
Here in the United States, a recent study sought to examine the feelings of loneliness among Americans. The research was conducted by marketing firm Cigna and Ipsos and revealed that as much as 46% of the American public feels lonely at least part of the time. Surprisingly, they found that feelings of loneliness weren’t just a problem with older adults. Many of those reporting feelings of loneliness were younger, between the ages 18 to 22.
While that study didn’t identify a link to social media, it did find that children and teens lack real-world social skills. As they get older, those skills aren’t being developed as they should, causing them to grow into anxious and socially awkward adults. Social media may be partly to blame, because teens, in particular, spend the majority of their time socializing online.
Social Media May Be the Cause After All
In another study, this one conducted by a research team at Duke University and led by psychologist Jenna Clark, the link between social media use and loneliness was directly examined. The study actually found that social media’s affect on the psyche varies, depending on how it’s used. In their research, Clark’s team surveyed Duke freshman and seniors. They found that the freshmen used social media to stay in touch with old high school friends, while the seniors were using social media to communicate with new friends they had made on campus.
The freshmen spent much of their free time online, chatting with high school friends, which left them little time for socializing with other students on campus. As a result, they generally felt lonelier, when they weren’t online or in class. Meanwhile, seniors merely used social media to make plans or share news with fellow students on campus. Because they were using social media as a tool for networking in the real world, they rarely felt lonely.
5 Tips for Keeping Social Media Use in Perspective
The research suggests that the way we use social media has as much to do with how it affects us as how often we use it. People often use social media in unhealthy ways without even realizing it. For instance, they engage in “social snacking,” which consists of lurking in posts to read comments without engaging in the conversation. While this makes the user feel good, while they’re reading the comments, they end up with stronger feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Adding to the problem is the act of comparing one’s self and one’s life to lives of others. People share their happiest moments on sites like Facebook, so it’s easy to look at someone’s posts and assume they’re living the perfect life. Comparing that to one’s own unedited life, it may seem as though you’re living a much worse life. People begin to criticize themselves, causing self-esteem issues, depression, and even greater feelings of loneliness.
Following these simple rules can help you use social media in a healthier way, allowing you to get the most out of your interactions.
- Adjust Your Notifications – By stopping the notifications that are pushed to your phone, you’ll be less distracted throughout the day. Even limiting which notifications get sent to your phone can reduce the stress and that feeling that you need to keep checking your phone.
- Get Rid of Some Accounts – Do you really need to belong to five different social media platforms? Unless you’re using them to promote a business, probably not. Get rid of the ones you use the least and try to keep just one or two accounts active.
- Use Your Mobile Device Less – It’s time to take a step back and start engaging in more face to face conversations. This is especially true, if you’re socially awkward. Instead of texting a co-worker, walk to their desk and invite them to lunch. The more real social interactions you have, the easier it will become.
- Get Off Your Phone at Night – Using social media late at night isn’t just making you lonelier; it’s also affecting your sleep patterns. Sleep specialists recommend turning off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed.
- Time Your Use – Instead of browsing Facebook for an hour, limit your time online to 25 or 30 minutes. After that period, it’s time to step away and rejoin real world social activities. Your notifications can wait until tomorrow.