Social media is synonymous with overreaching advertising. From a business perspective, it’s an extremely efficient marketing tool. But from the mental health standpoint, social media has morphed into a behemoth of toxic addiction that causes depression and anxiety. So where is the middle ground in all of this?
In 2021, there were over 4.26 billion (that’s billion with a B) social media users worldwide, yet 33% of adults reported experiencing loneliness. Social media is not a human connection; it’s a tool to get eyeballs. And the goal of big companies pulling the strings is for those four billion sets of eyeballs to stay glued to screens and focused on spending resources (money, time, energy) on specifically targeted merchandise, goods, and services.
Spending on social media advertising is expected to reach $229.5 billion (again, that’s billion with a B) in 2022. In a recent survey, 59% of Americans reported being influenced by social media to make a purchase, and a daunting 45% reported having gone into debt to purchase something they saw on social media. It appears the schemes are working, but to the detriment of people.
Even some of the mental health ecosystem has succumbed to the prospect of financial gain in social media apps. Recent headlines have exposed therapy apps like Cerebral, Headway, BetterHelp, and Talkspace for various breaches in legal regulations and compliance standards. The use of data from some of these tech startups has been collected and sold to social media platforms and marketing conglomerates, leading to targeted ads directed towards the app users.
We call on mental health ecosystem leaders to step up and ensure privacy and safety are paramount when using apps. And they shouldn’t stop there; we must be more mindful of these apps’ effects. Otherwise, the outcome is dire: social media will continue to dominate our minds and resources, spreading misinformation and disinformation, and targeting people to go into debt.
Here in the midst of the holiday season, social media platforms see a 73% spike in daily usage, often becoming the escape or distraction in between moments of chaos during family events, boredom due to schedule changes, and as a bad way to manage jet lag and travel woes. Black Friday sales and ads of last-minute winter holiday gift ideas permeate our social feeds, which are often already full of people showing off the things they’ve purchased or been gifted. As overwhelming as this feels, there is a way to enact mindful habits in media use during the holidays.
Specifically, it all revolves around bringing in a little more gratitude to what you’re posting and commenting online. Gratitude, as defined by the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, is both “the feeling of being grateful, and wanting to express your thanks.” Psychological studies have shown the many benefits of expressing and receiving gratitude, which include enhanced physical health, boosted life satisfaction, improved affectivity, better mental health, higher self-esteem, increased sociality, and even progress in the quality of close relationships. But what about gratitude via a digital medium like social media?
Several recent studies have shown that all of these benefits of expressions of gratitude remain even when communication takes place on social media. Due to its complete openness and multifaceted streams of both giving and receiving gratitude, social media offers a very powerful opportunity for grateful behaviors to not only manifest, but also multiply. Keep in mind, though, that the opposite is unfortunately also true; negative thoughts, behaviors, and actions can run rampant if they are given attention on social media.
Observing, reciprocating, and branching out and repeating interactions on social media is literally how the modern social media giants (TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) flourish. Think of all the TikTok trends that blow up overnight and completely saturate social media feeds. Research argues that social media offers a rather effortless way to massively amplify gratitude and thus its positive effects. The biggest gift you can offer this holiday season is gratefulness, whether that is in person or via social media. Don’t settle for overlooking negative online interactions; opt to insert more joy, thankfulness, and gratitude through your social media accounts. (We’ve even got a hashtag for it! #PreciateIt) The adverse effects of social media are too intense not to cling to positivity for the sake of your own mental health and wellbeing as well as for that of others.
The biggest tip to combat the negative effects of social media is by limiting its use. The average person spends 147 minutes on social media per day in 2022, which is the highest it’s ever been. But breaks from social media have been proven to improve well-being and decrease depression and anxiety. Incorporating consistent time away from screens boosts our mental health.
No matter how you use social media, remember what is so enticing about the concept in the first place: connection. The digital, scripted, polished versions of interactions and relationships found on apps cannot provide what real, face-to-face communication can offer. It can serve a purpose and be part of the bigger picture, but as you integrate mental health more into your life, mindful media is a make-or-break piece of the puzzle.
We hate social media. So follow us. 😎 We are invested in integrating mental health into all aspects of life, including on social media. We call it mindful media, and there must be more of it thrown into the mix of all the rest. The world will continue to utilize social media, so the time to push for healthier habits and uplifting edutainment is now. #MindfulMedia