Given the variety of social media platforms out there, it is quite fair to assume that we are all involved in the social media world in one form or another. Social media accounts have evolved significantly during the past decade as now there are multiple different platforms where we share our thoughts, activities, needs, and important life decisions and changes. Having these social media accounts available through our phone app makes it even more accessible. Seeing that our use of social media platforms have become more frequent than ever before, it can be important to explore how is our relationship with social media and how it may be influencing our lives, mood, and personalities. This isn’t a post that would put social media on a pedestal or criticize its existence; but more so to explore its benefits vs. costs.
There are undeniable benefits of social media. Social media for many years now has become an effective platform for connection. It has allowed us to connect with families that may live far or stay in touch with friends who have pursued different paths in life. I remember those first few years after moving to the States in late 90s when I was writing letters back and forth with my best friends. With many different social media platforms, we can stay connected with the tip of our fingerprints. Social media seem to also play a crucial role in reducing the stigma around mental health. Many people share their personal struggles and experiences in social media that has an undeniable positive impact on topics that use to be a taboo. These stories are especially impactful when they remind us that we are not alone and that we can find the courage to win the battles we may be fighting secretly. Social media platforms can strengthen feelings of acceptance and diversity if used effectively.
So why do I have mixed feelings when there are so many benefits? Like most things, there are two sides to it. Social media can have a negative influence on people’s lives. It feels as though more than ever we compare ourselves to each other only to either judge and shame the other person or feel not good enough about ourselves. Knowing where people are eating or what they are wearing or doing has created endless opportunities to compare and contrast. This comparison can have a significant negative impact on our self-esteem as we may end up feeling inadequate, unsuccessful, and not good enough, which can lead to depression and anxiety. I identified connection as one of the advantages of today’s social media world. However, one can also argue that social media gives as an illusion of control. Let’s think about this, how often do you “feel” like you are in close communication and or contact with someone simply because you “know” about their lives from their social media posts and engagements. Imagine if you haven’t read or seen a post/picture from a close friend lately, will you be more likely to think “hey I haven’t heard from her for a while, I wonder what she is up to” I sometimes wonder knowing about our friend’s lives and whereabouts through social media posts and pictures sends messages to our mind that we are “connected” where as we may have not actually seen them for a while or call them. In addition, social media has become a venue in which cyber-bullying occurs. According to statistics on cyber-bullying, 34 percent of students acknowledge that they have experienced cyber-bullying (www.teensafe.com).
Unfortunately, there is not a quick solution to the benefits vs. costs of being active on social media. However, this important discussion can help us become more aware of our actions and ask ourselves some important questions. How can I find a balance in utilizing social media? How can I set healthy boundaries where we can take advantage of staying connected but not be enmeshed in the culture of judgment and comparison that can hurt us? Do you feel like your relationship with social media has caused you stressed or hurt relationships around you? We can address these issues in therapy sessions to improve the overall quality of your life.