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Does Social Media Lead to Depression?

[This article was written with Dr. Lindsay Henderson, Director of Psychological Services for Amwell] There’s plenty to love about social media. It’s a great way...
Does Social Media Lead to Depression?
Written By: Kate Finkelston on April 23, 2019

[This article was written with Dr. Lindsay Henderson, Director of Psychological Services for Amwell]

There’s plenty to love about social media. It’s a great way to share family photos and catch up on what’s going on in the world, but it can also bring up uncomfortable feelings of depression and anxiety, especially if you’ve been spending hours on Instagram gazing at your friend’s new car or her trip to Santorini.

“Feeling like you’re missing out on something or feeling like others have something you don’t can contribute to low self-esteem issues,” says Dr. Lindsay Henderson, Amwell’s Director of Psychological Services.

In fact, more and more studies are identifying a causal link between social media and depression. When other people’s lives look perfect online, it’s easy to conclude that they’re happier than you are, but the truth is that people rarely post boring, real-life photos or sad stories on their social media channels.

Telltale signs that you might be spending too much time on your favorite social media channels, like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, are depression and anxiety, as well as difficulty concentrating. The same holds true for children, says Henderson. One study showed that young adults who went on social media platforms more than 58 times a week were three times more likely to feel socially isolated compared to those who used social media fewer than nine times per week.

“We do see that a lot of kids are negatively impacted by social media,” she says. “Childhood and adolescence are formative times, when young people identify who they are, build independence and differentiate themselves from their family and parents.”

Fortunately, curbing the use of social media can go a long a way to restoring confidence and concentration. You might also be surprised to find out that you feel far less lonely than when you’re scrolling your Instagram feed.

Tip 1: Limit screen time

If you find yourself checking social media habitually, consider cutting back on your screen time, especially if you’re having trouble with one-on-one communication or if your relationships are suffering. Whether that means deleting Facebook’s mobile app or canceling your Snapchat account, studies show that limiting your usage can go a long way to minimizing your anxiety.

“The good news is that technology is helping us moderate our behavior,” Henderson says.

For example, it’s incredibly easy to track how much time you’re spending online with the iPhone, which tracks your weekly screen time. Try starting small. Take a day off, then a few more days, then a week. Before you know it, you’ll be running without Snapchat for a whole month.

Tip 2: Pay attention to how social media makes you feel

Henderson says that it’s important to pay attention to our feelings when we’re on social media. Feeling sad or depressed may indicate that it’s time to take a break or maybe even delete the apps that make you feel terrible all-together. Some apps may affect you differently than others do.

“We go through life experiencing emotions and thinking our thoughts, but we don’t put two and two together,” Henderson says. “Notice how you’re feeling when scrolling through Instagram. If you take a break for an hour or a day–does that change the way you feel?”

Tip 3: Turn off notifications

It takes a whole lot of willpower to ignore a cheerful phone that’s lighting up with messages or dinging loudly. Silence it—you’ll be less tempted to check in to see what you’re missing online. Or better yet: Try putting your phone in another room. Out of sight, out of mind.

Tip 4: Try a mindfulness app instead

If you’ve decided to delete your social media accounts, you still might find yourself reaching for your phone for a fix. If you are having trouble spending less time on your phone, consider replacing your social apps with a fitness tracker to reach your exercise goals or a meditation app to become more mindful.

“We used to read books and hand-write in notebooks, which was great for focusing attention,” Henderson says. “Try sitting down to meditate or complete a simple task without distractions. It’s great for building concentration.”

If those options aren’t working, you may benefit from talking to a therapist. Working through your specific feelings one-on-one with a professional can go a long way in getting you the help you need to feel better again, without any distractions. Give therapy a try today with online visits on Amwell.