The Effects of Social Media on Psychological Well-being
Published on 4th June, 2019 by Muhammad Haikal Bin Jamil
Understanding social media use in Singapore and its effects
Singapore is one the world’s most active consumer of social media. About 7 in 10 Singaporeans are active users of social media (Ngu, 2019). Singaporeans who own at least 1 social media account spend an average of 2 hours and 27 minutes on social media every day. As the prevalence of social media increases, there is also growing concerns about its negative effects. In particular, much of the attention has been on the negative psychological outcomes of social media usage.
With social media, it only takes a few taps to know what our friends and acquaintances are up to. As we scroll through Facebook and see others boast about their mouth-watering meals, exotic holiday destinations, and sweet love life, it is easy to fall into the traps of social comparison. According to social comparison theory, we determine our self-worth based on how we compare to the people around us. Humans are social animals, and this is very much hardwired in our systems. We become insecure especially when we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel. Often times, we forget that people only put the beautiful side of their lives online. As the old adage goes, the grass is always greener on the other side. Unfortunately, this leads to a false and unrealistic sense of what an ideal lifestyle entails. When we internalise such an ideal, it results in great dissatisfaction.
Dissatisfaction with Life
A negative effect of envy is that it tends to put people in bad moods. With sustained usage of social media, this can accumulate and result in a general dissatisfaction towards life. Research found that the use of social media is associated with depressed moods when negative social comparison is involved. This association was found across several platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (Appel, Gerlach & Crusius, 2016; Lim & Yang, 2015; Lup, Trup & Rosenthai, 2015) The danger of social media lies in how it drives a never-ending pursuit of “happiness”. We think that by following the latest hype and fitting our lives into a certain ideal of “fun”, “pretty”, or “successful”, we would be happy. Have you ever thought to yourself, “If only my nose was a little taller and waist a little smaller – then I’ll be happy!” Over time, it can result in an unhealthy mentality that your life is never good enough, because there is always something else that you want. When we try to go after these things and fail, we feel even more inadequate. Even if we succeed, we do not feel as “happy” as we thought we would be, and the next thing comes along, creating another hole of dissatisfaction in our lives.
Negative Effects on Mental Health
Research suggests that young people who spend more than 2 hours per day on social media are more likely to report poor mental health. With reference to the statistics mentioned at the beginning of the article, it appears that youth in Singapore are especially vulnerable to poor mental health.
There are several ways in which social media can contribute to poor mental health outcomes:
Firstly, adolescence is a vulnerable period where individuals are very susceptible to low self-esteem. At the age where individuals struggle to find their identity, upward social comparison and negative feedback on social media has great impacts on adolescents’ sense of esteem and worth. Furthermore, adolescents who are emotionally invested in social media are also more likely to be at risk of low self-esteem (Woods & Scott, 2016). This could lead to what is known as social media anxiety disorder – experiencing unsettling feelings when one is unable to check social media and causing significant disruptions to one’s life.
Secondly, individuals can become addicted to social media. Studies have shown that social media addiction is associated with similar alterations in brain anatomy as substance-abuse and gambling addiction (He, Turel & Bechara, 2017). Addiction can also contribute to poor outcomes such as general anxiety, social anxiety, and even obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Lastly, extensive usage of social media can disrupt sleep and poor quality of sleep is known to contribute to anxiety and depression.
How to Reduce the Negative Effects of Social Media
There are some simple measures that you can take to reduce the negative effects of social media:
• Firstly, remember that what you see on the Internet is not necessarily an accurate representation of someone’s life.
• Secondly, refrain from social comparison. If you face strong feelings of dissatisfaction and unhappiness, it is advisable to take a break from social media.
• Lastly, reduce the time spent on social media. Resist the urge to browse social media whenever you are idle. Instead, engage in other activities in your free time, such as exercising and going out with friends.
Appel, H., Gerlach, A. L., & Crusius, J. (2016). The interplay between Facebook use, social comparison, envy, and depression. Current Opinion in Psychology, 9, 44–49. doi: 10.1016/j.copsyc.2015.10.006
He, Q., Turel, O., & Bechara, A. (2017). Brain anatomy alterations associated with Social Networking Site (SNS) addiction. Scientific Reports, 7(1). doi:10.1038/srep45064
Lim, M., & Yang, Y. (2015). Effects of users’ envy and shame on social comparison that occurs on social network services. Computers in Human Behavior, 51(Part A), 300–311. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2015.05.013
Lup, K., Trub, L., & Rosenthal, L. (2015). Instagram #instasad?: exploring associations among instagram use, depressive symptoms, negative social comparison, and strangers followed. Cyberpsychology, Behavior And Social Networking, 18(5), 247–252. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2014.0560
Ngu, T. (2019, April 05). Social Media Landscape in Singapore (2019). Retrieved from https://hashmeta.com/blog/social-media-landscape-in-singapore-2019/
Woods, H. C. and Scott, H. (2016) #Sleepyteens: social media use in adolescence is associated with poor sleep quality, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Journal of Adolescence, 51, pp. 41-49.
Article written with Tay Shi Ying. Shi Ying is a psychology undergraduate at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and aspiring clinical psychologist undergoing internship with ImPossible Psychological Services. She is supervised by our senior clinical psychologist, Haikal.