These days, it can be hard for people to connect, and while social media offers a means of connection, too often social media use is harmful rather than helpful. As a local psychiatrist, I have seen a clear link between depression and anxiety and social media usage, and many studies also support this link.
To be fair, everything on social media is not dangerous or even undesirable. Some of the content can be fun, informative and even encourage people to expand their ideas and try new activities. Social media also provides us with an easy way to engage with friends and family that we may not get to see often. Additionally, we might find others who are dealing with similar issues as ourselves, and this can help us feel less alone in the world.
The problem arises when we begin to overuse social media or when we use social media in place of forming real connections with human beings. Social media also can become addictive, and this isn’t just an issue with children or teens. Older adults can become just as addicted to social media, and the results can be equally toxic.
How Does Social Media Affect Our Mental Health?
Multiple studies show that heavy social media users suffer from far greater rates of depression and anxiety than those who rarely use social media. Many of these studies also show that levels of depression and anxiety intensified after heavy social media use.
There could be many reasons for this increase in depression symptoms and greater anxiety. For instance, the more you use social media the more likely you are to be barraged by upsetting news stories and images, which can cause one to feel more anxious or hopeless.
Social media content often showcases glamourous or seemingly “perfect” lives where people are always good-looking, wealthy and full of energy. These people are always on the go, having amazing adventures or they have happy, seemingly idyllic lives.
Anyone can present a “perfect” image online, but the reality is that all of us have problems and challenges. What you see online is rarely a fair representation of someone’s actual life, but little snippets that they choose to show. Social media also often glamorizes serious issues such as drug and alcohol use or mental disorders such as eating disorders.
It can be especially difficult for younger people to separate this fiction from fact. Pre-teens and teens are not complete in their emotional or physical development, and as such, their brains are developed enough to handle many aspects of social media.
For children and young adults, the cyberworld also is a huge source of bullying and this can have an enormous impact on mental health. People on social media basically say whatever they want, and often the comments are hurtful. This can have a huge impact on a younger person’s self-esteem. Likewise, people often feel rejected if their social media content attracts little attention.
Social Media “Advice”
As an experienced anxiety psychiatrist and depression psychiatrist, as well as treating ADHD and bipolar disorder, I find one of the most disturbing aspects of social media, the barrage of so-called medical and mental health experts that are happy to diagnose your mental disorders or provide you with advice on how to treat whatever disorder you might have.
Rarely, is this advice sound and rarely is the advice given by trained professionals. I cannot stress enough that medical advice on social media is rarely accurate. Again, people can say just about anything on social media without providing any evidence.
I know that there is content out there that can help destigmatize mental illness, and this can be helpful, but, in general, I strongly urge people from following advice from so-called experts on Facebook, Tik Tok and other social media sites. Rarely, is it helpful, and it’s often inaccurate and dangerous.
How Much Social Media Is Too Much?
As a local psychiatrist that specializes in treatment for anxiety and depression, I see many patients that spend several hours a day on various social media sites. Typically, I recommend taking a complete break from social media once in a while and limiting your time on social media sites to 30 minutes or less per day. For some people, even this amount might be too much.
I don’t recommend starting off your day with a trip to your favorite social media sites. It’s best to enjoy a morning cup of tea, a brisk walk around the block or perhaps enjoy a crossword puzzle rather than head online to see what others are doing or what atrocities the world has unleased that day.
While we cannot turn our back on the world, we can start each day with practices that provide us with a more positive mindset. We are better able to tackle our day-to-day routine if we start off each day in the healthiest way possible.
It also can be wise to shut off your phone or electronic devices entirely in the evenings and switch over to more relaxing activities, such as taking a bath, listening to soft music or perhaps just chatting with a loved one. Spend a few minutes writing down thoughts in a journal or enjoy a quiet activity such as a game of chess or reading a book.
Take A Break & Seek Support
If you are suffering from depression and/or anxiety, my first bit of advice is to take a social media break and, instead, contact an experienced professional for help. Depression and anxiety are biological diseases that are treatable, and a trained local psychiatrist can help.
I recommend seeking out psychiatric care initially because psychiatrists are able to look at the whole patient from both a medical and mental health perspective. As medical doctors, we can assess your overall health and determine if there are any physical issues that might be contributing to your anxiety or depression. We also are the only professionals that can provide you with medication should that be a necessary component of your mental health treatment.
Psychiatrists typically do not provide actual therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and talk therapy. We provide a thorough diagnosis and create a treatment plan that addresses your anxiety and depression as well as any co-occurring disorders and this may or may not include medication management.
Psychologists and therapists are licensed mental health professionals that can provide you with these services, and they can be just as beneficial as medication because they provide you with coping mechanisms and also provide you with an outlet to discuss your feelings in a safe, supportive space.
In Lieu of Social Media . . .
It can be tough for people with depression to get out in the world and be active, which is one reason social media is often heavily used by people suffering from depression. Still, there are better activities that have been shown to alleviate depression. So shut off your device and consider the following:
Exercise – Just about any type of exercise can be beneficial. Exercise releases endorphins and these help to boost our mood. Additionally, just heading outdoors can boost our mood. Even if you just make it once around the block, this can be beneficial. Yoga and breathing exercises also can be a great way to reduce depression symptoms, as well as anxiety.
Structure – Creating a daily plan can help us stay on task, but it also can provide a sense of security. This doesn’t have to be complicated routine that includes huge, daunting tasks. Just start out simple with tasks such as making your bed, eating a healthy breakfast, taking the dog for a walk and paying the bills.
Clean The House – For people with depression, it is very easy for them to avoid housecleaning and organizing tasks, which of course, just makes the depression worse. However, physical cleaning tasks actually get the heart pumping which can boost your mood.
Even just cleaning up one single room of your house can boost your mood because you did something cardiovascular and accomplished something at the same time. Just tackle one space such as a single bathroom or just wash the dirty dishes and clean off counters. Even just emptying the trash can be a goal. Believe it or not, this can make you feel better.
Make Connections – This can be so difficult for people with anxiety and depression, I know. People need people and social media interactions are not a complete substitute for real interaction with a live person. Even if you can’t meet in person, schedule a zoom call even if it’s just for a quick chat and cup of coffee.
Volunteer – Helping others can make you feel better, and volunteering doesn’t have to be complicated. Every community has volunteer opportunities from helping out at a pet recue, a local food bank or perhaps taking part in a beach cleanup event. You can meet other people and take your mind off of your problems, even if only for a few hours.
Eat A Healthy Diet – A healthy varied diet can improve our mental health as well as our physical health. While it can be difficult for people with depression to shop for food and cook, try to limit processed foods and excess sugar.
Some studies suggest that foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can boost your mental health. Foods rich in selenium also might be beneficial, as some studies have shown that people with depression tend to have lower selenium levels.
Keep in mind, while the above tips aren’t cures for depression, they can alleviate symptoms and certainly provide more help than time spent on social media. The best treatment plans incorporate these strategies as well as therapy and often medication.
Get Help Today!
If you are suffering from depression, anxiety, I encourage you to seek mental health care because treatment can be successful, and you deserve a happier, healthier life. As local psychiatrist in Thousand Oaks, I offer in-person visits for patients throughout Los Angeles, but I also provide telepsychiatry services for patients in any location. Using a virtual psychiatrist can be an easy way to find a psychiatrist that best suits your needs.
Dr Jesalva is a psychiatrist. He is in private practice in Thousand Oaks, CA since 1989. He successfully treats very challenging patients with varying co-occurring disorders with medications.