Health & Fitness My Life

Is Social Media making us sick?

December 14, 2016

When something makes us sick we tend to avoid it, right? Allergic to prawns – you avoid them.  Fabric softener giving you a rash – you avoid it. Dude from Tinder has breath that makes you want to vomit – you avoid him. It’s simple.

So lets say Facebook or Snapchat or one of the other hundreds of social media platforms out there is making you sick, and I’m not talking about the common cold, obvs, lets say they are literally damaging your mental health – could you avoid them? Could you switch off from the online world? Because despite recently realising that social media could be making me ill, I still don’t feel prepared to hang up my hashtags or call it a wrap on the double taps!

Yup, my name is Tink Jayne and I am addicted to Social Media *hangs head in shame*

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Instagram is my favourite platform. I’M OBSESSED! You see I love photography, especially food and travel photography. I love scrolling through beautiful images of jaw-dropping views, or arty flat lays of breakfast tables covered with delicious food, all shared by grammers, bloggers & photographers whose lives I have chosen to ‘subscribe’ to. And in turn I love taking pictures, editing them and then uploading them to those that have chosen to follow my account. I tell myself it’s a hobbie, an art, a bit of fun, but Instagram tends to be one of the first things I look at when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I look at before I go to bed, and a big fat bunch of times inbetween. Oh God, I’m cringing just reading that back.

I’m glad I can’t tell you the exact amount of times I go on it during a day;  I did consider doing some practical research for this post by trying to somehow count how many times I went on Instagram in one day. But I knew that my internal and often subconscious urge to check Instagram would mean I would probably scroll through it multiple times without even registering doing it (and therefore miscount) and that realisation alone was enough to tell me I had a problem.

But why is it making me sick?

Well, I’ve suffered with Anxiety for quite a while now, and as I mentioned in this post I’ve never really been sure why it started, or when exactly, I just know that this was not something I suffered from when I was younger, it has only sprung up in the past few years. But last week when watching an episode of Charlie Brookers Black Mirror, my eyes were opened to a big problem and I began to wonder if my anxiety was linked to my online behaviour.

Titled Nosedive, the episode tells the story of Lacie, an insecure girl living in a world where everyone is rating each other out of five stars via a social media app. The app is installed on phones and in your eyes using contacts, so that you can literally rate everyone you see. The higher your rating, the more popular in society you are and the more access you have to elite services and so on. What you see throughout Charlie Brooker’s fascinating story is a Lacie desperately trying to make it in this completely fake BS world, with people being completely fake to each other (and to themselves) in order to impress everyone else who is being equally as fake, because everyone wants to be a 4.7 or a 4.8 and earn themselves this completely fake life, usually only attainable by the rich, beautiful or famous. We see Lacie mentally and emotionally struggle, yet she can’t even see herself the damage it is doing to her (sound familiar?)

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Honestly, watching this episode was not only like looking into Mystic Megs shiny ball and seeing a very scary future, one starved of genuine conversation and human interaction, but watching Lacie battle her insecurities and desperately strive for five star ratings, was like a glimpse into a part of my life I hadn’t wanted to look at.

Is that me? Am I hunting the approval of strangers? Am I desperately seeking double taps, thumbs up and floating hearts because I’m insecure? Are we all spending so much time presenting this filtered version of our lives online, and craving the perfect lives of others, that as a result we are now struggling to feel connected in the real world?

Even Twitter can prompt feelings of self-doubt. Personally I find Twitter the most relaxed of my social apps. For me Twitter is more of a safe place of shared jokes, GIF’s and self-loathing one-liners; usually poking fun at our own cringey mistakes or #FML moments. But even then, there is a pressure to be funny and witty. As much as I would love to admit that my tweets just roll off my tongue, they don’t. There is no doubt in my mind that I’m waaaaay funnier in my 140 characters than I am in my actual real life when I talk to people. Twitter doesn’t let me stutter my words or mess up the punch line. Twitter delivers my well thought up humour in one quick witty sentence. But even then, these supposed ‘random’ musings – are they really random or am I really seeking likes, retweets and responses from my peers?

A quick Google search brought up the results of many studies that are proving depression and anxiety can be linked to social media, causing our comunication skills to decrease,  our confidence to be knocked and giving us low self-esteem.

According to this article on Forbes.com people who are already dealing with depression will use social media to fill a void, but even people not dealing with it can still become depressed if over exposed to social media because: “highly idealized representations of peers on social media elicits feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier, more successful lives.”

Basically we are all glaring into each others lives wondering why our own life doesn’t look like that.

Facebook is another platform I’ve found myself becoming more addicted to over the past few months. Just yesterday I watched this video on my newsfeed, shared by Channel 4 news who had been interviewing Mothers battling loneliness and discussing mental health issues. One Mum told the news team that she was incredibly lonely and stressed, especially being stuck at home by herself all day with a crying baby, but she admitted that if her baby smiled even for just two seconds, she would snap a picture to upload to Facebook with a comment saying “I’m so lucky”. Why? Because she felt bad about feeling lonely, guilty in fact, and she wanted to make out like everything was well.

What if we are all just lying to each other? What if all the Mums are looking at the Single status updates thinking ‘I wish I was doing that’ and what if all the singles are scrolling through the Baby pics, thinking ‘I wish I had one of those’?? But of course if anyone was to admit this in a Facebook update, a tweet or an instagram post (Help I’m lonely/depressed/stressed/struggling/jobless/friend-less…) you can run the risk of being seen as attention seeking. Or run the risk of having zero response, which can spark further depression. Which is worse?

Is it easier to go along with the lie?

Who the fudge knows? All I know is that I need to cut back on my time spent on social media. I love editing pictures and admiring the photography of others, but I’m essentially spending my life scrolling through glimpses of other peoples lives rather than living my own. Honestly? I don’t think I will ever be able to give up Instagram completely, my passion for pictures is too much, BUT I will be making it a New Years resolution to drastically cut back on it, and Facebook, in fact all social media. If these so called social platforms are linked to my anxiety, to my inability to be completely social IRL and are contributing to my insecurities, then I need to make  huge effort to replace this habit with a more positive and fulfilling hobby.

Will you be doing the same?

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Worried about your Social Media Addiction? Depression? Anxiety? Here are a few links that might help if you want to seek professional help:

  • The Mental Health Foundation has contacts and plenty of information with answers to questions you may have surrounding Social Media Addiction, Depression or Anxiety
  • As do the organisation MIND
  • Ditch the Label is an anti-bullying charity that also helps those affected by online bullying

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