As college students and as young people, social media can seem like an incredibly important part of our lives. Every day we witness our friends and family posting their experiences on social media platforms. Other’s vacations, parties and concerts become a part of the media stream we are exposed to every day. However, what you may see on social media is often far from the truth.
While it is true that social media sites such as Instagram, Facebook and TikTok, among others, can be useful tools for marketing groups such as clubs or organizations, there is also a very toxic side to social media that lies underneath the surface. Oftentimes when we see our friends and family post on social media, we are only being shown the best or most presentable bits and pieces of their lives. We are rarely shown anything on social media other than absolute perfection and happiness. We are not able to see real life on social media. We rarely witness heartbreak, sadness or anything that portrays us in a negative light. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and jealousy, causing not only issues with our relationships— but with ourselves as well. Too much social media use may lead to comparison, which then may lead to self-esteem issues.
Besides general self esteem issues, social media may also be contributing to a more significant issue: eating disorders. Sites such as TikTok, Instagram and Tumblr have all been known to promote uncensored content showcasing emaciated bodies, dangerous diet plans and tips and tricks on how to become thinner. Oftentimes this type of content is geared towards teens and young adults, which can negatively impact one’s mental health for years to come.
In a study by U.S. News regarding teenagers’ social media use in relation to eating habits, researchers stated that “Among the students studied, strict exercise, skipping meals and other behaviors associated with eating disorders were reported by almost 52% of girls and 45% of boys. Of all the teens, over 75% of girls and nearly 70% of boys had at least one social media account. A greater number of social media accounts was associated with higher scores for both thoughts and behaviors linked to eating disorders.” While the presence of eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors are certainly not solely caused by social media, the negative effects of social media can only contribute to the formation of these issues.
While social media has its share of negative aspects, there are steps you can take to safeguard your mental health in the realm of social media. For instance, you can use filtering features to block words such as “diet” and “weight loss” — among any other topics that you may find triggering. You can also block and unfollow any triggering accounts or individuals that you may find harmful to your mental health. Finally, you can set limits for yourself in order to lessen the amount of time that is spent on social media platforms and apps, either on your own or using the settings in each app.
Today, our world is run by technology and social media. It permeates every aspect of our lives and culture; and while social media can be used for good, it can also cause an entire slew of issues. It is important to tailor and monitor your own social media usage in order to best help your own mental health. Be sure to use social media in a way that is reasonable and healthy for you in order to give yourself the best shot at being mentally well and positively minded.