How Social Media Influences and Impacts Our Health

December 01, 2017

Given 15% of users have reported they felt anxious when unable to access their social media accounts and this was twice as high among 18-29 year olds. 19%  of this same age bracket are happy to check social media while eating with family or friends and 11% have felt anxious that their social media footprint might one day come back to bite them.

Social media is a technology tool that when used as such can keep us informed and potentially save us time. Like any potential vice in our lives, if they remain our servants we benefit, if we become dependent or enslaved by it, there is mounting evidence our wellbeing can be adversely affected in many different ways.

Health experts are concerned about the long-term collective effects Social Media is likely to have on our society.  Time spent on Social Media tends to be done sitting still so is likely to make us more inactive, which increases our risks of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and dementia. Physical issues associated with too much time using technology especially keyboard and mouse can include RSI injuries such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Excess time sitting can lead to back and neck problems as well as swollen ankles and varicose veins, or to dangerous blood clots called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Looking at screens too long can lead to eyestrain and weakened eye muscles. Blue light - used by most screen technology devices - has been implicated as the cause of macular degeneration, and the leading cause of vision loss in Australians for over 60 years of age and older. Blue light causes oxidative stress and high levels of oxidative stress are associated with migraines. Blue light from screens close to bedtime can cause disruption in our natural sleep cycles as well. Not only is the quality of sleep altered, so is the quantity. If you’re staying up late posting on Twitter or Facebook, you may be losing valuable amounts of sleep which can seriously affect your concentration, mood, sex drive, energy levels, it ages your skin and increases your chances of gaining unwanted weight. Social media is also dangerously distracting while driving or walking and can cause serious accidents, even death. Serious overuse can even lead to a new but very real condition called digital dimension.  

Ironically, singles use online dating sites to form new relationships and social media may then break them up. Relationship breakdown is a real consequence of inappropriate social media use. When social media becomes the third wheel in a relationship, stealing away one partner’s attention, affection and connection, problems are more likely to surface and be harder to correct. Airing frustrations in your relationship via social media is likely to cause resentments and further relationship breakdown. The more frequent a partner is viewing pictures of perfect specimens of the opposite sex on social media, it diminishes the physical attraction to their ‘real life’ partners who most likely are not airbrushed supermodels. “Family law expert Marie Fedorov told HuffPost Australia she has witnessed a steady increase in the number of separated couples citing the misuse of social media in their divorce proceedings”. Most long-term relationships face enough challenges without additional social media pressures.  

One of the biggest concerns is how it affects our mental health!  We tend to assume social media will generally lift our mood when in fact that is not the case, rather the opposite is shown to be true. Alice Walton in her Forbes article highlighted this, “One study looked at how we make comparisons to others posts, in “upward” or “downward” directions—that is, feeling that we’re either better or worse off than our friends. It turned out that both types of comparisons made people feel worse, which is surprising, since in real life, only upward comparisons (feeling another person has it better than you) makes people feel bad. But in the social network world, it seems that any kind of comparison is linked to depressive symptoms.”

Like alcohol, where a habit of a few extra drinks over time can lead to a destructive drinking habit, social media presents similar threats to our wellbeing and relationships in indiscernible ways. Personally acknowledging that social media can become addictive and emotionally corrosive will help to keep some respectful safeguards in place around its use and how you allow it to impact your life, your friends and family.  Establishing some guidelines with your partner and children about when and where social media use is appropriate and where it is not will keep your ‘real relationships’ strong. Planning regular pre-scheduled breaks or social media free times or days each week is a health habit worth cultivating for yourself and your family. Digital free weekends away and some family holidays should be just about connecting with those we love, not posting to those we barely know. The quality of our life and health is largely determined by the quality of our environment. We need to proactively control how social media becomes part of our environment, deciding what is healthy for us and manage it just as we would alcohol, gambling or junk food.