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How to protect your mental health from social media dangers

Social media has proven to be a boon in many ways. This tremendously popular interactive platform enables us to effectively connect. Through social media, we can create and share ideas and information in copious amounts and, even more amazingly, in real time.

And yet, along with its draws come its drawbacks—and they can be devastating.

The advances in internet technology alongside the social media boom have allowed anyone with anything to say to gain access to your mind—anytime and anywhere.

Statistics show that the average person spends a minimum of 145 minutes a day on social media. The hours stretch even longer for Millenials who are on social media at least 3.8 hours every day and for members of Gen Z who spend a daily average of 4.5 hours going through various social media platforms. This article will explore how that can be damaging to your mental health as well as how to protect your mind from the dangers of social media.

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The impact on mental health

Social media platforms work on the principle of intermittent reinforcement and can be highly addictive. Every time you’re on social media, your brain’s reward centre is activated, releasing a feel-good chemical called dopamine linked to pleasurable activities like eating and having sex. Because the outcome is unpredictable, you’re likely to keep coming back, much like how it is with gambling.

Your anticipation of a potential future reward will eclipse your fear of receiving or finding out about any negative feedback or info. For women already experiencing anxiety during periods from hormonal fluctuations, such negativity can even be more stressful.

People get on social media to feel that they belong. So, naturally, there is that tendency to make comparisons of oneself versus others to ensure that you aren’t “falling behind” what is acceptable, and therefore, likeable and desirable. This also segues into FOMO or the fear of missing out on experiences.

Many social media images and posts are artfully curated to look perfect. People who see these impossible standards of perfection tend to feel excluded, that they’re missing out, or that they are not enough and may never be.

Such feelings can lead to stress, anxiety, and even depression. A study reported that young adults and teenagers, who spent the most time on Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms, were more likely to be depressed (13% to 66% higher probability) than those who spent the least time.

Other results are disrupted sleep patterns and memory loss. When mental health is impaired, the effects can also extend to physical health, such as nausea, headaches, and muscle tension. How do you then protect your mental health from such social media dangers?

Protecting yourself from social media dangers

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1. Be intentional with your use

Social media can be used to uplift others, to help those who are in need, or to send positive messages that can make a difference in someone else’s day. Or it can be a source of fun and entertainment. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with going online to connect, learn, or have fun.

But it may be a good idea to know why you’re online to begin with. Knowing your specific purpose will keep you from surfing endlessly. The longer you stay online, the higher the risk of exposure to negative and even potentially distressing and harmful content.

If your intention for checking in is to post something in support of a friend’s business ventures or to greet someone on their birthday, do just that and then leave. Your calmer mind and heart will thank you for it.

2. Remember that it is impossible to please everyone every time

Not even Barack and Michelle Obama, the world’s most admired man and woman in a 2020 YouGov poll, are without their fair share of detractors. No matter what circles you move in or regardless of how simple or how complicated your life is, you’re bound to encounter someone who will disagree with you.

Each one of us is beautifully distinct. We are all different in one way or another—and that’s perfectly okay. Just imagine how boring and mind-numbing a nondescript world would be.

Also, many people are unhappy with their own lives and may likely just be finding an outlet to vent their frustrations on. Help them and yourself by steering clear of them or, at the very least, by minimizing your interactions with them. Do distinguish between feedback from people who you know truly care for you from careless words uttered by individuals who may hardly know you. You know whose words matter more.

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3. Set a limit on your social media time

It’s easy to be on Netflix for several hours, scroll through a gazillion movies, and end up not deciding on a single one. Social media can work similarly. Because there are so many possibilities and distractions, you can keep going through different social media accounts and platforms only to realize that half your day just went by mindlessly.

Avoid the social media time trap by putting a cap on how much time you spend on it. Perhaps you can partner with a buddy to help you be accountable for your weekly social media schedule.

One effective way to stick to your resolve is by replacing social media with an activity or hobby that can be equally or even more pleasurable and productive. Try invigorating offline activities like exercising, which has the added benefit of releasing happiness hormones called endorphins. Or you can just chill by spending more quality time with your family and friends.

4. Create a self-care routine

The importance of taking care of yourself cannot be stressed enough. When you practice self-care, you are also better able to care for your loved ones.

One way to do so is by crafting a regular bedtime routine. Having enough quality sleep enables your body to regenerate cells and tissue and basically repair itself, allowing the brain to reconsolidate and function properly.

Keep gadgets away at least an hour or so before getting into bed. Bring down the temperature as well as the dark blinds to induce your body to slow down. Take a soothing warm bath and have a sip of chamomile tea to lessen stress and anxiety.

Carve out quality “me-time,” where you can just pull back and breathe. Giving yourself the time and space to just relax and smell the roses can help validate your worth to the person who needs the most convincing—you.

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Parting thoughts

Like money, social media is not inherently evil. It is your use of it which makes it either good or bad. By changing the way you interact with it and by being kinder to yourself, you can protect your mental health from social media dangers. The question is, will you let social media manage you—or will you seize control and take over your life? The choice is absolutely yours to make.

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