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How Is Social Media Affecting Your Health?

How Is Social Media Affecting Your Health?

Your day starts with closing your alarm and scrolling Facebook half-asleep. You book an Uber to your office to avoid the hassle of haggling with auto drivers. You order your lunch from Swiggy, which has a plethora of options and discounts. And after getting back home, you unwind with Netflix.

In short, your life begins and ends with the Internet.

With over 560 million users, India ranks second-highest on internet usage, falling only behind China. A major growth driver is the availability of cheap data plans. According to TRAI, mobile data prices have fallen by 95% in the last five years. It is no wonder that our country has the largest number of Facebook users, with 270 million Indians using the app.

Today, social media has become like the air we breathe. The Merriam-Webster (2014) defines it as, “forms of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content.” From sharing photos of our last vacation on Instagram to updating our status on Facebook, from tweeting about politics to messaging on Whatsapp, we are online 24/7. Yet, there are downsides to using it too much. Some of the ways social media impacts us negatively are:

Cyberbullying

It is a form of bullying and harassment that happens on digital devices like computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets. The accessibility and anonymity of digital platforms makes it a double-edged sword, allowing nasty comments, false information, unwarranted threats and rumors to fester. By being targeted, the person feels humiliated, embarrassed and sometimes compelled to commit suicide. According to a study by Symantec, India experiences the most cyberbullying in the Asia-Pacific region, with almost 8 out of 10 people being cyberbullied.

Envy

Comparing ourselves to others is the perfect breeding ground for the green-eyed monster. Social media has created a new phenomenon called “Facebook Envy’, the painful feeling when you see others’ posts on Facebook and think their lives are more exciting, successful and worthwhile than yours. Who hasn’t felt envious when someone posts a status update about their new job or their pictures from a foreign vacation? Turns out, one in three people felt worse after browsing through Facebook according to a German study.

Low Self Esteem and Eating disorders

A study says that Instagram is the worst platform for mental health, which is interesting because it is largely visual in nature. We use the spotless faces with perfectly proportioned (and photoshopped) bodies as a measuring stick.  We also measure our physical appearance with the number of likes and comments, thus becoming dependent on external, rather than internal validation. This can result in poor body image and eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, particularly among teenagers. It is disturbing to know that 25-40% of girls and 20% of boys in Indian schools show disordered eating.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

It is an acronym for the anxiety caused by not participating in social events, either because you weren’t invited or you were unable to attend. Social media fuels FOMO because now, you can actually see what you are missing out on. Our need to be included becomes overwhelming, especially when it is not being met. A 2014 study by Tata Communications states that a whopping 82% of Indians feel FOMO when they are not online.

Loneliness

The natural consequence of FOMO is loneliness, which occurs when there is a mismatch between the ideal level of social interaction and the actual social interaction in a person’s life (Bhat, 2018). “It is surprising then, that in spite of this enhanced interconnectivity, young adults may be lonelier than other age groups, and that the current generation (millennials) may be the loneliest ever” says a 2016 study on social media and loneliness in the US. Ironically, ‘social’ media is making us less social. There is a lack of data on this phenomenon in India, but anecdotes and narratives suggest that chronic loneliness is a growing problem.

 

Physical Health

Being cooped up in our homes and peering into smartphones means less physical activity, and the statistics don’t lie. A study says that one-third of Indians had not engaged in physical activity even once in the past year! When asked why, 58% said they did not have the time. Interestingly, the same people spent four to five hours on social media, messages, phone calls and TV. Such a sedentary lifestyle can lead to chronic health problems like obesity and heart disease in the long run.

 

Sleep

Smartphones emit blue light, which interferes with the circadian cycle and forces the brain to stay awake at night. According to IAF Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa, Indian pilots are sleep deprived because of spending long hours on social media. In this case, lack of sleep can interfere with daily functioning and prove fatal.

Today, India is the most depressed country in the world (WHO). Increased use of social media is certainly not helping and in fact, adding to the mental and physical health woes. A recent study on Indian teenagers showed that using too much social networking sites leads to social media fatigue, which in turn resulted in depression and anxiety (Dhir et al.,2018).

 

So, how do we reduce the impact of social media?

Here are few tips that may help you limit the negative impact and improve quality of your social media experience.

  • Keep in mind that what you see is not what you believe on social media. Everything is carefully curated, edited and photoshopped. The ‘perfection’ you are striving for- whether it’s the perfect body, the perfect career or the perfect life-doesn’t even exist! As the quote goes, “Stop comparing your behind-the-scenes with everyone’s highlight reel.”
  • Try to replace the time you spend on social media with other activities. You must have heard this advice endlessly, but exercise! Physical activity releases endorphins or the ‘feel-good’ hormone. You can also take up a hobby. By attending classes and workshops, you get to meet people with common interests and expand your ‘offline’ social circle.
  • Do a digital detox, by uninstalling all your social media platforms at least once a month. Trust me, you’re not missing out on anything! As ironic as it sounds, there are certain apps that track usage and block social media apps after you have used it for too long. Some of these apps are ‘Digital Well-being’ and ‘Forest’. Instagram has an in-built feature that tracks how much you use it over the week as well as your average screen time.
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