Spending too much time on social media can make you lonely and depressed

Some social media users meticulously curate every aspect of their life – from their picture-perfect breakfast to the coolest drinks at the hottest parties. But a recent study shows that spending too much time on social media can make some users feel lonely and depressed.

The research, led by a team from the University of Pennsylvania, was published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

Too good to be true: Is social media bad for your mental health?

According to the study, spending too much time browsing social media feeds – which can be full of carefully staged “candid” photos – can make you feel like your own life isn’t exciting or fulfilling. This feeling of inadequacy may then result in loneliness or even depression.

In the study, researchers determined that there was a link between social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat and well-being. Melissa Hunt, a psychologist and associate director at UPenn’s psychology department, explained that this particular study was more thorough compared to past research that assessed the influence impact of social media on user health.

In the study, researchers analyzed data from 143 UPenn students aged 18 to 22. All of the participants were instructed to complete a survey so the researchers could find out their general mood disposition.

The scientists also used the survey data to analyze factors that affect well-being, like the level of anxiety and loneliness. Additionally, the research team used the survey data to determine the average time each of the volunteers spent on social media.

For the experiment, the participants were divided into two groups. The control group included users who maintained their typical social media consumption. Meanwhile, the second group limited their time on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to only 10 minutes daily. The researchers gathered data by tracking usage automatically via the participants’ iPhones.

The experiment lasted three weeks, and every week the participants shared their iPhone data so the researchers could tally each person’s social media usage time. The researchers also assessed seven measures of well-being, such as anxiety, depression, the fear of missing out, and loneliness. (Related: The social media paradox: Teens who are always online feel more lonely.)

The study findings indicate that spending less time on social media is linked to “significant decreases in both depression and loneliness.” Hunt noted that these effects are noticeable in the users who were more depressed when they first joined the study.

Socialize in the real world to improve your mental health

If you’re online 24/7, the thought of spending less time on Facebook might seem like an impossible task.

Hunt explained that some of the existing literature on social media suggests that your usage is linked to unhealthy amounts of social comparison. Seeing someone’s perfect feed on Instagram can make you feel like your own life isn’t as exciting, which can make you feel lonely or even depressed.

While the study involved young adults, it’s possible that other age groups will feel better about their own lives if they also spend less time browsing social media. Even if you’re younger or older than the age group involved in this study, you can still benefit from a social media detox.

Hunt shared that spending less time on Facebook means you can limit your opportunities for social comparison. She added, “When you’re not busy getting sucked into clickbait social media, you’re actually spending more time on things that are more likely to make you feel better about your life.”

Hunt said that even if social media becomes a constant in the lives of other people, you can decide to limit your social media usage to improve your mental health. She concluded that the best way to beat depression due to social comparison is to go offline and spend more time with your friends.

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