Social media has become an intrinsic and for the most part unavoidable part of our society and has had an effect on everything from our livelihood to our mental health and wellbeing. As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re going to look at the link between social media and loneliness and what we can do to avoid feelings of loneliness and isolation born from social media.
The Link Between Social Media and Loneliness
The internet itself is full of research regarding the link between social media and loneliness and decreased mental health or wellbeing. From research published on SAGE journals to Harvard studies to articles on the Centre for Mental Health UK, we know there’s a definitive link between overuse of social media and feelings of anxiety, depression, loneliness and isolation. In particular, this study noted that it was younger generations, who have grown up with social media, who now have higher levels of loneliness when using the varying platforms.
But why does social media cause this feeling of loneliness when one of the major selling points of social media in the first place is the increased ability for connection? It has a lot to do with the social media we are absorbing. When we seek out social media to use in place of our real-life relationships, we move away from using social media to stay connected and use it instead as the relationship we are connecting with. Between FOMO causing near-constant checking on what everyone is doing to comparing our own lives to the ‘picture-perfect’ Insta-realities presented on screen, we are flooding our brains with information that doesn’t actually let us connect but places us on the outside of the screen, looking in.
How can we overcome social media loneliness?
It’s a difficult double-edged sword and we have to walk a fine line between beneficial social media use and dangerous slips and falls into worsening mental health. We understand that it is not always easy to break cycles, especially when it comes to social media and everything is right in the palm of our hands, so we’ve collated some hints and tips to overcoming the social media loneliness and refocusing to use social media in a healthy way.
Limit your time online
First, and possibly most importantly, is limiting the amount of time per day that you consume social media and, subsequently, limiting the number of platforms you use. Constant social media use throughout the day not only drags down our mood and wellbeing but can contribute to feelings of brain fog and an inability to concentrate. Setting social media limits is the first step in regaining a healthy relationship with social media. Perhaps only let yourself open social media apps after a certain time, for example in the evening, or between two set times. You could also turn off notifications so you don’t constantly feel the need to check your phone whenever a new notification comes in or pick one or two platforms to use that day and avoid overindulging in various different platforms, apps and content.
Prioritise in-person interactions
Second, prioritise your in-person conversations and interactions over social media interactions and use social media as a method of communication with your friends and loved ones, for example through FaceTime, rather than spending hours scrolling through various platforms and ‘interacting’ through likes and comments. Perhaps set up weekly calls with loved ones or even arrange online quizzes with friends as a way of using social media in a healthy way.
Take a break
Sometimes, the best way to break a cycle is to take a break completely. Uninstall the apps you find are causing the most damage from your phone and go on your own social media detox. Try different activities such as a new hobby or exercise or even just spend time outside in nature. You may find that taking a break from social media lets you reconnect with loved ones and friends in a new way.
We know how difficult it can be to take that first step in breaking a cycle, especially when you feel alone, so we want to support you in every way we can. If you feel like you need more help breaking your social media and loneliness cycle, we are here for you. The College of Animal Welfare offers a counselling service to all students which is free and completely confidential and can be conducted face-to-face or virtually by video conference. More information on the counselling services we offer can be found here.
We have also partnered with Fika, which is free to all students, to help improve your mental fitness. Fika can be accessed remotely and empowers individuals with guided mental skills development courses. You can find out how to sign up here.
Plus, as part of Mental Health Awareness Week we’ve set up three virtual drop in sessions, taking place on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week. We’ll be joined by The Mind Matters Initiative on Wednesday, 12.30 – 1.30pm, Fika on Thursday, 1-1.30pm and Togetherall on Friday, 12.30 – 1.30pm. These sessions are free and are available to all staff and students. More information can be found here.