Perhaps an exceptional revolution of the twenty-first century is social media. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Texting among other platforms have spontaneously erupted and taken the world by surprise as they replaced the older means of communication providing the people with highly interactive chat experiences and sharing of emotions. Undoubtedly, today social media is the most effective platform for stimulating two-way communication and audience engagement. Currently, an estimated 3 billion people are using online social media spending an average of 2 hours per day, tweeting, liking, sharing, and updating on the various social media platforms (Brown 2019). This represents about 40% of the world population meaning that social media use is of significant importance. The pervasiveness of social media ignites a debate on the potential effects and psychological implications of its use. Does social media lead to psychological well-being or detrimental effects? While social media use may encourage some positive psychological impacts for the users, it generally has adverse psychological implications for the users which include stress, depression, bad mood, anxiety, apnea, addiction, and degraded self-esteem.
Social Media Use and Stress
Although some scholars argue that social media use is associated with lower levels of stress among the users, it is also a direct cause of psychological stress. Frequent use of social media is correlated with higher psychological stress levels among individuals. Social media is a psychological stressor in many ways. For example, Facebook connects one with thousands of friends drawn from various backgrounds. One is confronted with the responsibility of maintaining that large network of friends which has stress implications because of a burden as well as disturbing friends who may send irritating messages. Also, the demands of replying to text messages from many friends, feeling jealous of friends' well-appointed and well-documented lives, having to keep up with status updates on Twitter, the addictive appeal of pictures of fantastic crafts on Pinterest, and constant fear of "missing out" on activities in the family and friends lives elicit a form of stress on an individual (Dick 2013, p. 21).
Other studies have however indicated an association with media use and lower stress levels. For example, in a sample of 1800 men and women, it was established that men who use social media report similar stress levels as non-users while women who used social media demonstrated lower stress levels as compared to those who did not use social media technologies at all (Hampton, Rainie, Lu, Shin & Purcell 2015, p. 10). Although this may have been true, the study used went ahead to reveal other contradictory findings. For example, it emerged that more educated and married social media users were less stressed (Hampton et al. 2015, p. 10). This is perhaps because they do not spend more time on those platforms due to the presence of a partner. It begs the question of how about those who are less educated and not married? Unmarried people might overuse the social media leading to even more pressure for chatting with many people which comes with stress for handling so many chats. The study also established that social media made users more aware of other situations and major events Hampton et al. 2015, p. 12). If one learned of the death of a friend through social media, it is likely to cause agony and stress for the loss. In this manner, social media proves to be a direct source of stress especially for heavy users and those who lack knowledge of self-regulating its use.
Social Media Use as a Source of Depression
Social media has proven as a medium through which many people interact with some having malicious intents that lead to negative interactions with others with a potential of triggering depression. Depression is a medical condition in which individual experiences lowered mood, reduced energy, a decrease in activity, low capacity of enjoyment and interest, lowered concentration, disturbed sleep, low appetite, and significant tiredness even after minimum effort. Social media has lately become an avenue for constant cyberbullying and cyberostracism, both of which are problematic for sensitive individuals and adolescents who are eventually negatively affected by social networks leading to depression (D'Amato, Cecchi, Liccardi, Pellegrino, D'Amato & Sofia 2012, p. 402).
Further research has confirmed the correlation between social media use and depression especially among young people (students). In research that involved 700 students, depressive symptoms such as feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and low mood were strongly associated quality of online interactions (Davila, Hershenberg, Feinstein, Gorman, Bhatia & Starr 2012, p. 72). Students who reported more negative online interactions showed a higher level of depressive symptoms (Davila et al., 72). In another study that involved 1700 participants, chances of depression associated with social media use increased threefold (Primack et al., 2017, p. 8). Causes of the increased chances of depression were related to cyber-bullying, feeling that social media was a waste of time, and having a distorted view of other people's lives (Primack et al. 2017, p. 8).
Therefore, social media has become a medium of unregulated interactions which can be positive or negative. While it is not clear whether positive interactions can lead to psychological well-being, it is clear that negative social media interactions are dangerous and lead to the development of depressive symptoms among users.
Implications of Social Media Use for Moods
Use of social media platforms leads to a negative emotional state afterward because of the tendency to gain nothing after committing a lot of time browsing in such media sites. For example, the longer an individual is logged in to Facebook, the more negative his or her moods afterwards (Sagioglou & Greitemeyer 2014, p. 359). in fact, lower moods among individuals are reported after just 20 minutes of browsing Facebook pages, and the longer the time one is active in Facebook, the more negative is their moods thereafter. Facebook causes a deterioration of the moods because after being active for some time, one comes to realize how time was wasted without having done anything, and that feeling itself mediates low mood development (Sagioglou & Greitemeyer 2014, p. 359).
In addition, social media acts as a medium of spreading low mood emotions among peers and other people. Usually, emotion and moods spread among people in a direct and person-to-person contact (Coviello et al. p. 315). Social media mediates the spread of emotion and mood as it connects many people together. A study that explored the negative or positive effect of one's status update on the posts and overall moods of others revealed that a negative post prompted another 1.29 negative posts from user's friends while reducing positive posts by 1.19% leading to bad mood for those friends who were not affected by the event that led to negative post (Coviello et al. p. 315). It shows how social media can transmit unnecessary bad mood feelings amongst people who should have concerned less about the occurrence, but through engaging with affected friends unconsciously transmits the suffering to the other end.
Anxiety is another psychological problem associated with social media. Anxiety is described as excessive fear caused by an external or internal stimulus. Anxiety causes intense distress or impaired functioning. It also causes rising levels of concern as well as anxious anticipation, and tension at the approach of a feared situation (Snaith 2003, p. 29).
Social media use has a significant potential of inflicting feelings of fear, restlessness, and worry that causes distress and impaired functioning. According to Dobrean and Pasarelu (2016) using at least two different types of social media platforms is more than enough to trigger high levels of general anxiety symptoms. Individuals who used more than seven social media platforms reported both anxiety and depression (Dobrean & Pasarelu 2016, p. 12). Also, using social media creates frequent worry for individuals who are either anticipating messages or cannot access their social network sites (Strickland 2014, p. 4). The worries are related to missing out on some conversation or event in a social network. That anxiety can accumulate over time leading to expression of anxiety disorders.
Apnea is a medical condition in which an individual pauses in breath during bedtime. Pauses in breathing prevent intake of oxygen during sleeping, which can, in turn, lead to some health complications ranging from insomnia to high blood pressure. If untreated, apnea worsens and may result in low memory, low concentration, poor learning and processing of information. Anxiety is mostly associated with apnea in the form of nocturnal panic (Gooley 2011, p. 463).
Social media is one of the culprits that encourage the excessive presence of light both during the day and night. The excessive presence of blue light even during bedtime from laptop and smartphone screens has been found to inhibit production of the hormone melatonin by the body which is supposed to facilitate quality sleep. Gooley (2011) confirmed a link between social media and sleep disturbances after examining a sample size of 1700 people aged 18 to 30 and found that how often on logged on social media generated an obsessive checking which was associated by physiological arousal before sleep. The bright light from the devices used potentially delayed circadian rhythms leading to disturbed sleep and possible apnea. Therefore, checking Twitter or Facebook at night is a practice that unknowingly subjects one to lack of quality sleep causing apnea.
Addiction is a heightened desire to re-experience use of a particular behavior or substance which could result from psychological influence. It is a psychological condition related to altered regions of the brain concerned with motivation, impulse control, reward, memory, and judgment.
Social media is associated with addiction. Research data has emerged supporting the link between heavy social media use and addiction. It has been established that checking emails or Tweeting is extremely harder to resist than alcohol and cigarettes. The researchers discovered that cravings to use social and other media are even stronger than the urge for sleep or sex (Brown, 2019). whereas social media use has not been included in the diagnostic manual for mental health disorders, being ranged as a behavior with higher craving more than cigarettes and alcohol indicates a potential of inflicting serious mental modifications that lead to worst addiction. Social media is used by extraverts to for social enhancement whereas introverts use it for social compensation and in each case, greater usage is an eventual result (Kuss & Griffiths 2011, p. 3528). The heavy usage of social media which ultimately cause addiction because of the strong urge to stayed connected always and catch up with what is going on in the network cycles.
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