How social media affects our physical and mental health

Modern Life and gadget use

Culled from an article written by Hannah Nichols

Technology ushers in fundamental structural changes that can be integral to achieving significant improvements in productivity. It has improved the lives of many people, with almost half of adults in the United States unable to imagine life without their smartphone.

The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America Survey 2017 shows that 99 percent of adults own an electronic device, around 86 percent own a computer, 74 percent own a smartphone, and 55 percent own a tablet.

The survey also reports that between 2005 and 2015, the percentage of adults using social media skyrocketed from 7 percent to 65 percent, with usage rates of young adults aged between 18 and 29 increasing from 12 percent to 90 percent in that period.

Rates of technology and social media use are therefore swiftly climbing. Facebook and Instagram alone boast a combined monthly user base of 2 billion people.

Recent research by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that teenagers aged 13 to 17 years old have shifted their preferred social media platforms and are now most likely to use Snapchat and Instagram.

Key findings of the survey included the fact that around 76 percent of teenagers use Instagram, 75 percent use Snapchat, 66 percent use Facebook, 47 percent use Twitter, and fewer than 30 percent use Tumblr, Twitch, or LinkedIn.

 The ‘constant checker’
The technological and social media advances of the past decade have bred the “constant checker.” A constant checker is a person who constantly, almost obsessively, checks their emails, texts, and social media accounts. This profile is synonymous with 43 percent of U.S. individuals.

Being continuously connected in this way has been linked with higher stress levels. Moreover, 18 percent of individuals have identified technology use as a significant source of stress.

On an average day in the U.S., 65 percent of adults constantly check personal email, 52 percent and 44 percent check texts and social media, respectively, and 28 percent say the same about work emails.

Stress levels among constant checkers are considerably higher than they are among people who do not engage with technology and social media as frequently.

Furthermore, as a result of technology, more constant checkers than non-constant checkers feel disconnected from their family, even when they are in the same room, and more than one third of constant checkers say that they are unlikely to meet with friends and family in person due to social media.

Modern gadgets use

Digital connectivity and well-being
Across the generations, 48 percent of Millennials, 37 percent of Gen Xers, 22 percent of Boomers, and 15 percent of Matures are worried about the negative effects of social media on their physical and mental health.

Interactions on social media can have a major impact on an individual’s well-being and satisfaction. Many studies have observed that more time spent on social media is associated with an increased risk of loneliness and depression, which poses the question: are unhappy people using social media, or does social media use affect happiness?

A recent study led by researchers at Indiana University explored the so-called friendship paradox experienced by users of social media. The friendship paradox finds that, on average, most people are less popular than their friends on social media, which may lead to reduced happiness.

“As far as we’re aware, it’s never been previously shown that social media users are not only less popular than their friends on average but also less happy,” said lead study author Johan Bollen, associate professor in the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing.

“This study suggests that happiness is correlated with popularity, and also that the majority of people on social networks aren’t as happy as their friends due to this correlation between friendship and popularity.”

Overall, the research found that users of social media might experience increased levels of social dissatisfaction and unhappiness as a result of comparing their happiness and popularity to that of their friends.

The amount of time spent on social media could also affect mental health. National analysis led by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (Pitt) in Pennsylvania suggests that the more time that adults aged 19 to 32 spend using social media, the more likely they are to be socially isolated.

“This is an important issue to study because mental health problems and social isolation are at epidemic levels among young adults,” said Brian A. Primack, Ph.D., the director of Pitt’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health.

In another study conducted by Pitt’s School of Medicine, it was also found that spending extended periods on social media is associated with depression in young adults. Compared with people who checked social media less frequently, frequent checkers were 2.7 times more likely to develop depression. More than a quarter of study participants were classified as having high indicators of depression.

Likewise, settling in for a marathon binge-watching session of your favorite television show has been related to fatigue, obesity, loneliness, and depression.

However, research published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking says that you do not have to quit social media altogether; simply changing your behavior on social networking sites and taking an occasional break may help to lift your spirits.

Video gaming and aggression
Video gaming is another area that has gained a bad reputation, with some research suggesting a link between video games and violence. However, a study published in the Journal of Communication found no such link between aggression observed in movies and video games, and real life violence.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, MD, has found that while 4 hours of video game play may trigger symptoms of depression in teenagers, frequent use of social media and instant messaging may mitigate these symptoms in some individuals.

However, study of 12 million Facebook users found that using the social media site is associated with living longer. However, this correlation only exists when Facebook serves to maintain and enhance our social ties in real life.

Modern life may increase the risk of some physical and mental health problems, but striking a balance between online and real-world social relationships, going forward, may help to monitor our mental health.

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