By Mollie Campbell
Have you ever scrolled through endless pages on Social Media apps for a longer amount of time than you would care to admit, and end up feeling like your happiness or emotion has been drained out of you?
If the answer is yes, you are not alone. In fact, a statistic I keep coming back to is that, according to NHS UK, 91% of 16-24-year-olds in the UK use the internet and other social networking sites regularly. More importantly, rates of anxiety and depression in young people have increased by 70% over the last 25 years. This is a scary and unforeseen companion to Social Media that has slowly and surreptitiously been following the trail of the world’s internet advances for the past 25 years, not becoming too much of a worry until we saw an actual change in the development of children who belong to generation Z.
Why? There are a variety of reasons behind this increase in internet users with low self-esteem from any generation, but particularly post-analogue. The first reason, which I have written about before, is that Social Media has arguably become the most important aspect of modern teenage life; children do everything on the internet, expressing themselves on a platform. Due to this, they see popular digital trends being labelled as ‘successful’, it bombards them so much that the line between personal dreams/desires and the world’s desires is blurred, massively. This completely and utterly strips them of any kind of individuality, instead they follow the crowd, never really delving into what they are passionate about, instantly creating a generation of people who aren’t happy in what they are doing.
Another major aspect, which can happen at any age, is how these Social Media sites force us to compare ourselves, even if we aren’t aware. Let’s take something like Instagram for example; its sole purpose is sharing photos of our lives with the world, which sounds great, and it is, as long as you use it for its basic feature. But that almost always goes out the window because we as humans just can’t help ourselves from making comparisons. We end up seeing everyone living their best lives, looking like a million bucks at all times, and it makes us question ourselves. For example, in a shop window, you are always going to put your best and most flattering items on display. It is the same on Instagram, we are just sharing with the world our own little shop windows, portraying all of our best moments, to live up to this perfect image. Nobody is going to upload a mediocre photo to Instagram, which lulls people into a false sense of perception, making people think that this perfection is what people look like at their worst. And if you’re constantly looking at photos of people at their very best, you cannot help but compare yourself to them, even if you don’t know you’re doing it. It sets completely superficial and unrealistic expectations, and if it this impactful with fully developed brains, think about what it is doing to the mental health of young people. With me, it wasn’t exactly about comparing myself from an aesthetic point of view, and I didn’t even know I was doing it until I realised that every single time I came off of Instagram, I went into full on panic mode about my career, my life-choices, I questioned what I was doing with my time, should I be doing more enriching and mind-altering things with my life? This all stems from seeing one travel photo, or someone climbing up their career ladder.
What is worse is that these things aren’t always easy to detect either, that sluggish post-scroll feeling is overlooked, placed on a shelf in the back of our minds. But what we don’t realise is that it never filters out of our brains, it sits there, festering, growing larger until one day it hits us in multitudes. A silent monster, preying on our mental health and the vulnerable position the internet puts us in.
How do we change this? Unfortunately, we cannot change what technological advances have been placed in front of us, but we can change our attitude and approach. There are tons of positive things that Social Media has to offer but you have to question whether you are on there for yourself, or simply because everyone else is doing it. We come back to that classic cliché quote: if your friend jumped off a bridge, would you jump too? It’s corny but it has never lost its meaning. I often observe how people act in public with regard to phones, if a group of friends all take their phones out and you’re the only one left standing there without it, chances are you will follow their lead and end up on your phone too. Why should we all follow the crowd if it is something that is damaging us, we cannot change Social Media but we can change the way we use it. My point is that you shouldn’t feel pressured to spend your time on it just because everyone else is, take a break, steer clear from it for a while. Retune your mind with nature, planet earth, your mental health is an incredibly important thing and if Social Media is the reason for it slowly being chipped away at it, it is ok to step away from it.
In conclusion, whilst the internet and Social media has its benefits, we must accept that everything has a downside. And if we start to feel the aftershock of this negativity, there isn’t anything wrong with reducing contact with the thing that is making you miserable. It is evident that Social media has become an addiction within society, and every addiction results in the necessity to change your lifestyle. If the internet is having a negative impact on your life, don’t be afraid to put your mental health before the needs of Social Media, it might just be one of the most life-changing things you can do.