Browse the internet wisely to protect your mental and emotional health

Social media can be used to improve relationships in real life

Cambridge (Massachusetts, USA): Maureen Salmon

While social networks can facilitate communication in the real world, they can also have a dark side.

Social media platforms offer a way to connect with others – from long-lost friends, busy family members and neighbors. So why do you sometimes feel bored after spending time online?

Social media may not be the problem. The problem may be how you use it, says Jacqueline Sperling, co-director of the MacLean Anxiety Management Program and professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.

Negative effects on mood

Studies have found a link between social media and the negative effects of mental health on young boys and girls, according to Sperling. Although there is less research in adults, some show a similar connection.

A study conducted in November 2021 and published online in the journal JAMA Network Open found a link between social media use and depressive symptoms in adults. The researchers looked at online survey data collected between May 2020 and May 2021 among more than 5,300 adults (mean age around 56), in which participants completed at least two questionnaires. None of the people in the study reported depressive symptoms in the first survey, but those who used social media were more likely to report an increase in depressive symptoms in later surveys than those who did not.

“Although research has found a link rather than a cause, it is possible that some types of social media use are associated with negative effects on one’s mood over a wide range of longevity,” Sperling said.

– bright side

Although social media can negatively affect your mood, it is not always so. There is evidence that online social interactions have humorous benefits for some users. The question is: Why are social media harmful in some cases and not in others?

The difference, Sperling says, may have to do with whether you participate in active, self-directed activities, or other activities that can be passive and passive.

Sperling adds that active and self-directed activities, such as sending a direct message to a friend or updating a profile picture, reduce the likelihood of mood swings. But the opposite may be true of passive or ineffective practices, such as searching through social media posts. This type of browsing creates opportunities for social comparison, according to the researcher. Did anyone else’s photos get more likes? Did their posts attract more positive comments? Why pursue exciting travel adventures when you find yourself stuck at home?

Tips to alleviate anxiety

If you feel bored after using social media, there are things you can do to improve your experience without completely giving it up, Sperling says.

Follow your feelings: First, determine how using social media makes you feel. Evaluate your emotional state on a scale from zero to 10 before and after using social media. (Number 10 indicates the strongest feelings, e.g., very happy, anxious, or sad.) Also note whether you are involved in passive or active use during the session.

If you find that your time online is making you feel more upset, angry, or anxious than you used to be, it may be time to make some changes. Here are some options:

> Understand things in context. Sperling says people usually do not post the full extent of their real life experiences on social media. People can use photo filters to make themselves look more attractive than in real life, and they can carefully edit their photos online.

When you find yourself feeling jealous, remember that there are probably a lot of things you do not see. Although a woman may post pictures of her last flight, you will not see the quarrel she had with her partner at the airport, or the strained relationship she had with her daughter who was visiting. Reminding yourself of this can help reduce the urge to compare yourself to others.

– Selective and active browsing

> Be selective in choosing content: Consider being more selective about what you read when browsing. For example, do you have a friend whose posts constantly make you jealous or angry? Instead of continuing to view content that annoys you, use the “unfollow” or “bug” option available on some social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This allows you to keep friends, but you do not have to view their private posts unless you view them intentionally. Sometimes keeping some problematic people out of sight makes the experience healthier, Sperling says.

> Your active experience: Instead of passive browsing, use social media to improve your relationships in real life. Send direct messages to friends or family members to stay in touch. Also use social media to identify social networking opportunities in real life. For example, if you see a post about an event coming from a restaurant you attend, invite a friend to come, says Sperling.

> Choose your battle. Social media sometimes becomes a forum for fragmenting controversial topics and feelings can escalate quickly. “Consider doing these conversations in person and not online,” says Sperling, as tensions tend to escalate more quickly when people communicate online. People can say things while using the keyboard that they would never say during face-to-face interaction.

If the person you are dealing with is not closely related to you, consider whether it is worth discussing a controversial or emotional topic at all. Sometimes it is better to leave.

> Keep a perspective: Be aware of how much energy you spend on social media. Some people spend a lot of time writing the ‘perfect’ post. If you are one of those people, consider setting some restrictions or modifying your usage. For example, if you really want to share pictures of meals in the restaurant you like, take the picture. But do not post it before you get home, because the time you spend posting the photo in the restaurant and asking for “likes” takes you the time you need to spend with your partner in the restaurant.

Examine your motivations: If your online habits are hurting your personal relationships, think about the root causes.

“What are you looking for? Are you looking to check for an article that is missing from somewhere else in your life? Are there any aspects missing in your current social contacts?” asks Sperling. “The answers to these questions can help you take steps to enrich your personal interactions and reduce reliance on them on social media.”

Harvard Letter “Women’s Health Watch” – Tribune Media Services

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