What social media is really doing to your brain
Neuroplasticity and just how social media affects your brain
When we were first introduced to social media, we were in uncharted territory. Our primary communication was once single lane: a person-to-person silo of texts and audio calls, and the closest we came to communal interaction was a reply-all email. Now, it’s a huge part of our lives and it can be hard to differentiate between real life and social media life.
The merging of these worlds is having a negative effect on how we live and feel. But, by better understanding the impact of social media, you can find realistic ways to minimise the negative effects (without having to move to a remote corner of the bush with no reception).
For all the well documented criticisms of social media, the main line of praise is ‘it’s the only way I can continue relationships with friends and family I’d otherwise lose touch with’.
And, it’s true. The best part of social media is that we can now easily reach an aunty living halfway across the world, or close friend who has moved interstate. We can share our lives with people en masse and feel connected with very little effort.
However, over time, social media has morphed into something bigger than we could have anticipated and, research has shown, although we are digitally connected in ways we’ve never been before, it’s making us feel more isolated and lonely than ever before.
The higher the use of main social media platforms, the higher the rate of feelings of loneliness and depression.
The subject of social media’s downside has been a topic of conversation and concern for quite some time, but it’s only recently that experimental research has been conducted to confirm these concerns. A University of Pennsylvania study found that the higher the use of main social media platforms, the higher the rate of feelings of loneliness and depression.
The main areas of negative impact directly related to social media use cited by the study, were:
We’ve put together an article that explains the impact that social media has on you: What social media is really doing to your brain.
Although research is in its infancy on the effect of social media on teen mental health, there’s evidence to indicate that their developing brain is more susceptible to mood and physical changes. A report published in JAMA Psychiatry found that 12-15-year-olds who spent three plus hours a day on social media were twice as likely to have feelings of anxiety, loneliness, aggression, depression and antisocial tendencies than teens who did not use social media.
A UCLA Brain Mapping Centre study discovered that the reward centre of the teen brain (the nucleus accumbens) activated when they experienced ‘likes’ on a fake social media platform designed for the experiment, making them crave more and more of the activity.
Another study published in the UK’s Journal of Youth Studies, found that of the 900 12-15-year-olds they worked with, one fifth said they woke up through the night to check their social media even though it made them feel tired through the day. If social media is keeping you up at night, check out our article: The evening routine that could improve your sleep quality for some practical tips for overcoming your social media insomnia.
Aside from the personal user-behaviour determining problems, teens are also at greater risk of experiencing online bullying, shaming and feelings of jealousy.
Of course, you could delete your social media accounts and take a permanent social media detox. But, how would you find out what paleo meals your friend Susan from high school is feeding her toddlers?
So, if you’re not keen to switch off entirely, here are some less extreme ways you can protect yourself from adverse social media side effects:
If you’re really struggling with depressive feelings, loneliness, jealousy or any other deep negative feelings, speak to your GP about ways you can work toward treating and managing your mental health.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call:
For more articles on mental health, including tips for managing it, factors that can affect it and programs you can use for support, visit our Mental Health page on The Check Up.