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Is social media hurting your mental health?

An illustration of hands holding buzzing phones.

Sept. 9, 2022—Social media has plenty of upsides—it keeps us connected, for starters. But it also may have downsides when it comes to our emotional well-being.

For example, studies have linked heavy social media use an increased risk of mental health problems like depression, anxiety, loneliness and self-harm.

Spotting a social media problem

Here are five signs that social media may be negatively affecting your mental health:

1. Your IRL relationships suffer. Do you spend more time with virtual friends than real-life ones? Do you check social media when you're out with your social circle?

2. You feel envious or angry. Do you compare yourself harshly to others on social media? Does this make you feel bad about yourself?

3. You're distracted. Does social media interfere with your work, school or home responsibilities?

4. You're losing sleep. Do you check social media before you go to bed and as soon as you wake up?

5. You feel worse after using social media. Do you feel more anxious, stressed, lonely or sad?

Strike a balance

Many aspects of social media can be good. So you don't necessarily have to go cold turkey or close all your accounts to protect your mental health. For many people, it may come down to developing healthier social media habits, like these, courtesy of HelpGuide and other experts:

Spend less time scrolling. This is easier said than done, but it is doable. Instead of setting impractical time limits you'll likely break, try turning off your phone at certain times, such as during meals, at work, or when you're with friends or your kids. Or try to stretch the time you wait between social media check-ins. Can you go for 60 minutes instead of every 15? A hint that can help: Turn off automatic notifications. It's hard to forget about your accounts when your phone alerts you to a new message every five minutes.

Balance your digital time with real-world activities. Be sure to get in plenty of physical activity, whether that's taking walks around your neighborhood or going to the gym. And plan activities that nourish your relationships with co-workers, classmates, family, neighbors and friends. You might even want to take up a new hobby to fill the time when you're bored.

Use social media to support your mental health. Be deliberate about using social media in ways that give you a sense of well-being. For many people, it can be a way to engage in connections that support healing—for instance, through sharing a personal journey with an online community. And it can be a creative outlet too. Remember: It's all about a healthy balance.

Sources: American Psychiatric Association; HelpGuide; National Alliance on Mental Illness

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