How Social Media Affects Your Mental Health

Have you ever started feeling anxious when you see social media posts about luxurious holidays, fun social events, or major life milestones?

How Social Media Affects Your Mental Health

Have you ever started feeling anxious when you see social media posts about luxurious holidays, fun social events, or major life milestones? This is a common feeling called FOMO—the fear of missing out. When you constantly see other people’s exciting updates, it can be easy to feel dissatisfied with your own life. So, what are some realistic steps you can take to combat FOMO from social media?

Let’s take a deeper dive into the negative and positive effects of social media on mental health and look at ways to create healthier online habits.

Why Social Media Is So Addicting

For many of us, social media is part of our daily lives, from chatting with friends to getting news alerts and event invitations. Platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube have changed the way we connect and communicate. If you feel like you spend too much time on social media, don’t blame yourself. 

Social media platforms are designed to keep you scrolling, and those constant dings and buzzes from notifications can be hard to ignore. Receiving a like, share, or notification triggers the release of dopamine, known as the “feel-good” hormone. It’s the same chemical that is released when we eat delicious food, have sex or exercise. Social media activates our brain’s reward centre—and the more we’re rewarded, the more time we want to spend on social media.

The Positive Effects of Social Media on Mental Health

Humans are social beings. At its best, social media can be a way to stay connected with friends and family and meet new people worldwide. During the pandemic, when in-person interactions were limited, social media was essential for many people to stay in touch with loved ones. Social media can also be particularly useful for people to find safe spaces and support networks.

Other positive uses of social media include:

  • Providing access to educational resources that may be otherwise inaccessible
  • Raising awareness about important issues/causes
  • Expressing yourself and your creativity

The Negative Effects of Social Media on Mental Health

While there are plenty of positive effects of social media on mental health, it’s important to also understand how it can harm well-being. Social media use has been found to be associated with increased depression

Often, social media causes insecurity and feelings of inadequacy. It’s easy to get trapped in a vicious cycle. Perhaps you may be trying to escape from feelings of anxiety and depression. You convince yourself that social media is keeping you connected and happy. In reality, it could lead to further feelings of stress and isolation.

Social media can also lead to negative effects such as:

  • Insecurity around body image: In particular, filters create illusions that can end up distorting your self-image.
  • Cyberbullying: Online platforms make it easy to spread rumours and lies.
  • Self-absorption: Constantly sharing every part of your life can lead to an unhealthy self-centredness.

What Happens When You Spend Too Much Time on Social Media?

Social media can help us create new connections, but it can’t completely replace in-person relationships. When you spend too much time on social media, it can increase feelings of isolation and lead to unhealthy habits. 

Here are some warning signs of excessive social media use:


  • You default to pulling your phone out when you feel socially anxious.
  • You neglect real-world relationships (you may even find yourself on social media when you are out with friends).
  • You turn to social media when you are bored or lonely.
  • You always compare yourself to others.
  • You are distracted at work or school.
  • You engage in risky activities for attention, such as dangerous social media challenges.
  • You neglect self-care, exercise, and sleep.
  • You have worsening symptoms of anxiety or depression.
  • You struggle to feel motivated.
  • You constantly experience FOMO.

If you are experiencing many of these warning signs, it is likely time to reassess your social media usage or reach out to a counsellor.

Realistic Steps You Can Take to Combat FOMO from Social Media 

FOMO is that anxious feeling you get when you think people are leading more exciting and interesting lives than you. When you see highlights of achievements from friends, celebrities, or influencers, it can make you feel like you’re falling behind. While it’s natural to compare yourself to other people, these comparisons can impact your self-esteem and trigger feelings of stress and depression. 

Hyperconnectivity can make it seem impossible to escape FOMO—but by reassessing your online and offline routines, you can begin to create a healthier balance. Here are a few realistic steps you can take to combat FOMO from social media.

Set limits

We know that social media can have positive effects on mental health, so you don’t need to quit it completely. Instead, consider tracking and setting limits to your social media time (there are lots of apps that can help with this). A study from the University of Pennsylvania found that using less social media than you normally would can lead to a significant decrease in depression and loneliness.

A few other ideas for limiting your social media usage are:

  • Turn off your phone at certain times of the day, like when you are in meetings or spending time with friends or family. 
  • Don’t take your phone into the bathroom or bedroom.
  • Remove social media apps from your phone and limit social media to your computer instead.
  • Disable push notifications.
  • Set designated hours to check social media (and try to gradually increase the amount of time between social media checks).

Practice gratitude

Through mindfulness and meditation, you can learn to train your mind to live in the present rather than wondering what others are doing. Practicing gratitude has been shown to increase feelings of happiness and decrease stress.

To reduce FOMO, try keeping a gratitude journal to record your memories and reflect on your achievements. One way to add gratitude to your daily routine is by writing down one thing you are grateful for every day. This can help shift your thinking from what you’re missing out on to instead focusing on the positives in your life.

Find offline activities

By replacing your time on social media with healthy alternatives, you can focus your time and energy on activities that fill your life. When you’re content with how you’re spending your own time, chances are you’ll be less concerned with what others are doing.

A few activities you can try are:

  • Reading
  • Exercising
  • Gardening or spending time in nature
  • Meditating
  • Volunteering
  • Learning a new skill or starting a new hobby
  • Joining a club or group with people who have shared interests

Connect with friends face-to-face

In-person contact with loved ones can help boost your mood and strengthen your relationships. Consider planning an outing with friends or setting aside time to spend with family. If you feel that you don’t have anyone to hang out with, try reaching out to coworkers, neighbours, or other acquaintances. Chances are others are eager to connect face-to-face too. 

Not quite ready for face-to-face interactions? Consider sending a DM to a friend, rather than simply liking their posts. Direct messages can help build a more intimate connection and develop your relationships.

Filter your feed

Social media presents a one-sided view of reality—it’s a highlight reel of exciting events, rather than a realistic look at someone’s day-to-day life.

While it is perfectly fine to check in on what others are doing, social media can cause insecurity if you’re constantly comparing yourself to others. Try to identify what content, apps, or accounts are triggering your FOMO. Then, mute, remove, or unfollow them. Follow more positive people or content that inspires you and leaves you feeling good about yourself. 

Balancing Social Media and Mental Health 

Social media has both positive and negative effects on your mental health, and its impact depends on how you are using these platforms. If you find yourself spending a lot of time on social media, reflect on your motivation for picking up your phone. Are you checking up on a friend or looking for information? Or are you bored and passively scrolling?

It's possible to enjoy all the benefits of social media without letting FOMO overwhelm you, as long as you are intentional and mindful about your social media usage. By understanding the realistic steps you can take to combat FOMO from social media, such as filtering your feed or limiting your time spent on platforms you can maintain a healthier relationship with these platforms.

If you find that you are continuing to feel anxious or depressed any time you are on social media, consider talking to a professional. 

Phare Counselling offers sliding scale therapy with registered clinical counsellors who have a diverse range of specializations. Our counsellors work with you to create a personalized approach that matches your needs and preferences. When you are ready to take the next step on your wellness journey, we welcome you to book your free consultation.

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