by Mark D. Lerner, Ph.D.
Chairman, The National Center for Emotional Wellness
Social media has become a part of our daily lives, transforming how we connect with others and access information. While it has brought many benefits, it's essential to understand and address its impact on our emotional well-being. Emotional wellness, as defined by The National Center for Emotional Wellness, is the awareness, understanding, and acceptance of our feelings and the ability to navigate challenges and change. Recent research has shed light on the potential benefits and consequences of social media on our emotional wellness.
Social media platforms provide a "place" for individuals to express themselves, share experiences, and connect with others (Twenge, 2020). This sense of connection can positively affect emotional wellness by reducing loneliness and promoting a sense of belonging (Primack et al., 2017). In a world where physical interactions are decreasing frequently, social media offers an avenue for socialization, allowing individuals to maintain relationships and build new ones (Primack et al., 2017). It provides a platform for self-expression, enabling individuals to share their creativity, talents, and ideas, boosting self-confidence and overall emotional well-being (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011).
Furthermore, social media acts as a source of information and support. Online communities and support groups have formed, offering individuals a space to seek advice and share experiences related to challenges and change (Luo et al., 2019). These platforms can help reduce stigma and provide comfort and understanding, enhancing emotional wellness by fostering connection and empathy (Primack et al., 2017).
However, the potential consequences of social media on emotional wellness should be addressed. Research suggests that the excessive use of social media can lead to negative emotions such as envy, loneliness, and a decrease in self-esteem (Twenge, 2020). The constant exposure to carefully curated highlight reels of others' lives may create unrealistic expectations and a fear of missing out (Twenge, 2020). This can harm individuals' self-perception, leading to feelings of inadequacy and a decline in emotional well-being (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011).
Additionally, the anonymous nature of social media can lead to cyberbullying, which has been linked to adverse emotional consequences (Luo et al., 2019). People who experience cyberbullying are more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression and anxiety (Hinduja and Patchin, 2018). Being constantly connected to social media platforms can also disrupt sleep patterns, as individuals may struggle to check notifications or engage in online interactions, leading to sleep deprivation and diminished emotional well-being (Luo et al., 2019).
To navigate social media's impact on emotional wellness, it is important to balance online and offline activities. Limiting social media use, setting boundaries, and practicing self-care is essential to protect emotional well-being (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011). Building offline relationships and engaging in activities that promote positive emotions, such as physical exercise, meditation, journaling, and pursuing hobbies, are equally important (Twenge, 2020). By consciously managing our social media usage, we can reap its benefits while preserving our emotional well-being.
Social media's impact on emotional wellness is a complex topic. It has the potential to provide a sense of connection, foster creativity, and offer support, promoting emotional well-being. However, it can also contribute to negative emotions, such as envy and loneliness, and exacerbate issues such as cyberbullying and sleep disruption. Maintaining a healthy relationship with social media, setting boundaries, and engaging in offline activities are crucial for preserving emotional well-being in our increasingly digital world.