For almost as long as we’ve been using social media, psychologists have been concerned about its effects on our emotional wellbeing and mental health.
Various studies have indicated that Facebook, in particular, can have a negative impact on our sense of self. It’s thought that relentlessly scrolling through your own newsfeed – or spending too much time poring over the glossy on-screen versions of other people’s lives – can be linked with feelings of envy, dissatisfaction and even depression.
But since social media looks unlikely to be going anywhere anytime soon, psychologists at Lancaster University have now decided to turn their attention to examining how we can avoid feeling low after a spell on Facebook.
Dr Guillermo Perez Algorta and David Baker conducted a review of all the research on the links between social networking and depression, examining studies from 14 countries with 35,000 participants aged between 15 and 88.
They found that women and people with “neurotic personalities” (characterised by emotions including anxiety, jealousy, loneliness and fear), in particular, were found to be more likely to become depressed after using Facebook.
But they also identified certain online behaviours which have a “significant association” with depression – suggesting that steering clear of these could reduce your chances of falling victim to social media-induced misery.
“Rumination”, aka overthinking, was found to be at the heart of the Facebook blues. Perez Algorta and Baker’s review suggests that rumination can lead to feelings of depression – and that overthinking often starts with negatively comparing ourselves to others.
Overposting (particularly if your posts are negative)
If you’re updating your status several times a day with angry rants or outpourings of misery, it’s probably time to give your keyboard a rest – and speak to someone about those feelings in real life.
Posting too often on Facebook was linked with depression, as it’s also likely to lead to rumination. Facebook users were also more at risk of depression when they made frequent negative status updates.
Accepting your ex as a friend
If a friend request from an ex-partner pops up in your notifications, the temptation to accept – and subsequently dive into a good old online stalking session – can be hard to resist.
But Perez Algorta and Baker cite research suggesting that seeing an ex on a social networking site – particularly if they’re with a new boyfriend or girlfriend – can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression, regardless of how clean the break-up was.
Watch: What not to say to an anxiety sufferer
Easier said than done, perhaps. But your experience of social media will be much more enjoyable if you can refrain from seething with jealousy at other people’s seemingly fabulous lives. Perez Algorta and Baker found that depression was associated with envy triggered by observing others – and with making “negative social comparisons”.
Look at your own social media feeds. Chances are, what you see is a highly edited version of your real life: the highlights, rather than the sad/tedious/ugly bits. Next time you find yourself comparing yourself to others through the lens of social media, remind yourself that nobody’s life is perfect – even if it seems like it on Facebook.
For information and support about mental health issues, visit mind.org.uk.
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