With over 400 million internet and 200 million active social media users, India is soon expected to become the largest social media and internet consumption market. Add to that the launch of 4G connections enabling better internet speeds, and Indians are now spending 28 hours a week on their mobile phones.
On an average, people today are spending between 2-4 hours/day on social media platforms. Did we really think it would not leave an impact on us?
While social media entered our lives as a convenient way to connect with our friends, relatives and acquaintances, it has now evolved into a platform for getting everyone’s attention.
Today, people on social media are looking at their peers and society for ‘validation’ and the rise of social media platforms has further amplified this phenomenon. What we eat, what we see, what we enjoy and what we wear, all this and more, are influenced by the need for validation. We have started living so we can share on social media and not the other way around.
This constant need for ‘validation’ is driving people towards living a dual life –a “social life” and their “real life”. A ‘Social Media Life’ is a perfect life that people project on their social media profiles, which they want people to think they are leading.
Whereas, ‘Real Life’ is their actual life that does not match up to the perfect ideals set by social media.
Seeing friends constantly on holiday or enjoying nights out can make young people feel like they are missing out while others enjoy life. These feelings can promote a ‘compare and despair’ attitude in young people.
According to research studies, it was found that:
- One in six young people will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives
- The identified rates of anxiety and depression in young people have increased by 70 percent over the past 25 years
- Four of the five young people who used social media platforms actually make their feelings of anxiety worse
While such observations could be debated, there is however a certain emerging trend to suggest that over-use of social media may lead to increased levels of psychological distress. Researchers suggest that the intensity of the online world - where teens and young adults are constantly contactable, face pressures from unrealistic representations of reality, and deal with online peer pressure. Fear of missing out (FOMO), body image issues etc are all pressures exacerbated with constantly comparing yourself with peers.
There is no escape from social media. But for those teens already struggling with sensitive problems like poor self-esteem, social anxiety, body image issues, depression and relationship difficulties, the sense of inadequacy or feeling of ' not being good enough' is compounded when they see images of their peers having 'perfect lives' or perfect bodies'.
Also, the purpose of 'self-expression' sometimes becomes more of a contradiction, as the image that we post mostly are highly edited and is an enhanced version of ourselves rather than our 'real selves'.
It is important that people realise their true selves, feel confident and accept the way they are. Social media can be a great and effective platform, if used responsibly. It is not only a great place to connect, share life stories, but can become a powerful medium to rally and participate in causes that can impact lives positively.
What should active social media users do?
Mpower suggests the following:
- Take regular breaks from social media such as screen-free weekends is important.
- Youngsters should take out time for face-to-face interaction and meeting their friends and relatives rather than allowing social media to replace relationships.
- Indulging in hobbies which are not related to social media usage can further help them to overcome the hazards caused by social media.
- One should not compare themselves to their peers and be mindful that what they are watching on social media is probably the best bits of someone's life rather than their 'whole' lives
(Dr Sapna Bangar is head of Client Care at Mpower. Mpower is an organisation that aims to end stigma and encourage dialogue around mental health.)
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