The link between social media, anxiety and mental health

Studies continue to suggest that excessive social media use can have a negative impact on a person’s mental health, leading to anxiety and depression.

Research carried out by leading charity Anxiety UK in recent weeks has found that more than half of Britons believe that social media has knocked their confidence, causing them to feel gloomy when comparing their lives to those of their friends on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram.

A further 50 per cent said that they felt more self-conscious about their body image after using social media for a sustained period of time, while two thirds of respondents said that regular social media use had affected their ability to relax or sleep.

Nicky Lidbetter, CEO of Anxiety UK, explains how social media can affect a person’s mental health through encouraging a culture of “unrealistic expectations” and constant comparisons.

She says: “Social media allows people to present a filtered sense of reality when it comes to their lives; one which may be far from accurate.

“When people start to compare themselves to what they are seeing on social media, they can find themselves trying to meet unrealistic expectations leading to increased self-doubt, body image insecurity, feelings of anxiety, and lowered self-esteem.”

She says that feelings of insecurity – which can arise from comparing ourselves to others both on and offline – can prevent people from being able to relax in social situations.

People feel vulnerable and live in “fear of saying the wrong thing or being judged for the way [they] look, act or behave,” she says.

Dr Joan Harvey, of Newcastle University, adds that humans are preconditioned to compare themselves to others and that this activity cannot be avoided.

“We define ourselves as either distinct from or similar to others. It is part of self-identity and self-image,” she says.