11 Ways Social Media Is Ruining Your Physical and Mental Health

There’s little use denying the fact - social media affects your health. Be it physically, psychologically, or a dangerous combination of the two, our addiction to our screens can have some pretty dire consequences to our health if left unchecked. The health effects of social media range from funny, small-potatoes stuff like FOMO to much more frightening possibilities like altered brain structures.

Obviously, social media and technology aren’t all bad. They can bring connectivity, ease, information, and excitement into our lives. But maybe we should also consider putting our devices down a little bit more often. (For example, researchers recommend putting devices away at least 30 minutes before bed.)

So if you’ve got a little bit of a screen addiction (and we're guessing you might since you’re, you know, reading this list and everything), read on to learn more about the health risks associated with technological overuse and why social media could be negative for your health.

  • It Can Become a Legit Addiction

    Did you know that scientists created a scale the sole purpose of which is to measure Facebook addiction? It’s called the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale (BFAS, for short), and it was pioneered by researchers in Norway to measure “problem behavior linked to Facebook use.” The basic premise of BFAS rests on a fact that has general consensus in the scientific and psychological community: screens and social networking are addictive.

    Some of the more interesting findings of the BFAS scale? Women are more likely to become addicted to Facebook than men, and people who suffer from anxiety are more likely to be addicted, too. The boredom relief and positive reinforcement that the site can provide make it difficult for some people to stop using it, even when they want to.

    However, like most things attached to technology, BFAS is already being described by many as “obsolete.” According to BFAS detractors, we need new, more complex methods for understanding online addictions that don’t prioritize Facebook over other kinds of connectivity and usage.

    For what it’s worth, though, the University of Chicago found that social media is more addictive than cigarettes.

  • It Restructures the Brain

    According to Psychology Today, there are now multiple studies that demonstrate brain atrophy in grey matter in individuals with Internet/gaming addictions. What does this mean? Well, the grey matter areas of the brain are the parts where “processing” occurs. They are the sites of the brain where planning, prioritizing, organizing, and impulse control happen - basically, they’re the parts of the brain that enable us to get things done. If these areas atrophy, they shrink and become impaired, which is kind of a big deal.

    Screen addiction also contributes to restructured white matter, and white matter is the brain stuff that links our brain hemispheres and helps our brain communicate with our body. And, the thing is, recent research also suggests that it isn’t just those who are addicted to screens that suffer from brain restructuring. Developing children’s brains are particularly susceptible to these potential problems.

  • It Can Increase the Risk of Cancer

    According to Dr. Aric Sigman, a psychologist in the UK, the isolation that social media and screen time can create might actually alter the way our genes work. Basically, Sigman’s idea is that our bodies do different things when we engage with other people in person vs. when we do so virtually. For example, our brain produces a hormone called oxytocin, which promotes bonding, and this production is different depending on whether people are in close physical contact or not. And that’s just one example of the kinds of physiological differences Sigman cites as important in the gap between in-person and online communication.

    Ultimately, Sigman’s gene alteration theory contends that increased isolation changes our physical processes in lots of different ways and can leads to lots of different but associated health problems, including but not limited to cancer.

  • It Can Result in Early Death

    This one is particularly disturbing. There are lots of studies and evidence to substantiate the idea that too much screen time leads to too much sitting, which leads to lowered cardiovascular health. So it’s important to get up and exercise after a long day on the computer, right? The scary thing is that research suggests that exercise can’t necessarily offset the negative effects of the particular sedentariness of being on screens.

    In fact, a 2011 study demonstrated that adults who spent at least four hours a day sitting in front of a screen were around 50 percent more likely to die (of any cause). In addition, they were more likely to experience heart attacks and strokes. And these results didn’t really change when researchers factored in the amount of moderate-to-vigorous exercise the study participants did. Looks like it’s time to invest in a standing desk.

  • It Contributes to Anxiety and FOMO

    Social media creates and contributes to our anxiety in two major ways: it causes us to compare our lives to others, and it is involved in the fear of missing out (FOMO, as the kids call it). Even though we all know in theory that most people carefully curate the most idealized versions of themselves and their lives for their social media personas, it’s still really difficult to not compare our own lives to theirs (muttering things to ourselves like, Traci’s traveling AGAIN? HOW DOES SHE AFFORD IT? while at our boring desk jobs).

    These feelings of envy and inadequacy associated with viewing other people’s lives through the lens of social media can contribute to feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety, personal failure, and it can even create obsessive-compulsive thought patterns and behaviors.

  • It Alters Metabolism

    So it seems pretty obvious that there can be a connection between lots of time spent sitting in front of screens and problems with weight and metabolism. To solve it, just increase your exercise, right? Well, maybe, but it turns out it’s not just the sitting in front of screens that can negatively impact our metabolisms.

    A team of researchers at Northwestern University recently found that the bright lights emitted from our smart devices (along with messing up our sleep) can also slow down our metabolisms. Essentially, light affects our cortisol levels, and our cortisol levels affect our insulin production. The research team found that participants who were exposed to more light in the morning were more able to maintain a lesser body weight than those who received most of their light in the afternoon and evening.

    Here’s the kicker: the evening light group were more likely to be receiving their light as “blue light” from a device. This later-light intake can be linked to higher sugar levels and even Type-2 diabetes. It’s better to turn the screens off at night, refrain from screen-time during meals, and get the majority of your light from natural light in the morning hours.