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11 Ways Social Media Is Ruining Your Physical and Mental Health

Updated March 13, 2020 63.5k views11 items

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.

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  • 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.

  • It Leads to Sleep Problems

    There are actually a bunch of reasons why too much screen time can lead to sleep problems. For one thing, there’s a hormone called melatonin that helps control our sleep/wake cycles. The blue light emitted by our screens restrains the production of melatonin, and can make it more difficult to both fall asleep and sleep well once you do.

    Moreover, if you think tech helps you unwind before bed, you’re pretty much wrong. Sending a few quick emails or scrolling through a Twitter feed actually tricks you’re brain into thinking it needs to stay awake longer by exciting, startling, or upsetting it.

    Finally, sleeping with technology in the bedroom harms sleep because its chimes, alerts, signals, and vibrations can literally wake us up. And, sometimes even when it doesn’t sound audibly, tech in the bedroom can create the expectation of an alert, which also makes it difficult to sleep and sleep well.

    To get better sleep, experts recommend turning off all screens at least 30 minutes before bed and leaving tech outside the bedroom door.

  • It Can Lead to Posture Problems

    Next time you’re standing and scrolling through your smart phone, do a quick posture scan of your body. Odds are, your ribcage is depressed, your shoulders are rounded and internally rotated, and your head is forward with your eyes cast down at your phone. In and of itself, standing like this for a short period of time probably doesn’t lead to long-term damage. But the thing is, we social media users stand like this A LOT and OFTEN. And the bad posture we adopt for better Facebook app scrolling can lead to problems in our lumbar spine; lower back pain; neck, shoulder, and upper back problems; and shallow breathing.

    If you spend a lot of time looking at a screen because you have to, take good stretching breaks, consider a standing desk, and check in with your posture to see if you’re contributing to your own back and neck pain.