A recent Canadian study revealed that reducing social media usage by approximately 50% among teenagers and young adults who were previously experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression resulted in a notable improvement in their perception of their physical appearance and weight in just a few weeks. This finding highlights the potential positive impact of reducing social media consumption on mental health. Limiting Social Media Use Results in Rapid Improvement in Teenagers’ Self-Esteem.
Limiting Social Media Use Results in Rapid Improvement in Teenagers’ Self-Esteem
According to Helen Thai, a PhD student from McGill University in Montreal and co-author of the study, the results didn’t come as a complete surprise to her. Thai proposed that prior studies on conventional media and its influence on unrealistic beauty and body standards have yielded comparable outcomes.
Regarding social media, Thai explained that it’s not just celebrities and influencers who play a role, but also individuals within one’s own social network. This can make it easier to engage in comparisons that may impact one’s mental health.
Based on the study, the authors approximated that young individuals allocate roughly six to eight hours of their daily time to screen-based activities, with a significant portion of that time spent on social media platforms. Exposure to hundreds or even thousands of images in these settings may lead to internalization and impact their well-being.
According to a press statement by Gary Goldfield, the lead author and senior scientist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, it was previously unclear whether social media usage exacerbates existing mental and physical health concerns or if individuals with such issues tend to spend more time on these platforms. This study’s findings shed light on this question.
Involving 220 undergraduate students aged between 17 and 25 years, the study was conducted with a participant group consisting of 76% females, 23% males, and 1% others. To be eligible for the study, individuals had to use social media on their smartphones for at least two hours every day.
The study recruited students who displayed signs of anxiety and depression, and each participant was requested to rate their physical appearance and weight satisfaction on a 5-point scale before and after the intervention. The statements presented to them included phrases like “I am content with my weight” and “I feel good about my physical appearance.”
Chris Davis, a psychology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa and co-author of the study, noted that viewing images of individuals who appear more attractive or successful may exacerbate feelings of insecurity, particularly among those who are already experiencing vulnerability or low self-esteem. This may contribute to a downward spiral of negative emotions. In the initial week of the study, participants were instructed to utilize social media according to their usual routine while a software program monitored their screen time usage.
Subsequently, half of the participants were instructed to limit their social media use to a maximum of 60 minutes daily. On average, participants who were instructed to reduce their social media usage limited their daily screen time to 78 minutes, while the control group continued to average 188 minutes per day.
The study found that individuals who limited their social media usage to 60 minutes per day for three weeks demonstrated a noteworthy enhancement in their attitudes towards their physical appearance and weight, whereas the control group experienced no notable changes, as reported by the researchers. According to Nancy Mramor, a psychologist based in Pittsburgh who was not involved in the study, comparing oneself to others has a 50-50 probability of resulting in negative feelings.
Mramor emphasized the significance of comparing oneself to one’s previous self in all aspects of life, including social media, academics, sports performance, or social status. She advised against comparing one’s weight to that of an individual seen online and instead suggested comparing it to one’s weight from the previous week.
Mramor emphasized the importance of turning inward and focusing on one’s own feelings about oneself instead of external images. By doing so, one has the opportunity to view themselves holistically and not just from a surface-level perspective. Without the constant bombardment of images on social media, individuals can take a step back and pay attention to what truly matters to them.
Mramor recommended extreme parental supervision as the best way to limit social media for minors. She suggested blocking harmful sites on their phones. According to Mramor, as adults, it’s important to consume media mindfully and with intention, being aware of the potential impact it may have on our mental health and self-esteem.
Mramor suggested that to view media carefully, one must pause and evaluate their emotions while consuming the content. It’s crucial to identify if the content is causing any negative impact and take appropriate actions, she added. Reducing your social media usage is a straightforward solution to the negative effects of social media. This was the exact approach the students took in the study. One way to reduce social media use is to create a specific schedule for its usage. According to Davis, pick an hour or two in a day when you will use social media, and then engage in other activities that you enjoy, such as spending time with friends.