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Is social media bad for me?

Hester Phillips

28 September 2023

Social media can be great, but it can have its downsides too. Here's how to recognise the risks

Young woman looking at her phone with a city at night in the background
Photos are used for illustrative purposes. They do not imply health status or behaviour. Credit: iStock/Delmaine Donson

There’s a lot to love about social media. It can help us express ourselves, stay in touch, make connections, learn about the world and get advice – including about sexual health.

But social media can have its negative sides too. Here are some risks and red flags to look out for.

What can go wrong with social media?

Feeling bad about yourself

It’s easy to compare yourself to others on social media and feel like you’re not good enough. But we all do things to make life look bigger and better on social media than it really is. Try to remember that social media is an edited version of reality, not real life.

Because social media is online and not face to face some people use it to say nasty things – this might be about you or people like you. This can make you feel really bad. If this happens – and it happens a lot! – the best thing to do is leave the conversation, or mute or unfollow the account.

Feeling bad about how you look

Social media is often about pictures and videos, which puts focus on how people look. Try to remember that what you’re looking at has been carefully composed, edited or filtered. This is especially true when it comes to influencers and celebrities, who use many editing tricks and spend lots on their appearance.

Chasing likes and comments

Getting positive comments and likes can feel great. But chasing them, so you are posting more and being more exaggerated to get a response, can make you feel terrible. Especially when the likes don’t come or the comments are negative. Why not spend time with people who like you in real life instead?

Feeling lonely or isolated

When times are tough, social media can make you feel like you’re the only person who is unhappy. This can feel so lonely, but it’s how social media makes lots of people feel. And the more time you spend online, the less time you’ve got to spend with people in real life who make you feel good.

Feeling depressed and anxious

Social media is a constant source of information and news, some of which focuses on bad, negative and scary things. And the more you click on this kind of content, the more you’ll see it in your feed. This can make things seem way worse than they actually are.

Believing misinformation

Anyone can post on social media. Even people who don’t have their facts right. This makes it hard to know what is real or accurate. This can put you at risk. For example, say you see a post about preventing sexually transmitted infections. If this advice is wrong and you follow it, you might think you’re protected when you aren’t. That’s why it’s important to check where the information is coming from, and if you don’t know or trust the source do some fact-checking on trusted websites like Be In the KNOW.

What are the signs that I have a problem with social media?

Here are some red flags to look out for.

Spending more time online

You find it hard to stop using social media and are spending more time than you’d like checking it.

Feeling bad, anxious or angry after being on social media

After scrolling through social media you feel bad about yourself, angry at other people or generally more worried and anxious.

Struggling to sleep

You’re scrolling social media for hours when you should be going to sleep and compulsively check your phone during the night. Or your worries about what is happening on social media keep you awake.

Changing your eating habits

Often worrying about how you look or your weight can be sign that social media is having a negative effect on you. This might lead you to restrict and record your food, binge eat or vomit what you’ve eaten.

Self-harming or feeling suicidal

These are scary things to experience, and they are not just caused by social media but it can often make these feelings worse. Remember you’re not alone. There are people who can help you if you’re struggling with thoughts like these – the best thing to do is talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling.

If you are feeling any of these things, don't just ignore them. Our page on looking after your mental health for ideas on what you can do to help you feel better. 

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