Feeling Lonely: Is Social Media the Problem or the Solution?

Common Questions

Is Social Media the Cause and the Solution?

While social media is by far the only cause for loneliness, it certainly contributes to it. It can also help combat loneliness by connecting us to people we care about and allowing us to make new friends.

Which effect it has depends largely on how and why it's used.


Pros and Cons

Social media can make you less lonely by keeping you connected to friends and family regardless of where they are.

It can also allow you to make new friends or reconnect with old ones. It's easy to find others with a common interest, and this can lead to a feeling of connection and social acceptance.

Social media can also take time away from your real life relationships, causing you to become disconnected from them.

Emojis and text are not a real substitute for the comfort of a genuine smile or warm hug, so you may feel less connected instead of more.

Pros: 

  • Easy to connect with others
  • Keep in touch with people long distance
  • Find old friends
  • Meet people based on common interests
  • You can remain anonymous

Cons

  • Can get in the way of real life relationships
  • Can make you feel less connected
  • People aren't always who they say they are
  • Bullying is more common
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Catfishing is a big problem online. If you haven't met someone in real life, it can be difficult to know if they are who they say they are.

This can make it difficult to know who to trust. Online you have no real way of knowing if someone is real and being honest with you.

Lastly, the internet can provide anonymity. This can allow you to be more open about certain things.

However, it also makes bullying more common, for people of all ages. Some people act in a way they wouldn't in their real lives online because anonymity protects them from the social repercussions of bad behavior.

Does Social Media Cause Loneliness?

There is no simple answer to this, but the answer appears to be that it does, or can cause loneliness and other issues.

Social Media Use is Linked To Increased:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Poor sleep
  • Low self esteem

Most studies only show a link between social media and loneliness and not a direct cause and effect. Is social media actually causing these problems, or are people who already have these problems are more likely to use social media more often.

Common sense suggests that both factors may be at work. Those who are lonely, depressed, or have social anxiety are more likely to use social media as a means to connect with others.

There's less pressure online than face to face, and it's more convenient.

However, there also seems to be a direct link between increased social media use and loneliness.

What is the Link Between Social Media and Loneliness?

The first study conducted that reveals a causal link between social media and loneliness studied two groups of college students.

Group A had to limit social media use to 30 minutes a day, divided into 10 minutes per day on 3 popular platforms.

Group B was asked to use social media as they normally would.

Baselines were established for all participants in loneliness, depressive symptoms, anxiety, and self esteem.

Study Says

Studies show that limiting social media use resulted in less depression and loneliness.

The greatest decreases were seen in those that were more depressed and lonely at the beginning of the study.

After 3 weeks, both groups were measured again in the same manner. Group A (which limited social media) had declines in their levels of loneliness and depression.

Those who were more depressed and lonely at the beginning of the study had the biggest decreases, but all participants had some decrease in these areas.

Both groups had a decrease in anxiety and FOMO (fear of missing out), likely because they were more aware of their social media use and it's potential impact.

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Why Does Social Media Make Us Lonely?

Social media is supposed to make us more connected, so why is it making us more lonely?

It's believed that the biggest cause is comparing our lives to those of others. Our online lives are shown with a pretty filter. We showcase our best moments. Our successes. Fun times we have had.

We rarely show the other side. Bad hair days. Burnt dinners. Breakups. This can lead us to look at our friend's Facebook feed and think that their lives are much better than ours.

This can cause jealousy as well. Your friend posts their new car. Their vacation photos. Their new love interest.

It's natural to be a little envious. However, if we aren't careful, jealousy and comparing our lives to others can make us feel defeated and lonely.

Like our lives will never measure up to what we see on Instagram. The truth is, they won't. Neither will the lives of the other people behind those filters.


Is Social Media Making Us Antisocial?

Social media was supposed to bring us together, but is it? Or is it making us antisocial? It depends on how you use it. Social media has a wonderful ability to connect us to others.

However, it can make us antisocial when it's viewed as a substitute for real life interaction or takes so much of our time that it interferes with real life socializing.

The above photo shows how social media, and technology in general, can make us antisocial. You see a group of friends, with all of them doing their own thing. Most of them are absorbed in their individual screens.

Healthier social media use

Before cell phones and tablets, consuming entertainment was often a social activity. You sat together and watched the same show. You listened to music together. This allowed people to bond through entertainment.

These days everyone can easily do their own thing. This makes it easy to become antisocial.

The sense of connection social media can give can also make us feel like that's all we need. Social media can be very helpful in making us feel less lonely.

However, it will never replace a warm smile and a hug, or a face to face conversation with a friend.


Social Media Addiction Facts

Social media addiction is unfortunately a very real phenomenon. It's more common than you might expect, and can have a significant negative impact on quality of life.

  • Over 350 million people worldwide are addicted to social media
  • Teens that spend 5 hours or more on their phone are 2 times as likely to be depressed
  • Increased screen time raises risk of sleep difficulties by 7%
  • Research shows that quitting twitter may be harder than quitting smoking

Are You Addicted to Social Media?

There is a simple test to determine if you are addicted to Facebook or other social media. The test uses Facebook. However, you can replace Facebook with your favorite platform or social media in general.

As you read through the questions, you'll select from:

  • Very rarely
  • Rarely
  • Sometimes
  • Often
  • Very often

Bergen Facebook Addiction Test

    1. You use Facebook so much it has a negative impact on your job/studies.
    2. You feel an urge to use Facebook more and more.
    3. You use Facebook to forget about personal problems
    4. You have tried to cut back on Facebook use without success.
    5. You become restless or troubled if you are prohibited from using Facebook.
    6. You spend a lot of time thinking about Facebook or planning how to use it.

    If you chose often or very often for 4 or more of the questions, then you are addicted to Facebook.

    Overcoming Facebook Addiction

    Like most addictions, you have two options when battling social media addiction. Moderation or complete cessation.

    Some people can reel their alcohol use in and practice moderation. Some people can actually cut back on smoking without completely quitting.

    Some people can't moderate their behavior, and the only way for them to break free from the addiction is to completely stop. They can't have just one drink, or an occasional cigarette.

    Some people will find getting off social media more beneficial and ultimately easier than limiting its use. However, the following advice is for those who wish to limit their social media use without stopping it completely.


    Social Media Free Times

    You need to set times when social media isn't allowed. Meal times, in bed, and for goodness sakes, don't take your phone to the bathroom.

    You can set other times as well, but these are the bare minimum times when you should put the phone down.

    Use an Alarm Clock

    When your phone doubles as your alarm clock, it is very tempting to start checking your Facebook feed before you even get out of bed.

    Setting Limits
    • Set social media free times
    • Use an alarm clock
    • Disable notifications
    • Turn off the internet
    • Take a break
    • Set time limits

    Get an actual alarm clock and start your day off without status updates.

    Disable Notifications

    Disable your notifications so you aren't constantly tempted to check your social media. The post will still be there in a few hours. It's not going anywhere.

    Turn off the Internet

    When your at work, bedtime, mealtime, etc. turn off your internet. You can turn off cellular and wifi data from your settings.

    This allows you to keep your phone on in case you get calls or texts, but keeps you from getting on social media or getting notifications.

    Take a Break

    Set a day or two at least every two weeks to stay off social media. This gives you time to center, recharge, and focus on your real life.

    Set Time Limits

    Have you ever gotten on Facebook for a quick peek and looked up an hour later? Decide how much time you want to spend on social media, and stick to it.

    The tracking app Your Hour will allow you to monitor your app usage and set limits.


    Should You Leave Social Media?

    Pros and Cons of Deleting Social Media


    Pros 

    • More time for real life relationships
    • Focus shifts from others to yourself
    • Increased self-confidence

    Cons

    • Job searches are more difficult
    • You are out of the loop
    • Withdrawal symptoms

    Pros of Quitting Social Media

    Some people take what's seen as a drastic step by most, and delete their social media completely.

    This will give you more time for real life relationships. However, you'll need to make arrangements to connect with friends and family in other ways.

    When we are consuming social media, we spend a lot of time thinking about what everyone else is doing, as well as what they think of what we are doing.

    Deleting social media will help you shift your mindset so your focus is on what you are doing at the moment instead of others actions or opinions.

    Constantly comparing your life to the filtered lives of others can have a negative impact on your self esteem. If you encounter this, quitting social media will boost your confidence.

    Cons of Quitting Social Media

    Sites like Facebook and Linkedin have become nearly essential for networking and finding jobs these days. Not having social media can make your job search more difficult.

    You'll also be out of the loop. Instead of calling people with news, good or bad, most people just post it on Facebook. To stay connected to friends and family, you may have to take a more proactive approach.

    You may experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop using Facebook.

    Studies have shown physical and psychological symptoms. These include increased heart rate, blood pressure, anxiety, and decreased mood.

    These symptoms resemble those experienced by those addicted to alcohol or drugs, suggesting that internet addiction is a very real phenomenon.

    Should You Ditch the Smartphone?

    If you are interested in cutting back on your social media without quitting completely, consider getting a "dumb phone". My smartphone broke recently, so I did something radical.

    I bought a flip phone.

    I have a laptop and wifi at home, so I am by no means giving up social media completely. However, my non smart phone keeps me from being on social media when I am away from the house.

    No apps. Limited internet access. And no keyboard. After a few days of using it, I've drawn some conclusions.

    First, I'm not nearly as tempted to use my phone. I find myself spending more time reading and engaging in conversations with people when I'm out.

    Second, I am starting to enjoy my disconnect time. It's relaxing not being so easily accessed at all times. I am much more engaged with what is happening around me.

    I miss my emojis. I find it hard to convey my emotions through text without using emojis. This concerns me a bit, and makes me think that some emoji free time is a good thing as well.

    I find myself texting or calling when I have something to say.

    It takes more effort to communicate on my phone through text now, and it's not as pretty and colorful. I use it for what I need to say, without rambling.

    I also enjoy my social media time more because I'm not on it all the time. It's become an indulgence. A treat. Something to be enjoyed and savored instead of constantly consumed.

    Do I miss my smart phone? Easy access to Facebook? Candy Crush? Instagram? Of course I do at times. Will I go back to having a smart phone? I don't think so.


    Can You Fight Loneliness With Social Media?

    Despite all the evidence that social media can contribute to loneliness, it can be used to fight it as well. Like many things, it comes down to how and why it's used.

    Since social media can be addictive, we will compare it to prescription painkillers. When used properly and within prescribed limits, they can improve your quality of life.

    When misused, they will have a negative impact. You may find yourself addicted and using them to cope with your problems.

    Social media is much the same. It is not inherently good or bad. How and why you use it will determine if its good or bad for you.

    How Can You Use Social Media to be Less Lonely ?

    Yes. Social media can help you fight loneliness and feelings of isolation. You will need to set some basic lines about how you use it, however.

    Interact Instead of React

    One of the main problems with social media is our tendency to consume other's content without actually interacting with them.

    Guidelines:

    • Interact instead of react
    • Limit your use
    • Spend time together irl
    • Pick up the phone

    How many times have you read someone's status and not said anything? How many times have you given them a like or an emoji, instead of a sentence of your thoughts or kind words?

    This type of interaction can make us feel more isolated in the long run. When you are talking face to face, or even send a text to a friend, you get an actual response.

    On social media platforms its all too easy to keep reading and not actually responding. Real communication is a two-way street. Be sure that you are talking with your friends and family about what's going on in their lives.

    Set Limits

    You should set limits for how much time you spend on social media each day. However, you should also limit how many platforms you are on, and who your friends are.

    Keep your friends list small. This is going against the grain in a society that equates Instagram followers with social acceptance.

    You may occasionally get questions about why you don't have more friends. Why you aren't on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Linkedin, Reddit, Tumblr, and Pinterest.

    Limit yourself to 2-3 social networks. Consider what each platform is actually bringing to your life. Which ones are really beneficial, and which are simply timewasters.

    Spend Time Together IRL

    We often make the mistake of thinking that texting replaces a good cup of coffee and conversation. Social media is great for keeping in touch, but don't let it be the only means of keeping in touch.

    Spend time together in the real world, and remember to put the phone down and give them your full attention when you do.

    Pick Up The Phone

    I just said to put it down right? Well phones have this lovely feature called calling that we make entirely too little use of these days.

    Voice conveys emotion much better than text. Video chatting is even better. It allows you to actually see the other person and see their facial expressions.

    When you can't meet up in the real world, video chatting is the best way to really connect.

    Quality Over Quantity

    You might be surprised to learn that how many platforms you use has as much if not more impact than how long you use them.

    One study followed the number of platforms people used as well as how long they were on them. Even after the results were adjusted based on the amount of time spent total, people who used more platforms had more depression and loneliness.

    In fact, those who used 7-11 social media platforms were 3 times more likely to suffer from these conditions than those who used 1-2 platforms.

    Some platforms can be better at facilitating real connections than others. Reddit and Quora often have interesting in depth conversations, while Instagram and Twitter are essentially small talk and posing for a camera.

    Facebook can be very helpful, particularly because you can join groups of people with similar interests. Just be sure not to get caught up in One-Facebook-Upmanship.

    Lastly, be real on your social media. You shouldn't paint an unflattering picture of yourself, but consider painting an authentic one.

    Perhaps if we were all a little more authentic, we wouldn't feel like we don't measure up when we look at our friend's feeds.

    Don't be afraid to reach out on social media either. It's ok to have a bad day, and it's ok to say that you could use a hug, online or otherwise. People don't know what you don't tell them.

    If you need help, reach out online. It can be a public post or a private message. Don't post sensitive personal details that you might regret later. Be tactful, but honest.

    Facebook Isn't the Good Guy or the Bad Guy

    Social media is both the problem and the solution, depending on how you use it. Take a long look at the impact social media is having on your life. Use it to connect, not disconnect.

    Does social media help ease loneliness or make it worse? Let us know your experiences below.

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