social media health risks

Resisting the lure of a #filtered life

Constantly uploading your life has risks
January 26, 2016

Fix your hair, tilt the phone to find your best angle and smile prettily for the camera—a beautiful sunset is in the background. Ten snaps later an ‘impeccable’ photo is captured. A frantic hunt for the perfect photo filter ensues followed by six hashtags to attract the most attention. Excitement courses through your veins as you press ‘upload.’ Unfortunately, the true beauty of the scene unfolding before you is lost because you’ve seen it all through the eyes of others.

In today’s world, it seems like nothing makes us feel more alive than when we log into our social media accounts greeted by a barrage of notifications. It must mean we are worthy. Our lives are meaningful because others are paying attention.


“People crave belonging, connection and a voice. We all want to be heard. However, in an increasingly busy and complex world, we rely on quick access to news, information and social connections,” said Kathleen Roblyer, DNP, APRN, PMHNP-BC, a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner and a clinical assistant professor with the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing.

These social connections can often dominate our lives when we’re held sway to the sound of virtual applause. Young adults and teenagers are often specifically impacted by the highs and lows of social media use.

“During teen and young adult years, relationships are in flux and are challenging. It is a time of significant interpersonal growth and changing social responsibilities. Sometimes those changing relationships cause discomfort. Within the world of social media, one can always find sympathizers or sparring partners,” Roblyer said. “So, when comfort is needed, it can be found. For someone who has little support from people around them, this can be a lifesaver. But if that comfort provides escape from the challenge of getting along with people in the family, school, or workplace, it can inhibit growth.”


Face illuminated by the glare of the phone screen, you check your notifications minute by minute. Your photo has gained one ‘like’ in the last minute and two overall. Hours pass, no new likes appear but an anonymous comment criticizing your looks does. The decision to delete the image is easy—why even bother with it when no one is paying attention?

In terms of negative impact, social media is one more way that people might feel estranged, hurt, victimized or disenfranchised. “It gives some a vast audience for their acting out and threats, reinforcing aggressive or antisocial behaviors,” Roblyer said.

“One of the most glaring problems is the bullying of a person or bashing of a group,” she added. “Unkind remarks and threats are often made when people believe that social media will give them anonymity and impunity. Acting out in an unkind way causes stress both for the one communicating and the recipient. Another stressor is the onslaught of news 24/7, especially sensationalism. This causes people to feel anxious, threatened and worried about things that they cannot change.”

Society’s obsession with constantly being on display is fueled by new apps and platforms—giving us an inside look at the most personal details of someone’s daily life.

“This is something that psychologists and social scientists are watching closely,” Roblyer said. “Is this narcissism or simply a desire to share part of oneself with others and find meaning in those connections?  I don’t think we know yet. In my clinical practice, I don’t find consistency. For some, these habits occur with obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. For others, they seem to be a contemporary expression of extroversion or social relationships.”


According to Roblyer, while social media addiction is a term prevalently used by the media, it’s not an official diagnosis. “Certainly, behaviors appear to be addictive when they stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain and cause a person to crave more and more of that stimulus to the exclusion of healthy and balanced habits,” she said. “The most important thing is to understand the patterns of use and meaning of social media to the individual and work from there to help them find balance.”

A simple test to determine if your social media habits are positive or negative is to reflect on whether social media is leading you to become your best self. “When you engage in social media are you becoming a wiser, more engaged, more vibrant person? Are you kind, respectful, and loving? Are you contributing in a more meaningful way to others and making the world a better place? If not, then it’s not helping your mental health,” Roblyer said.


Taking the time to detox from a life controlled by computer screens, tablets, phones and email is important, however, Roblyer stressed ‘unplugging’ from social media doesn’t accomplish much if you return to the same behavioral patterns.

“I think it’s more useful to find a way to use social media positively, responsibly and in moderation,” she said. “It should be a helpful tool, not a compulsion or driving force. That being said, sometimes it’s good to be unplugged for a season, whether hours, days, weeks, or months, simply to change your perspective. It’s a highly individual issue.”


Despite the many risks of social media, we shouldn’t forget that it does have positive benefits, too. “Social media gives individuals the opportunity to spread messages of kindness, compassion and hope,” Roblyer said. “It offers the potential for rapid connection with family and friends when we’re not geographically close and it’s a great vehicle for distributing health promotion information in small chunks that are appealing and accessible.”

Social media can sometimes seem like a double-edged sword—offering both positive and negative outcomes because of our actions. “By changing the way we approach and use social media we can better ourselves and our mental health,” Roblyer said. We can actually start living life when we’re able to enjoy that beautiful sunset without feeling the intense urge to document it or have a virtual crowd confirm its beauty.

— Lauren Thompson

You may also like
older woman reading a book
Social isolation: The COVID-19 pandemic’s hidden health risk for older adults
Lasting change: Researchers study long-term effectiveness of school-based intervention to reduce mental illness stigma
female family nurse practitioner student uses stethoscope to check heart and lung sounds on Hispanic pediatric patient
$1.5 million grant to establish academic-practice partnership with rural health care providers
family of three wearing face coverings outdoors
Remaining positive (and safe) as life returns to “normal”