When we listen to people who are obsessed with Instagram talk about their interest in the social media site, there’s may be a good reason to be concerned about its possible mental health effects on them. Those of older generations may berate young adults for using too much impersonal communication like Instagram, and may warn them about basing their beliefs and images around the unrealistic standards the site may create.
But is that all there is to it? We’ve scoured various studies to show how Instagram can affect your mental health, and the results might surprise you.
The Risk/Reward Conjecture
Social media often has a self-reinforcing nature, and Instagram is no different. Scrolling through endless images releases dopamine, a “feel good” hormone usually associated with food, sex, and social interactions. In addition to causing you momentary happiness, dopamine is also highly addictive. Using social media may create a consistent need for more social media, as your body begins to crave the attention – which, in turn, creates more dopamine – to satisfy its endless desires.
All social media depends on this addictive loop to achieve the results desired in the industry. However, the best results for social media may not be the best for your mental health.
Instagram expressly tailors its content to let users get their images as close to perfection as possible, and we’re all aware that photo manipulation is a common occurrence for even the most mundane images. The reasoning behind allowing manipulation of images is two-fold.
On one hand, we want to present our best image to the world. As social creatures, humans crave affection and self-esteem boosts. Instagram provides a way to quickly get notification when our pictures grab the attention of our friends, family, and even strangers. This surge in self-esteem is addictive, as it reinforces the need to present ourselves in the most suitable manner, and remove all the negative aspects of our lives to the public.
However, there’s a down side to this. When all of the images they see are perfect, users scrolling through Instagram looking at them will begin to feel inferior to the people they’re following: “Surely, if all I’m seeing is perfection, there must be something wrong with my life?” Thus, we try to improve our photos to match the perfect images that are presented to us daily while we scroll through, and the cycle continues.
Another aspect that plays into the heavy use of social media is FOMO – fear of missing out. When people around you are all using the same application and you’re not, you might begin to wonder why you are not on it and that you need to be a part of it. The “fear of missing out” is exactly that. We feel the need to connect with others, even on a superficial basis, so we’ll most often start using the same social media platform as all of the people in our surroundings. Our dopamine-craving brains need all the fuel they can get, so we begin to think that we just can’t miss out on the chance to follow our friends in their endeavors.
Various research projects have been conducted to investigate all the negative aspects of using Instagram. These studies reported a sharp decrease in self-esteem and confidence from heavy social media usage, and an increase in anxiety and depression. Scrolling past nothing but perfect images and curated snippets of other people’s lives will make us wonder what is wrong with our own lives.
Altered images also pose a real threat to how we view our own body. With perfection flaunted at every corner of Instagram, many users have a hard time figuring out what is real and what isn’t. They can develop body image issues along the way. This is especially true for teens. Because puberty is one of the most essential – and challenging – developmental periods people go through, mental health issues during this time become especially dangerous.
Additionally, another study correlated heavy use of smartphones with negative social interactions. Termed “phubbing”(“phone” + “snubbing”), it describes frequent phone users who may have trouble keeping up with real-life interactions. Some users may even abandon an ongoing conversation to check on their phone, which negatively impacts their relationships, even with the people closest to them. It’s no wonder that phubbing is considered disrespectful to the other party and can lead to dissatisfaction in personal and business relationships.
Another study correlated social media use with sleep deprivation. Users who are on Instagram regularly tend to go to sleep later, and it’s been found that using your phone just before going to bed can negatively impact the duration and quality of sleep. The effects of a lack of sleep can seep into other areas of our personal and professional lives, and can even cause anxiety and depression in severe cases.
However, not all is bad with Instagram. While studies generally agree on the harmful outcomes of Instagram use or the consistent overuse of social media in general, there are a few aspects of our lives Instagram can affect positively.
For example, a study has reported that Instagram may help attenuate loneliness much more than text-based media. Humans are visual creatures, and pictures will elicit a much better response than texting. If Instagram users experience positive interactions on the platform, they are much more likely to report a better mental state.
This positive impact of Instagram needs to be considered, but experts still warn against overuse of social media. Positive interactions need to be the result of genuine connections, and users who chase superficial relationships on social media are more likely to become addicted to Instagram.
Additionally, Instagram is also great for reinforcing positive behavior and allow an outlet for personal expression. Users are free to make their content and display the parts of themselves of which they are most proud. Studies have shown that self-expression leads to a decrease in anxiety and loneliness. Users who follow more close friends than strangers are more likely to have freedom of self-expression and a positive experience while using Instagram. However, you are also more likely to meet and connect with strangers who think like you or share common interests and life aspects, which leads to a more positive body image and an increase in confidence.
Don’t Overdo It
Studies show that Instagram can have both a positive and negative impact on our mental health. However, experts agree that the best course of action is to moderate your online presence and avoid falling into the pit of constantly checking your Instagram for new updates.
Why do you use Instagram? How many strangers do you follow? Let us know in the comment section below.