Is social media having a negative effect on your spirit?

How to tell if it is, and tips to break free.
Published April 16, 2019

Social media is great for staying connected with others, but it can also have negative effects on us – and sometimes we may not even be aware when it’s happening. But it’s important to take stock of our social media usage and how it’s making us feel so we can nip any negative effects in the bud.

“Social media plays such a big part in our lives,” says Nooria Khan, a content and social media marketing executive at GigWorker.


She adds that excess use of social media can mean we sacrifice our mental health, our well-being, and our time.


Pete Dunlap, founder of Digital Detangler, says he sees social media negatively influencing users in a few ways.


  • Divided identities: “The way we present ourselves on social media often bears little resemblance to what’s going on inside,” Dunlap says. “You may feel burnt out, depressed or listless, but it’s unlikely you’ll post your negative feelings online. Everyone else does the same thing, so we end up feeling like everyone else is having a great life, while we can’t eliminate our own negative feelings.”
  • Public-private blur: “When you get together with friends you follow on social media, there is a sense that there is no need to go back over the events of the recent past, after all, you’ve seen the pictures and read the captions,” he says. “That said, what we post for ‘public’ consumption is often different from what we are willing to share one-on-one with a close friend. … By consuming less of your friends’ posts via social media, you’re more likely to forge a deeper connection when you meet in person.”
  • Evidence-based experiences: “Since we are all carrying high-resolution cameras in our pockets, it has become natural to capture a great moment. If people on social media reinforce this behaviour by giving your post many likes, you will begin to habitually seek out that social validation.” Dunlap says if you find you’re doing activities you aren’t really interested in just to get a photo for social media, that’s a sign you’ve begun to allow social media to influence you in unhealthy ways. “Our behaviours should ideally flow from our values, not what gets likes on social media.”


How to tell if social media is affecting you negatively


To figure out if social media is hurting your spirit, Dunlap recommends auditing your input and output.

Open up your favourite news feed and look at the first 10 posts that appear, he says.

“Are these posts from people you know personally? What emotions do these posts evoke? Do these posts reinforce your interests or draw you away from the things you care about?”


The next step, which is more difficult, he says, is to look at your last 10 posts.


“What are you putting out into cyber space? Are your posts personal in nature or designed to push some affinity group’s agenda? What emotions might your posts evoke in others? Are the posts representative of your values?”


Khan adds, “You know that social media is hurting your spirit when you start comparing yourself with others.”


She notes that “feeling envious” is natural, but it can get out of control when all we see on social media is everyone’s successes, triggering insecurities and feelings of incompetence, “not to mention depression, loneliness, and anxiety.”

“But, we are in full control of ourselves!” says Khan, even if we don’t realize it. And we can take action to break free from the negative effects of social media.


Ways to break free

  • Purge your social media apps

“Facebook and Instagram can create feelings of low self-esteem and affect mental health,” says Khan. “Avoiding these social apps can boost your feelings [of] self-satisfaction and can create feelings of positivity.”

  • Use social media on your laptop instead

“A laptop isn’t usually open while you are driving or eating with friends,” says Dunlap, “if only the same could be said of our smartphones.”

If moving your social media usage to your laptop isn’t feasible, he recommends using apps on your smartphone (he suggests Screen Time on iOS and Digital Wellbeing on Android) to set limits on how much time you spend each day on social media.

Khan recommends browser extensions that eliminate or clean up your news feeds as well as apps like Moment to keep track of your mobile screen time.


  • Delete your social media apps during the week

If purging your apps altogether isn’t an option, try doing it just during the workweek.

“This keeps you focused during the week but allows you to catch up on the weekends in case you are worried about the content you may have missed,” Dunlap says.


  • Get out in the real world

“Sometimes you just get tired of all the fake world around you,” says Khan. “You should go out and meet people instead of talking on the phone. This will help you [be] more social and confident.”