This guest post was contributed by Annemarie Kelleghan, a graduate student in the USC Psychology Department's Clinical Science program.
Last Friday, at the end of a painfully exhausting, long week at work, I left the office with a hop in the step (or more accurately, I could have hop if I wasn't so tired). As I got into my car and pulled out of the parking lot, my mind turned to the dinner plans I made with a small group of friends. As I pulled into the driveway at home, I was ready for a fun night. But my friends don't. A quick glance at my phone revealed a flood of messages. My friends had other last minute commitments. Children, partners and exhaustion got in the way. No more plans for my Friday night.
I went inside and told myself that a quiet night at home was just what I needed. I ordered food, showered and started eating dinner on the couch. with my phone I started absentmindedly scrolling through social media feeds to see what everyone else was up to. Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook… it all went downhill from there. Why don't I have anything to do on a Friday night? Why can't I find anyone to meet up with? And then my catastrophic conclusion: I must be lonely.
I think we all had those Friday nights. on nights like thispessimistic studiessocial media use and mental health seem to make a lot of sense. Researchers have found that people who use multiple social media platforms report more symptomsAngstAndDepression. Longer or more frequent use of social media also seems to predict depressive symptoms. However, not all research on social media use and mental health is bleak. People use social media in many different ways. When you tap into social media to strengthen existing relationships, your mental health outcomes can be very different than scrolling through social media out of desperation or loneliness.
My Friday night social media spree wasn't motivated by a desire to improve my connections with specific friends, but rather by an attempt to break out of my lonely mood. However, it turns out that social media may not be the most effective way to lessen feelings ofsocial isolation. A group of researchers in South Korea surveyed 300 young adults, ages 19 to 39, to better understand the relationship between using social media to seek connection and avoiding social isolation. Participants reported on their use of social media, face-to-face communication, perceived social isolation, social connectedness, and subjective well-being. The researchers found that face-to-face communication increased subjective well-being by both increasing connectedness and decreasing social isolation. The use of social media, on the other hand, increased subjective well-being only through increasing connectedness, but not through decreasing social isolation. Because social media does not resolve our feelings of social isolation, the negative health effects of social isolation can creep into our lives if we are unable to find more effective ways to reduce our feelings of social isolation.
Social isolation isn't just an annoying problem that can lead to late-night social media binges. Social isolation is also associated with negative long-term health problems. Researchers in the Netherlands studied a group of people with and without diabetes. They measured glucose metabolism, impaired fasting glucose and impaired glucose tolerance, all measures used to diagnose diabetes. Researchers also rated participants' social networks, asking how many people they interacted with on a daily and weekly basis and how often they saw friends and family. The results showed that smaller social networks were associated with an increase in newly diagnosed diabetes in both men and women. In addition, there has been a 10% decrease in the numbersocial networkMembers who lived within walking distance of the participant were associated with an increased likelihood of being newly diagnosed with diabetes. Although this study provides no evidence that social isolation causes diabetes, it does suggest that social isolation is at least one indicator of more serious health problems.
Social isolation was also associated with an increased risk of mortality in a four-year follow-up study of male health professionals. This study assessed social connection as measured by frequency and number of social contacts, marital status, and community group membership in a sample of approximately 50,000 men, all of whom did not endorse a diagnosis of cancer, stroke, or heart attack when reporting their social isolation . Mortality monitoring began four years after the survey was sent to participants. Family and work records and the National Death Index were used to identify deceased participants. Compared to the men with the most social connections, those with the greatest social isolation had a higher risk of mortality during the follow-up period. Although no association was found between cancer and social isolation, individuals who were socially isolated had an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, accidents, orSuicide. These data indicate that social isolation predicts mortality from specific causes over time.
What: Pixabay, Creative Commons
But when social isolation is associated with so many negative health consequences - both physical and psychological - and scrolling through social media doesn't seem to solve the problem, what can we do? In today's digitally connected world, finding social media to reduce social isolation might seem like a logical step (it's called social media, after all!). However, research shows that if we try to prevent social isolation, we are likely to benefit more from increased face-to-face communication. Instead of retreating to the perceived comfort of our phones, we need to put down our devices and interact with those in the world around us (rather than the World Wide Web around us). While a little social media use isn't a bad thing, make an effort to stop scrolling long enough to say hello to your neighbor before you head out to work in the morning. Join in the awkward social chatter with the grocery store cashier. Join a club or organization that actually meets in person. Invite friends over for dinner and come up with a back-up plan in case they break out (or just find some less outlandish friends!), and remember there are so many ways to be social that none are include social media.
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