Using social media activates the brain’s reward center, McLean Hospital said. In response to social media use, your brain releases dopamine, a feel-good chemical linked to pleasurable activities such as sex, food, and social interaction. According to the Pew Research Center, 69% of adults and 81% of teenagers in the United States use social media.
“Think of the slot machine: if players knew they would never get money playing the game, they would never play. The idea of a potential future reward keeps the machines going,” said psychologist Jacqueline Sperling “The same goes for social media sites. It’s unclear how many likes a photo will get, who will like the photo, and when the photo will get likes. The outcome unknown and the possibility of a desired result can keep users engaged with the sites.
Fear of missing something also comes into play. When everyone uses social media, not using it leads to fear of missing out on jokes, interactions, and experiences. It creates anxiety and depression and can even affect your physical health.
A 2018 UK study linked social media use to decreased, disrupted and delayed sleep.
Penn Medicine says to be on the lookout for these warning signs of unhealthy behavior on social media:
• Feeling increased anxiety, depression or loneliness.
• Spending more time on social networks than with friends and family.
• Comparing themselves to others or frequently feeling jealous.
• Being trolled or cyberbullied online.
• Engage in risky behavior or scandalous photos to gain likes and comments.
• You notice that your school and work relationships are suffering.
• De-prioritize self-care.
If social media is becoming a problem in your life, try putting it aside. Distract yourself by scheduling a meeting (face-to-face!), getting out and exercising, finding a place to volunteer, or stepping away from the screen. Be open to talking to your healthcare provider about your feelings. They can screen you for depression and anxiety and recommend a treatment that’s right for you.