Feeling Down or Pumped Up? How Facebook Can Swing Your Mood

Social media, with its myriad platforms, has taken the world by storm. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram dominate our lives, whether we like it or not. While social media helps us stay connected with friends, family, and interests, too much self-comparison can be harmful, leading to negative effects on our mental health.

Facebook and Depression

A recent study conducted by Mai-Ly Steers, a researcher at the University of Houston, revealed a link between Facebook use and depressive symptoms. The study found that spending too much time on Facebook, examining others’ lives through their posts, can make users feel bad about their own lives and situations when they begin comparing their lives to what they see online.

According to Steers, Facebook doesn’t cause depression, but depressive feelings and extensive time on Facebook tend to be connected. The issue is people tend to post the highlights and successes, bringing about a skewed perception of reality for the viewers. When users compare these highlights to their everyday lives, this can lead to Facebook-induced depression.

The concept of social comparison is not new, but social media can make it even worse. As Steers puts it, “One danger is that Facebook often gives us information about our friends that we are not normally privy to, which gives us even more opportunities to socially compare.”

Anxiety and Inadequacy

In 2012, British charity Anxiety UK conducted research on Facebook use, revealing that it may feed anxiety and increase a person’s feelings of inadequacy. The study found that 53% of respondents said their behavior had changed due to the use of social media sites; 51% of those said the impact was negative. The respondents who said their lives were worsened by social media also reported feeling less confident after comparing their achievements to their online friends.

The study also found that two-thirds of respondents had difficulty relaxing and sleeping after using the sites, and more than 60% said the only way they could get a break was to switch off their gadgets. Half the respondents stated they felt “worried or uncomfortable” when they couldn’t access their social media or email accounts.

Subjective Well-Being

Another study published in the journal PLOS ONE sought to address whether Facebook use influences subjective wellbeing over time. The researchers used a text messaging sampling method, sending texts to participants five times per day for two weeks, examining how they felt and how satisfied they were with their lives.

The study found that Facebook use predicts negative shifts in these variables over time. The more people used Facebook, the worse they felt, and the more their life satisfaction declined over time. However, direct interaction with people did not predict these negative outcomes.

Spreading Happiness

However, it’s not all bad for Facebook users. Research by the University of California, San Diego, revealed that Facebook users can “catch a mood” from reading updates, for better or worse. The researchers found that “people are not just choosing other people like themselves to associate with but actually causing their friends’ emotional expressions to change… We have enough power in this data set to show that emotional expressions spread online and also that positive expressions spread more than negative.”

What we can learn from these studies is that we need to be in control of our “need” to log on and check status updates. We need to be aware that people tend to post their best moments, which present a skewed view of reality. Comparing such carefully curated posts to our own lives is detrimental to our mental wellbeing.

If we can change our perspective from comparing our lives to others’ to simply being happy for their successes, our wellness will improve. Focusing on positive posts can help spread happiness around the world, and promote a better sense of wellbeing in our social circles.