Breaking the Scroll: Social Media’s Mental Toll

Have you ever found yourself scrolling through social media for hours on end, avoiding responsibilities or wallowing in self-hatred? You are not alone. 

Multiple studies have shown that prolonged social media use is linked to an increased risk for anxiety, depression, loneliness, suicidality and sleep disturbances. In a study titled “Social media and mental health in students: a cross-sectional study during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Abouzar Nazari et al. found that social media use among college students has a direct negative effect on academic performance. 

If you find it challenging to detach from social media, know that it is not a personal weakness; rather, it’s an intentional part of its design. 

Social media platforms pair positive reinforcement: likes, comments, follows, a sense of entertainment, along with notifications, triggering a dopamine release in our brains that creates a positive association with social media and reinforces the desire to continuously scroll. It becomes an addiction akin to gambling or recreational drugs. This is no accident.

In 2017, Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, told Axios that the company’s goal was to maximize the amount of time users spent on the website, adding that likes and engagement serve as a “social-validation feedback loop.” He remarked that the founders were “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology” and that they “understood this consciously” and “did it anyway.”

In an interview with BBC, former Mozilla employee Aza Raskin said that “It’s as if they’re taking behavioral cocaine and just sprinkling it all over your interface and that’s the thing that keeps you coming back and back and back.” 

In 2006, Raskin designed infinite scroll, which allows users to continuously scroll through content without clicking anything. “If you don’t give your brain time to catch up with your impulses,” Raskin said, “you just keep scrolling.” 

So, what does this mean for students who use social media? Do you need to delete every account and never look back? 

A healthy relationship with social media looks different for everyone. Some students may rely on social media to maintain professional networks or connect with peers for a class project. Others might use social media for community groups or to keep in contact with family and friends that live far away. 

While social media can be beneficial in these ways, spending too much time scrolling can have negative effects on our personal and professional lives. If you find yourself spending hours on social media, it might be time to consider a more balanced approach. Consider implementing the following: 

  • Delete social media apps from your phone, making it harder to access them at all times. 
  • Turn off push notifications for social media apps, decreasing the desire to check them.
  • Use an app tracker to track the amount of time you spend on social media apps. Some trackers will give warnings for time usage or even shut down apps after a set period of time. 
  • Set your phone to gray-scale to make the content on social media apps less eye-catching. 
  • Hide the number of reactions on your posts. Apps like Instagram and Facebook have options for this in the “Settings & Privacy” section. 
  • Create “Tech-Free” zones, such as in your bed, at the dinner table, and with family or friends. 

If you are experiencing any of the negative effects of social media mentioned above, please do not hesitate to contact the EOU Counseling Center for help. To make an appointment, call the Counseling Center at 541-962-3524, 8:30 a.m.- 12 p.m. and 1-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

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