We all do it. Refreshing our news feeds until our thumbs are tired, confused that nothing significant enough to require a status has happened in the last 30 seconds. If you don't do it then you're a better person than me, and perhaps this article won't be of such importance to you. To those who do know the familiar glow of your Facebook page on your iPhone at 4am stay with me...
Facebook is great for many, many reasons. You can stay in touch with people, see what they're up to without having to pick up the phone, you can share news, and links, and retro #tbt photographs that make everyone cringe. BUT, (and there is always a but), there is also growing evidence to suggest that everyone's favourite social networking site could have a potentially detrimental effect on mental health, especially for those predisposed to illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Here's why...
1) Compare & Despair
No matter what you are doing or how happy you are, one look on Facebook can convince you that everyone you know is having a much better time than you.
If you are already feeling vulnerable, and the voice inside your head is telling you that you're not good enough, Facebook provides the ideal looking glass to provide ammo to that little gremlin. Sparkly fantastic lives are reflected back at you through a falsified looking glass. You think 'how beautiful she looks', 'how many friends he has', 'how exciting their life is', and in comparison reduce yourself to nothing.
Not coincidentally mental health therapists are starting to notice a pattern of Facebook use when it comes to identifying, 'compare & despair' which has long been identified as one of the mechanisms used by people suffering from anxiety or depression.
Unfortunately even though we know deep inside that these posts are exaggerated and often don't symbolise the truth, our weak brain can use them as fuel to sink our self esteem even further.
2) Never letting go
In the famous words of Rose Dawson in Titanic, Facebook gives you the perfect opportunity to 'Never Let Go' of the past.
In the days when we still just had humble phones to keep us in contact, once a relationship or friendship ended, we would grieve for a while and eventually get over it. Now, we have the perfect excuse to cyber stalk our ex- partners, see how well they're doing, and how attractive their new girlfriend or boyfriend is, thus making us feel worse about ourselves. We scroll through old photos reminding ourselves of what things were like in the rose tinted ' good times'. Even if we attempt to go cold turkey by de-friending them, they will always pop up in a friend's comments or likes, reminding you of them and making it more difficult for you to move on with your life.
3) Compulsive behaviour
The introduction of smart phones paved a very easy path for compulsive behaviour. On average we check out phones 150 times a day, and I would bet that a fair few of these include checking our Facebook apps. Even when we are not on Facebook, how many people would admit to thinking about what picture they want to post, or what status to write? Without even using it, we are thinking about using it.
Like any kind of habitual, compulsive behaviour it becomes addictive and distracts us from the other activities we are engaging in. I will admit at times only partly concentrating on a film, or gig, more interested in uploading pictures of the moment than being in the moment.
Studies have also found that overuse of smart phones to maintain social interaction can lead to increased stress especially amongst those already suffering from anxiety. The pressure to respond to a comment, or message, or thinking about how a status might be received, is just adding to our worries in our already busy head.
4) The search for the perfect selfie
After the 23rd attempt you manage to take a selfie that makes you look your best. You then spend 10 minutes editing it to achieve the perfect skin tone, and eye colour, and the result is a stunningly beautiful, but completely unrealistic version of yourself.
Like the retouched celebrities that we see in magazines, and movies, we are constantly presenting the rest of the world an enhanced version of ourselves. It's hardly surprising that we are then disappointed when we look in the mirror, and don't see the same thing. This is all the more concerning for teenage girls who are devoting their time to producing these flawless images of themselves, and then comparing them to others. Rather than just being a phase it may also be the start of something more worrying.
Psychiatrists and researchers alike have seen a clear link between taking lots of selfies and Body Dismorphic Disorder (BDD), with some psychiatrists reporting that at least two thirds of patients suffering from BDD have a compulsion to take lots of selfies and upload them on social media.
5) Allows you to detach without cutting yourself off
This one isn't unique to Facebook and can be said for many of the social networking platforms we use now. Whatsapp, Instagram, Twitter are all great mediums for sharing, but they also provide the perfect excuse to never have to physically meet up with or talk to anyone.
Anyone who has suffered from depression will know that desire to withdraw from social interaction. By continuing to communicate as your online self, it makes it all the easier present an 'i'm doing fine' image of yourself, and prevent you getting the help that you need.
6) Longing for likes and social approval
If you have a personality that seeks approval Facebook is the ideal platform to provide instant gratification. Unfortunately though it's just a short term solution, 72 'likes' on your photo may make you feel great about yourself for an hour or so, but doesn't change how you feel about yourself deep down.
From a young age now people are measuring their activities, images, thoughts, and opinions with the amount of 'likes' or 'comments' they receive. To hold the belief that the reason that you are doing something is to see how much approval you can receive from others cannot be good for long term mental stability.
7) The green eyed monster
I have known perfectly healthy relationships split up over a ' tag' or 'like' on Facebook. When you are feeling insecure in yourself your brain can paint a thousand pictures which are mostly far from the truth. An innocent comment, or photograph from the past, can transform itself into an elaborate story of betrayal which you then fuel by searching for anything else you can find bordering on suspicious. Of course, sometimes these suspicions are not completely unfounded, but the looking glass of Facebook can magnify things completely out of proportion.
Now I am not saying quit Facebook altogether ( I certainly couldn't do it) but USE RESPONSIBLY. Remember that people choose what they want you to see, and most of the time it's far from the true picture.