Almost everyone, from glamorous influencers to grumpy neighbors, uses at least one social media platform.

So it’s time to ask the question: how do you feel when you’re on social media?

The Pew Research Center estimates that 72% of the American public use social media in some form. While they allow people to connect in ways that are not possible offline, social networks are changing our relationship with our colleagues.

A growing field

Social media has become a part of everyday life for people of all ages, from teenagers hanging out with friends to grandparents keeping in touch with distant family. Even among those over 65, the area with the least acceptance of social media, 46% use Facebook.

With no face-to-face meetings during the pandemic, staying connected online has become more important and common in 2020. 51% of people in the US are spending more time on social media this year than ever before.

It is all the more important to find out how social media affects our emotions.

The study

Enter Derrick Wirtz, PhD, an associate professor of teaching in psychology at the University of British Columbia in Okanagan, Canada. In a study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies in August, Dr. Wirtz how people use three of the largest platforms: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The study reduced the use of social media to four main components: feed watching, messaging, posting updates and reading world news. Checking the main feed was by far the most common activity, as many users didn’t bother to post or send messages at all.

Scroll to Trouble

The study found that the more people used one of these platforms, the worse they felt afterwards. Dr. Wirtz said in a press release, “The more respondents recently used these sites, either collectively or individually, the more negative the impact they reported of answering our randomly-selected surveys over a 10-day period.”

He believes the reason is passive contact. People look longingly at other people’s lives and feel dissatisfied with their own – a version of the classic “grass is always greener” situation for the digital age.

“Viewing images and updates that selectively portray others positively can lead social media users to underestimate how many others actually experience negative emotions, and lead people to conclude that their own lives – with its mix from positive and negative feelings – in comparison, it is not so good, ”said Dr. Wirtz.

The internet even came up with a name for this phenomenon: FOMO, or the fear of missing out on something exciting on social media.

Restore balance

The solution could be to restore the “social” to social media. As mentioned in the summary of the paper,[T]Traditional, offline social interactions had the opposite (beneficial) effect on happiness: increasing positive effects and decreasing negative effects. “Offline interactions are usually not as passive as those on a social media feed.

Being active could be the key to healthy social media use. By posting posts and engaging with other people directly, rather than treating social sites as static feeds to browse, you can experience some of the benefits of face-to-face interaction. When people make and maintain direct connections, Dr. Wirtz: “The negative effects of using social media could be reduced – and social network websites could even have the potential to improve our well-being and happiness.”

Dr. Wirtz said the pandemic gave social media more reason to hurt happiness. “Today,” he said, “the need to only see and hear friends and family on social media due to COVID-19 could serve as a reminder of missed opportunities to spend time together.”

Take them home

Social media has been an amazing tool for bringing people together, but it can also have a negative impact on our emotional health. It is important to continue actively engaging with the platform and keeping your emotions down to earth, especially when social media is replacing face-to-face interaction, as is often the case during the pandemic.

Sean Marsala, a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based health journalist, is passionate about technology.

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