Social media shapes the way we communicate, connect, and consume information. It’s also long been clear that social media platforms – and how we use them – can profoundly affect our mental health. Scientific studies continue to back up this idea – but not always in the way we might immediately think.
Let's explore how social media can affect mental health, for good and bad, and some specific ways it can affect you as an expat.
3 positive aspects of social media
1. Dealing with culture shock
Depending on where you're from and where you've moved to, you could experience significant feelings of culture shock in your new location.
While culture shock has the potential to negatively impact your experience, using social media can help you find recommendations for places to go and things to do that can either remind you of home or help you immerse yourself in your new surroundings, depending on how you’re feeling and what you want to do.
2. Staying connected to people back home
Even if you relocate abroad with your partner and children, it's only natural to miss others still living in your home country while you embark on your new adventure.
Another positive aspect of social media is having the ability to stay connected with those friends and loved ones. This can be especially powerful if you have a close-knit group of friends and you’ve all moved overseas.
Using social media to stay connected to loved ones is a great way to stave off feelings of loneliness while building in-person connections in your new location.
3. Building your social circle in your new location
Social media apps are excellent for helping you build real-life relationships when you move overseas, which are vital for your mental health.
Whether you’re seeking out fellow expats from your home country or looking for how you can pursue your hobbies and passions, which will indirectly help you form social bonds, both traditional social platforms and apps like InterNations are perfect in this respect.
Learn more about connecting with fellow expats after relocating overseas.
3 negative aspects of social media
1. Social media envy
The negative aspects of fear of missing out (FOMO) are well documented, and social media is often the primary trigger for such feelings.
While you may enjoy the positive feelings of staying connected to those back home, spending too much time looking at what people are up to can negatively affect your mental health and mean you miss out on opportunities to explore and fully immerse yourself in your new location.
2. Potential neglect of real-life actions
Spending time on social media can feel good, especially if you have people you regularly message outside of your friends, thanks to having the chance to build connections online.
However, if all of your social interaction happens online, you risk sleepwalking into loneliness and social isolation and could even see your real-life social skills diminish. On top of that, if social media becomes a source of procrastination, you may leave little time to do more important things, which could feed anxiety about anything from achieving something relatively trivial to more serious stuff like missing deadlines.
3. Notification anxiety and doom-scrolling
Notifications from all apps – not just social media – are a massive distraction.
However, when it comes to social media, they can also lead to anxiety if we're used to receiving notifications, and we don't for a while. First, you start picking up your smartphone or tablet for no reason whatsoever to check if you've received a notification. This leads to us spending time "checking" social media, which can turn into doom-scrolling, especially if you're looking for information and updates about news events or something unrelated to your friends.
Switch your notifications off – and read on to learn how to beat notification anxiety and maintain a positive social media experience.
How to set boundaries and manage your social media use
One of the best ways to manage your social media use is to practice mindful engagement. This means being aware of how you're feeling and reacting to social media content and setting boundaries to limit your exposure to things that evoke negative feelings.
To set boundaries, you could:
- Set designated times of the day when you’ll use social media.
- Limit your screen time and use your smartphone to help track how many hours you spend on social media. Spending two hours a day on social media could add up to nearly 18 years of your life!
- Curate your feed and ensure you only follow people you know or who make you feel positive.
It's also worth setting objectives for your social media use. For example, if you increase your use of social media when you first move to a new location, make a point of trying to meet new people. Once you've met new people and are becoming part of the community, you can delete the app or even your entire account, so you're not tempted to spend time looking at your screen! Aim to use social media as a helpful tool for finding real-life connections rather than as your only tool for connecting with people in all contexts.
Social media and your mental health
While social media can bring many positive aspects to your life and mental health, it can also lead to many adverse outcomes if you don't manage its use effectively.
When using social media, be mindful of what you’re looking to achieve in doing so, and you’ll find it easier to enjoy the positive aspects while minimizing any negative outcomes on your mental health.