7 Ways Social Media Messes With Your Mind (and Your Health)

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If you’re like most people in the U.S., you spend more time on social networking sites like Facebook than any other place on the Internet—even your email. Nearly 1.3 billion people actively use Facebook every month, 500 million Tweets go out every day, and there are more than 20 billion photos on Instagram, according to a Digital Insights report.

So is it any surprise that spending countless hours in a digital haze can affect your body and mind? The good news is that it’s not always bad for you—although there are definitely downsides. Here’s how social media messes with your mind.

It could make you feel less lonely—if you’re not a lurker

Being actively engaged with social media may be the key to a happy online experience. In a study published in the journal Social Influence, participants were assigned to one of two groups: use Facebook as usual, or lurk on Facebook without posting content or responding to other people’s posts. Turns out that 48 hours of no posting had a negative impact on well-being—participants reported feeling excluded and having a lowered sense of importance.

Similarly, Carnegie Mellon University research discovered that people who use communication tools on Facebook—like writing wall posts, commenting on friends’ photos, and hitting the “Like” button—are less likely to suffer from lonely feelings.

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It may make you jealous of your friends

If you felt pangs of jealousy last time you spotted a friend’s tropical vacation photos on Facebook, you’re not alone. German researchers call this phenomenon the “self promotion-envy spiral,” and it happens when Facebook users compare themselves to the people they’re connected to on the platform.

It could save you in an emergency

When severe weather is on the horizon, staying connected on Facebook and Twitter can do a lot of good. In cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Medical University of Vienna examined the outbreak of several dozen tornadoes that struck the Southeastern United States in 2011. Researchers found that people who used Twitter and Facebook during the emergency had a lower risk of injury. The course of a tornado can only be predicted just before it arrives, so social media proved to be a useful tool for broadcasting information about the tornadoes as they were occurring.

It could help you quit smoking

Quitting smoking is hard, and often it takes a lot of support from loved ones. Social media can serve as another resource to those trying to kick the habit. Research published in the Journal of Communication revealed that people who used health-based social networking sites to seek out community and support had an easier time quitting.

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It may affect your body image

Using Facebook may not be so good for your body confidence. Researchers from Ohio University, University of Iowa, and University of Strathclyde determined that the more time a woman spends on Facebook, the more negative she feels about her body and the more she compares her body to the figures of her friends. The study also found that the more time women seeking to lose weight spent on Facebook, the more attention they paid to physical appearance.

It could make you more open-minded

Lady Gaga’s fan base clocks in at more than 41 million on Twitter alone. A University of Missouri-Columbia study observed Lady Gaga’s Twitter following and discovered that Lady Gaga encourages her fans to behave charitably toward one another and, as a result, her fans support each other emotionally. By sharing personal information through social media, Lady Gaga has been able to develop a level of intimacy with her followers, who are encouraged by the way she celebrates her differences. Some followers facing adversity even reported that they were given strength to live by Lady Gaga’s inspiration.

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It could help you diagnose a condition

When a Tennessee mom uploaded a photo of her daughter Rylee on Facebook, two of her friends quickly reached out when they noticed that one of Rylee’s eyes was more yellow than the other. After visiting a pediatrician and eye specialist, the three-year-old was diagnosed with Coats’ disease, a condition that can lead to sight issues and blindness. Thanks to Facebook friends, Rylee’s condition was detected early and she has since maintained her vision with professional treatment.

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