Healthy Beginnings

Communication breakdown: Social media’s negative impacts on your mind

Social media is a fantastic tool for communicating and accessing information, but experts in social science and psychology recommend limiting online engagement during the day and going without using social media for a day or more, from time to time.

Social media has become regular communication in our society to keep in touch with loved ones, announce and celebrate milestones and even cover what you had for dinner last night — all without speaking to each other.

We are constantly scrolling, consuming more information on a shorter attention span, our opinions and perceptions influenced by what we believe others believe.

Is there reason to worry about social media’s influence on people and their subsequent disconnect from reality and good old-fashioned human contact?

Healthy Beginnings sat doesn’t recently with a local social scientist and psychologist, and both agree: social media is a wonderful communication and information tool, but if it’s not managed properly, it can detract from the user’s perception of reality, happiness and wellbeing.

Perception versus reality

Dr. Gi Woong Yun is director of the Center for Advanced Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno Reynolds School of Journalism. He has studied social media as communication and learned that it has a profound impact on the sharing of ideas.

Dr. Gi Woong Yun is director of the Center for Advanced Media Studies at the UNR Reynolds School of Journalism.

“Through my research, I’ve learned how much people are perceiving the public opinion through social media,” Dr. Yun said. “For instance, in older days before social media, public opinion on any topic, like science or politics, was an ethereal thing to grasp — typically captured through some kind of survey — which is delivered to media so the media can provide the perception to the people.”

The frequency of media portrayal works on people’s perception, Yun says. For example, if local media says a city has a lot of crime, even if statistics deny the statement, the amplification of the story through media can make people fearful of going out at night, or to certain areas of town, because perception becomes reality.

Similarly to how we perceive headlines in relation to statistics, we perceive one another in relation to reality.

“Social media is so disembodied,” says Chrystina Pope, marriage and family therapist with Westside Center Counseling in Carson City. “Our true expression of emotion is embedded in the body, especially talking about other people’s bodies. Social media uses disembodied speech; we can say whatever we want online and delete it out of our sight but that all settles into our emotional body and effects the user.”

Self-portrayal online is a curated representation of reality — meaning, Pope says, we’ll shoot 200 takes of the same image to post the very best one.

Devices are entertaining for people of all ages; however, experts contend we must be cognizant of the amount of time — and hyper-personal information — we dedicate to those devices.

These fake portrayals, no matter how harmless, may create a sense of meaningless and confusion.

“Can we trust what we see? That’s the question — what part of it can we let be meaningful?” Pope asks. “People have long-term online relationships over the internet, so their emotions are involved, but I work with people individually to get through a huge sense of isolation — online, you’re actively communicating, but there is such a huge distance.”

Potential for self-harm and self-hate

From an evolutionary standpoint, people should understand that the popularization of social media is similar to every communication innovation.

For example, with radio, people stopped reading the news and could listen to it; with television, they could watch it; now, we’re entering the virtual reality phenomenon.

“Each had their purpose and was used in a different way from the previous medium,” says Dr. Yun. “My suggestion … is to be balanced and smart with how you use social media. New information comes into our brain and we want to interpret and make sense of it; you see pictures from people on vacation, eating good food, we know their real life isn’t like that, but is portrayed as the only aspect you see — ‘I know my friend doesn’t make that much money, how can they go on vacation all the time?’”

Yun continues: “You can’t make sense of it, so you feel like you’re doing something wrong. Or, because of the limited information you’re getting, you think your life is wrong, to make sense of it.”

The goal is not to vilify social media, but to understand it and take it for what it is.

Pope’s goal is to fight for the reality of our emotions. Feelings are helpful, but they also can be condemned — and using social media is a great way of condemning your emotions.

“If you see stuff online that doesn’t feel good, there might be a pretty good reason for that,” she says. “Don’t create more self-shame and self-harm; don’t do unhealthy things or overdo healthy things in reaction to what you see online.”

Summing up social

Dr. Yun and Pope both urge people to be careful of the hyper-personal information you share online, the amount of time you spend engaging in social media platforms, and the perceptions you create based on others’ posts.

Be aware of companies and social influencers using tricks to gain more likes and traction online through automated content generators, and take online representations for what they’re intended — to send a favorable, pleasing message.

Allow space in your life for your true authentic emotions, whether they feel good or not. Emotions are there not to trick us, but to guide us to more healthy, happy and content lives.

Dr. Yun warns that even when you’re trying to be polite in a text message or email, the receiver almost always takes it in a negative way. Like the famous Key & Peele comedy sketch, “one tip is to use emoticons wisely — at the end of your statement that could be misinterpreted, put a smiley in there,” he said.

Finally, engage in social media for communication and information sharing as needed, but spend more time in the real world. Limit your social media usage to 30 minutes a day, participate in “days off” from the phone and be present in your reality.

Cassandra Walker is a special assignments reporter for the Sierra Nevada Media Group who writes regularly for Healthy Beginnings magazine. She can be reached at cwalker@swiftcom.com.