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An integral part of our daily lives, social media is a powerful and useful tool that connects people, raises awareness, mobilises people, brings about change and also lets you know what your best friend ate for lunch. Despite the immense advantages there may be a downside to spending too much time ‘socialising’ in the virtual world, particularly on Facebook.

A recent study conducted by the University of Michigan found that spending extended periods of time on Facebook made users ‘gloomy’ and less satisfied with their personal lives. According to the study, the more time the subjects spent ‘Facebooking’ and checking status updates, the lower their satisfaction levels dropped.

Facebook ‘gloominess’ can stem from several root causes. One reason is that individuals become so involved in their virtual realities that they withdraw from their actual lives. This involvement leads to other issues such as anxiety and extreme concerns about Facebook popularity (for example constantly checking to see how many ‘likes’ a status update or post has received). In addition, some people may also suffer from anxiety as a result of exposure to distressful or graphic content shared online (even it’s meant to create social awareness).

Spending too much time on Facebook and other social media was found to lead people to make life comparisons, where they often viewed themselves as disadvantaged; viewing endless updates and uploads about other people’s possessions, homes and vacations, among other things, can trigger resentment, envy and dissatisfaction. This medium also allows people to freely talk about others, which can be psychologically distressing, especially for the person being ‘bullied’ on social media.

The study found that the implications of social media overdose were greatest for adolescents – a psychologically developing and impressionable group – however anyone can fall prey. In order to escape social media gloominess users should limit the number of hours they spend on Facebook and similar media.

Content viewed by adolescents should be especially monitored and all material that has the potential to be emotionally disturbing should be filtered.

– Samrah Humayun
The writer teaches A’ Level Psychology and has a degree in Psychology from Indiana University.

First published in the Health Advertiser Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on September 22, 2013.