Take a peek at my journal entries from February 2020 to now, and you’ll see that the expansion of my online business coincides with a decline in my mental health.
Many of us have benefitted from social media. Not only for connecting with friends, family, and strangers from all over the world but also for business, economic, political, and educational purposes.
However, there is a huge shadow that no one seems to talk about in the digital entrepreneurship and content creation world: Social media makes us feel like sh*t.
With this in mind, are the benefits of social media really worth it?
Many people sell the idea of “ditching the 9-5” for the freedom to follow your dreams and making 6-figures by being a digital content creator or influencer on social media platforms.
There came the idea of monetizing my passions and starting a business. After all, I hadn’t been fulfilled in my career path at the time, so this felt like the right choice. I pursued this path with tremendous optimism and naivety. After all, so many people were selling the dream - so it must be true, right?
From the outside looking in, my carefully curated Instagram profile and website show evidence of success. However, this isn't an honest representation of what’s really happening.
My journal entries sound like a broken record; one that’s gotten louder and more severe over time.
From anxiety-filled sleepless nights overthinking you're content to obsessing over engagement, comparing yourself to others, feeling like you're doing not “enough”, documenting your lifestyle at the expense of being present (and actually living), and feeling pressured to show up because you're struggling to make ends meet.
Not to mention, having to create in ways that don't align with you just so you can get the algorithm to work with you. Otherwise, what you spend so much time and intention creating won't actually be seen by people who need and want it.
The dopamine hits we get from social media become increasingly addictive when it’s your source of income. The lack of comments and likes on a post you took hours to create plummet your self-esteem, and vice versa, the flood of engagement and sales boosts your ego, fills you with feel-good dopamine, and compels you to keep going in the unhealthy cycle of addiction.
Throw in a global pandemic and a socioeconomic crisis, and the odds are really not in your favor. But you have ads, coaches, and companies trying to sell you their program that promises to get you more social media engagement and sales. I thought to myself: If only you were doing more of this or less of that, THEN you would be more successful. In other words, they’re saying: you are just not doing enough of the right things.
Despite having solid boundaries around work hours and social media use, I’ve been in reoccurring cycles of burnout and depression. In late 2021, I realized I was operating in fight-flight. The imposter accounts and people copying my content emphasized everything I was already feeling and took me over the edge.
It all starts to take a significant toll on your nervous system. You feel so alone because everyone seems to be doing just fine with their carefully curated profiles, too.
But I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Yet it seems like this is kept in the shadows - especially for creatives and service-based entrepreneurs who don’t have a team.
Look into a research database and you’ll see countless studies documenting the detrimental impact of social media and technology use on mental health:
A 2021 quasi-experimental study by Braghieri and allies concluded that the negative effects of Facebook are due to creating unfavorable social comparisons.
Empirical research published in 2021 by Coyne and allies studied the link between suicide rate and screen media. They concluded that “for girls, a high level of social media or television use in early adolescence followed by a marked increase over time was most predictive of suicide risk in emerging adulthood. […] video game use (for boys) was associated with suicide risk when cyberbullying was also high."
Chinese researchers Gao and allies (2020) analyzed the prevalence of mental health problems and their connection to social media exposure during COVID-19. They stated that we “need [to] pay more attention to mental health problems, especially depression and anxiety among the general population and combating with “infodemic” while combating during a public health emergency.”
A longitudinal study by Riehm and allies (2019) concluded that “adolescents who spend more than 3 hours per day on social media may be at heightened risk for mental health problems, particularly internalizing problems.”
An article published in MacLean Harvard Medical School Affiliate shared findings of a 2019 Workplace Productivity Report from Paper and Packaging that surveyed 1057 U.S. office workers. From that group, 87% spent seven hours per day staring at screens on average. More than 50% reported depression or fatigue related to digital overload. This shows how prevalent digital burnout has become.
Research by Bashir and Bhat (2017) studying stated “it is clear social media is the basic agent that not [only] enhances but also nourishes mental health problems. Excessive use of social media leads an individual to disastrous results that start with anxiety and lead to depression.”
The evidence is clear. Not only in empirical evidence but more importantly in my body. My body is so intelligent. I finally understand its screams and cries. Feeling like this is NOT worth it for me.
What about you? How do you feel when you spend time on social media?
I've been inspired by other creatives such as Emily Beatrix and Emily at Plant Forward Nutrition who spoke openly about their experience running a business on social media. This is also for #speakupforlee and all those who feel inspired by my journey.
There has be other ways, so I'm working on disentangling myself from social media. I’m also opening myself to the possibility of creating connections, expressing my creativity, running my business, and making money in ways that aren’t so harmful to me.
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Alex, Wild Astrology