The American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that people who use social media end up feeling more socially isolated than their non-active peers. Why would this be?

More than 2 billion people have profiles on Facebook and not all of them are bots trying to thwart democratic elections. At least 3 billion of us have Instagram accounts that we keep in view in fear of missing something (FMSn). Given the fact that so many of us have unlimited access to friends old and new, you’d think we’d be swimming in a communal sense of wellbeing. Truth be told, according to numerous studies, we may have virtual “friends” but we’re lonelier than ever.

Late 20th-century psychosocial researchers (Ainsworth, et al.) studied skillful and unskillful attachment bonds and found that face-to-face contact can mean the difference between emotional security and crushing social anxiety. Such insecurity can follow us for the rest of our lives unless we find ways to turn it around. The good news: We needn’t be institutionalized for imbibing too much social media, we just need to be mindful of its effects. Too much time alone staring at a screen can make us feel crazy or at least off balance.

Researchers on media, health and technology find that loneliness and social isolation are equally bad for health. On average, people who report being socially disconnected have a 26 percent increased risk of death compared to those who are not lonely. Those who are socially isolated have a 29 percent increased risk of death.

So, what are we supposed to do? Some of us have more than one form of employment and are burnt out by the end of the day. If we are juggling family obligations as well, we are more likely to feel unwell emotionally and physically . The last thing we feel like doing is changing clothes, possibly hiring a sitter, and meeting friends for a meal or an evening walk. Instead, most of us choose to chill out with our smartphones, laptops or binge-worthy Netflix sometimes all at once. When you chill out day-after-day all alone, your social skills can freeze.

You know your social temperature is dropping by experiencing the following symptoms:

  • You start social snacking or lurking on other people’s profiles and comparing photos, posts, comments or likes. Like stuffing yourself with junk food, eventually you can feel sick and full of regret.
  • You’re becoming increasingly irritable, feeling touchy, super-self-conscious and people avoiding.
  • You’re falling asleep while scrolling or waking up with your screen on the other pillow.
  • Your friends say you rarely go out anymore and are always too tired! 
  • You are on your phone even when you’re supposedly WITH people.
  • As sex psychologist and relationship expert Esther Perel says, “The last thing most couples touch before sleep is their cellphones!”
  • You’re spending more time on social media than doing your job when at work.
  • Your body feels twice your age — tech neck, carpal tunnel, sciatica!
  • You tell yourself you’re happiest connecting to people online because “it’s easier” (aka safer).
  • You’re starting to gain weight with too much sitting behind your screen (especially if coupled with empty calories like booze and junk food).
  • You’re ordering take out most days or purchasing everything you need online including meals and change of clothes!
  • You’re becoming increasingly cynical about the state of the world and a bit of a misanthrope.
  • If you live with people, you’re rarely interacting. According to romantic couples expert John Gottman most couples today communicate verbally about ninety minutes in A WEEK!

How do you resist the lull of screen time?

  • No need to be an extrovert or to go out before or after work; meet with a new or old friend for lunch at least once a week.
  • For those with the energy, ask someone to join you for a walk after work or before heading out for the day. A far-away, dear friend and I do this on our cellphones.
  • When you pick up the phone to text, give that person a call instead and say, “When’s a good time for a short phone check in; it’s been days since I’ve heard your voice and I miss you.”
  • Next time you’re online, message 1 to 5 people for a Skype call (get it on your calendar and keep it).
  • Don’t let a day go by without making eye contact with someone, even it’s the grocery clerk, a person in line, or a food delivery gal/guy.
  • Instead of trying to hook up with strangers on Match, Grinder, Bumble or Tinder, consider taking a class or joining a group (even one online) that speaks to a sincere interest of yours. It’s much more satisfying to meet people with something in common than trying to impress each other with your desirability. Marketing and resumes are fine for business but deadly on a date.
  • Finally, anytime you write a post or share a photo, ask a question. People are more likely to respond if it invites engagement.

Humans are pack animals and have only evolved by helping each other grow and adapt to change. Remember that song?

Make new friends and keep the old, some are silver and some are gold.

If you think about it, the difference between Illness and Wellness is We.

Do you need face-to-face connection? Has it been a long time since you’ve visited with someone outside of texting or tagging them on social media? Don’t forget, if social media is used skillfully — to connect across the miles or set up time to meet face-to-face — it can be a nice addition to a socially well-rounded life. Health and greater happiness can only be helped by forging newer bonds or renewing the old ones, my favorite kind.

Jennifer Manlowe, PHD, MDIV, MFT-intern

Call Acuity Counseling in Seattle 206-910-9476 to schedule a face-to-face appointment or if you have questions about my counseling services.