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Is Social Media Affecting Your Health?

With the recent acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook for an astounding amount of money and stock options, some analysts question Mark Zuckerman’s sanity. And since most people are less than thrilled with how Timeline has represented their life since joining Facebook, it’s worth taking a look at how social media may be affecting our health.

To begin with, let’s clear the air: we are for social media, because from the very beginning social media has been a business tool. And today, the ease and convenience of keeping in touch with business contacts, friends and family, staying current with personal interests, and even garnering support for something you are trying to accomplish (be it crowdfunding a steam-powered LEGO car via Twitter or joining a Facebook quit-smoking group) is just too valuable to discard.

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Still, all this connectivity can have drawbacks,  so let’s take a closer look at social media’s effects.

How much is your time worth?

Tuition and mortgages are expensive, so updating your profile and reading tweets or liking your friends’ photos when you should be working, studying or attending class, or handling any of life’s other requirements, can spell disaster. Slipping grades, a warning from your boss, or a messy house can be indicators that it’s time to throttle back your online activity. Plus, your friends will be more impressed when you graduate early, get a promotion, or prove to be a good parent and keep a tidy home than they ever will be by dessert photos.

Furthermore, investment implies return. Pursuing any activity, social or otherwise, that doesn’t add value to your life is a waste of time. And knowingly wasting time typically leads to feelings of guilt. So, be smart about how much time you invest into social media to ensure that it enriches your quality of life rather than takes away from it.

What are your connections doing for you? Or to you?

For sure, getting back in touch with long-lost friends or keeping up with loved ones on the other side of the globe almost effortlessly is a major plus. With social media you can keep up on health care trends, exercise, connect with your dentist, doctor, chiropractor, gym, etc. — all health benefits.

On the other hand, many people have reported anxiety, withdrawal, difficulty interacting with others in real life, obsessing over others in secret, obsessing over their own friend status, reduced attention spans, damaging friendships due to thoughtless posting or from ignoring others, reduced sexual activity and intimacy, and more.

These are very serious situations, but they not actually the fault of the social media outlets.

Remember, Instagram doesn’t put an ingredient in their product which is proven to be addictive. Humans, like all mammals, thrive on dopamine; the neurotransmitter that carries the hormones that are released during feelings of euphoria. These hormones are released when we experience joy or even anticipate the possibility of joy. Thus, if social media brings joy, it can become addictive, just like chocolate, heroine, gambling or sex. In fact, tests in labs have proven that rats that were given artificial dopamine for performing a simple voluntary task would form addictions that were so strong that the rats would eventually die of thirst. This is because they would rather get the dopamine “treat” than drink, even though water was available in their cage.

So, the biggest concern is avoiding addiction to social media. It simply comes down to self-control. If you’re worried about your social media use, download an app that will track your usage of specific sites. If you are appalled at the findings, there are tools to block yourself from certain sites. Use these tools and take back control. Also, be sure to remove needless or troublesome connections that waste your time and emotional energy.

Is it damaging relationships?

Even a single post can affect how we are perceived by others (we have all heard the stories of people losing their job due to one foolish update). The key again is to be responsible. Using the trusty “Would I say this to someone’s face?” or “Would I show my mom/boyfriend/girlfriend/grandmother/boss/teacher this photo?” guideline should minimize the risk of putting yourself into a sticky real-world situation later.

Interestingly, in support of social media, a recent study (albeit one performed by a source with a reputation for strong religious bias, though this time it is surprisingly for social media) showed that kids who connect with their parents online are also better connected with them at home, where it actually matters.

Is it making you depressed?

Everyone is competitive to one degree or another. But for an overly competitive person, social media provides a constant feed of people, ideas, stats, situations, events, and products to measure success by. And since most of us prefer to post things that make us look happy or successful, comparing oneself to another’s online persona is a losing venture.

Thus, some polled social media users have admitted to feeling jealous or depressed when they discover a former partner seems happy or has moved on, and some users may cyber-stalk that person out of desperation to know what they are doing. Could any of these situations exist without social media? Absolutely. It’s just made easier when done online.

So, is social media damaging your health?

No. Social media itself has no more potential negative effect than TV, or even books, which we have all learned to live with over the decades or centuries. The problem lies in how we use it. Plenty of strong opinions have already been stated both for and against killing your Facebook account. But, as a mature person (you are reading a health insurance blog, after all), you will be able to make the decision that is best for you.

In many ways then, a good way to think of social media is as you would a chainsaw: it’s a powerful tool to get a job done. As such it should always be handled responsibly and with respect — and it never needs to be used at the dinner table.

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