Is social media really all that bad?

Almost every week there is a disturbing news item about the detrimental effects too much time on social media is having on our teenagers.  In my clinic, I often perceive that a young person’s symptoms are, at least in part, related to their social media use.  But why is this so and what can we do about it?

The two symptoms that, in my clinical experience, most often arise in young people (predominantly girls, but not exclusively) as a result of social media overuse are anxiety and insomnia.  The anxiety may arise while using social media because of what other people say, how the child feels they are being perceived and whether or not they are being included.  But it also arises when a child is not on social media because she worries about what is going on that she is not a part of (in today’s language ‘fomo’ or ‘fear of missing out’).  So she finds herself caught between a rock and a hard place.  On top of this, being at school all day, then coming home and continuing to interact with friends for hours at home is simply over-stimulating.  The child then has little time in the day when she is peaceful and relaxed.

In Chinese medicine terms, this constant anxiety disturbs the shen (spirit), and makes the person feel agitated.  Overtime, this depletes the ‘Blood’ which is no longer able to ‘root’ the shen.  Not only does this lead to anxiety – where the mind is constantly buzzing around and around like a bee – but it makes restful sleep difficult to come by.  Being on social media in the evening and in the lead up to bedtime is particularly detrimental.  This is a time when the brain and body should ideally be winding down in preparation for sleep.

So while there are, without doubts, detrimental affects of over-use of social media, or using at the wrong time of day, it would be wrong to demonise it altogether.  One of the purposes of the adolescent phase is to learn to interact and have relationships outside of the family, and social media can be an important aid in doing this.  As long as social media forms a part of the young person’s world, alongside relating to friends in person, relating to family members and pursuing other activities (such as sport, cooking, drama etc etc), and as long as the child comes off social media a couple of hours before bedtime, then it will probably be a positive in their lives.

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