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Social media has become an integral part of modern life, allowing people to connect with friends and family, share their thoughts and experiences and stay up-to-date with the latest news and trends. While it has undoubtedly brought many benefits, including greater social connectivity, it has also been associated with increased loneliness and feelings of isolation.
According to a recent Harvard study, 36% of all Americans — including 61% of young adults and 51% of mothers with young children — feel “serious loneliness.” Most of us indeed choose Facebook, Instagram, TikTok or Twitter over playing the guitar, going for a walk with a friend or belting out some karaoke tunes.
In this article, we will explore the relationship between social media and loneliness and why it is important to be mindful of the potential risks.
In 2023, the average person spends 2 hours and 31 minutes on social media daily. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram allow us to maintain contact with people we may not regularly see in our day-to-day lives. We can catch up with old friends, stay in touch with family members who live far away and connect with people who share our interests and hobbies.
However, this virtual connection is not the same as face-to-face interaction, which is essential for building and maintaining close relationships. Even though we may be able to stay in touch with more people through social media, we may feel less connected to them than we would if we saw them in person.
The problem with social media is that it can create an illusion of social connection that is not necessarily accurate. We may have many followers or friends on social media, but how many of those connections are truly meaningful? Many people may feel like they are part of a large community online, but this can mask the fact that they do not have close, personal relationships in their offline lives. Research has shown that people who spend more time on social media tend to have fewer close relationships and lower levels of social support than those who spend less time on these platforms.
64% of Americans say social media has a mostly negative effect on how things are going in the U.S. today. Social media can also lead to feelings of envy and jealousy, which can contribute to loneliness. When we see the carefully curated and edited posts of our friends and acquaintances, it is easy to feel we are missing out on something.
We may feel that everyone else is living a more exciting, fulfilling life than we are, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and loneliness. Social media can create a sense of social comparison that is difficult to escape, and this can be detrimental to our mental health.
Loneliness is not just a psychological state; it can also have physical consequences. Chronically lonely people may be more susceptible to health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure and weakened immune systems. They may also be at a higher risk for depression and anxiety. Given the potential negative consequences of loneliness, it is important to be mindful of social media’s impact on our social connectedness.
So, what can we do to mitigate the risks of social media-induced loneliness? First and foremost, we need to recognize that social media is not a substitute for real-life social interaction. While it can be useful for staying in touch with people, it should not be our only means of social connection. We need to make an effort to spend time with people in person, whether meeting up for coffee or attending a social event. Even if we cannot see our friends and family members as often as we would like, we can still make an effort to stay connected through phone calls, video chats and other forms of communication.
It is also important to be mindful of social media’s impact on our mental health. If we feel jealous or inadequate after scrolling through our social media feeds, we may need to take a break from these platforms.
We can also make an effort to curate our social media feeds to include positive and uplifting content rather than negative and triggering. Research published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found that limiting people’s time on social apps like Facebook and Snapchat to 10 minutes per day significantly reduced feelings of loneliness and depression. According to the researchers, the sweet spot may be about 30 minutes or less per day.
Finally, we need to recognize that loneliness is a common experience and that it is okay to reach out for help. Whether that means talking to a trusted friend or family member, joining a social group or community organization or seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor