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  • Writer's pictureKen Ribotsky

Why social media can make you miserable

Woman photographing and posting food
Social media

“Amy” is a young, single, and busy lawyer who “relaxes” every night by scrolling through multiple social media feeds. The problem is, reading all those social media posts are making her feel miserable.

Many of Amy’s social media friends are married and have children—something Amy desperately wants in her own life and has not yet attained. Those in her social media circles also frequently post about creative hobbies, relaxing vacations, and other enjoyable activities that Amy simply does not have any time for. As a result, she has built up strong feelings of resentment against her employer. Instead of connecting with others, all Amy is doing is comparing. On most nights, she goes to bed either feeling angry, or upset that she is a failure.

Amy’s response to social media websites is not uncommon. It is ironic that something that is meant to enhance our social interactions is actually making people feel lonelier. According to a recent survey, when 143 regular users of 3 popular social media sites limited their use to 10 minutes a day, they experienced significant decreases in loneliness and depression (1).

Other studies suggest that using social media may be harmful for a person’s mental health and wellbeing, particularly if they already have mental health problems. Those at risk may be more vulnerable to having paranoid ideas after spending time on social media websites (2). [Berry]

Another concern is that social media may be contributing to “fear of missing out” (FOMO), a syndrome that is on the rise in our increasingly digital world (3). FOMO can drive people to become addicted to using social media, which can lead to further feelings of anxiety, or feeling “less than”(4).

The root problem is not necessarily how often someone is using social media, but rather, how does using social media make that person feel? I often help clients learn how to “listen” to their internal dialogue—all the unconscious messages they are telling themselves—which can dramatically affect the way that they feel. This is a rewarding process that often leads to important changes that can help people like Amy continually feel good about themselves—whether they are actively using social media or not.


1. Hunt G, Marx R, Lipson C, Young J. No more FOMO: limiting social media decreases loneliness and depression. J Soc Clin Psychol. 2018;37(10):751-768.

2. Berry N, Emsley R, Lobban F, Bucci S. Social media and its relationship with mood, self-esteem and paranoia in psychosis. Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2018;138:558.570.

3. Xie X, Want Y, Want P, Zhao F, Lei L. Basic psychological needs satisfaction and fear of missing out: friend support moderated the mediating effect of individual relative deprivation. Psychiatry Res. 2018;268:223-228.


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