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9 Troubling Social-Media Side Effects


Social media is a great way to keep in touch with friends and family near and far, share updates and meet new people who appreciate your dazzling tweets. (Did you sense the sarcasm in that statement?)

stressed woman with computer

You know that fast-talker at the end of drug commercials who rattles off all the frightening side effects? Your favorite social networks might also need some voice-over warnings because they can have serious side effects of their own. Because Facebook and Twitter don't post disclaimers, I had to learn this lesson the hard way.

I'm not alone: A number of studies have shown that social-media use can lead to depression in adults. This makes sense, since these networks are places where people present idealized versions of their lives.

Scrolling through your Facebook news feed can send you into a comparison spiral that makes you feel isolated and alone. There's even a word for the anxiety people can suffer from social-media overload: FOMO, or "fear of missing out," a symptom of seeing friends and loved ones having a blast while you stare at your computer screen. From someone who has experienced the dark side of social media, here are the side effects nobody warned us about:

1. You can become antisocial.
While technology connects us more than ever before, it can also isolate us. The vast amount of information on social-media sites is enough to fill an entire day with meaningless scrolling. Technology also makes it incredibly easy to text, instant message, like or comment with friends virtually. More connection online can lead to less connecting in real life.

2. You are never alone.
Waiting at the dentist's office? "Let me check Facebook." Standing in line for coffee? "Instagram time!" Date gets up to use the restroom? "Quick! Check Facebook before he/she comes back!" You probably don't even realize you do it, but thanks to social media, you never really have to be alone. Young people today probably don't even know what it's like to be with their own thoughts for a significant amount of time. Forget about a chance meeting at the coffee shop or a kind exchange with a stranger: The urge to fill free time is just too powerful.

3. Conversation becomes a lost art.
I think I get more phone calls from telemarketers than friends. Texting is the new calling. Liking someone's post or commenting on an update is an acceptable form of keeping in touch. While these new means of communication may be more convenient, it's made the face-to-face conversation a dying art. It takes practice to be an effective communicator. The less we converse in real life, the worse we'll be at communicating in general.

4. Posting can kill.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2012 more than 3,000 people died in car crashes involving a distracted driver. A recent survey by State Farm found that 48 percent of young drivers use phone-based Internet while driving. The tragic stories of people losing their lives while posting to Facebook or other social-media sites are no laughing matter. Risking your life or someone else's is not worth any status update.

5. You know way too much about people you don't know.
I'll scroll through pictures of a baby's first birthday, the work trip to Arizona, the flowers from a 10th anniversary -- and realize I don't actually know who my "friends" are. Maybe I went to high school with them. Maybe they are friends of a friend whose request I politely accepted. And while I know countless details about their personal lives, I don't really know them. We watch highlight reels of the lives of others online, but forget that we haven't spoken with them in ages. Knowing they had pizza last night or went to the gym is not the same as knowing their fears, dreams or feelings. So while we know what our friends are doing, social media doesn't actually help us get to know the person behind the posts.

6.Your relationship milestones are forever changed.
I remember when getting a call from a boy you gave your number to was a big deal. Or that day he asked you to be his girlfriend or you met his parents for the first time. Now, feeling validated in a relationship is as simple as seeing that he commented on your photos, posted a picture with you or (gasp!) changed the relationship status on his profile. Social media has changed the face of dating and intimate relationships. The public display of affection online is as desirable, if not more so, than in-person affirmations of love.

7. It's addictive.
The Facebook "like" is overvalued and highly addictive. Watching a social-media post skyrocket in popularity elicits feelings of happiness and validation. Like Pavlov's dog drooling at the sound of a bell, we habitually check our phones to gauge the response to our artfully crafted tweet. A 2012 Harvard study hints at why we may be so addicted to social media. The study showed that the act of self-disclosure lights up the same part of the brain stimulated by cocaine and other drugs. Before you dismiss the idea, ask yourself if you use Facebook longer than planned or have failed in your best efforts to reduce your amount of time spent on social-media sites. These sites were designed to be addictive.

8. You can become depressed.
How many times does scrolling through your feed actually leave you feeling good about yourself and your life? I am the first person to admit that viewing the highlight reels of other people's lives gives me a comparison hangover. And let's not forget about FOMO: When you're sitting in your sweatpants at home on a Saturday night scrolling through Vegas party pictures or the vacation album posted by your best friend, it's easy to feel inadequate. The ironic part is that the more time spent with our faces in our phone, the less time we spend doing things that make us happy. If you find social media to be a downer, it might be time to adjust your relationship with your online network.

9. Inability to live in the moment.
Sometimes I don't even know how it happens: I open Facebook, watch a funny video, click an article that takes me to a tech blog, click on a related article, then I'm transported to a website about online marketing. All of a sudden, my brain is spinning with a brilliant new business idea! It's easy to get distracted. Don't let a social-media post control your day. Look up from the screen. Log off. Focus on the important things -- like the person sitting next to you at dinner trying to have a conversation. Let's appreciate the realness of life more than the appearances of it online.

Social media, like almost anything else in life, is all about moderation. Focus on living such a full life that you don't have any time left to post about it. Stop reading this and look up from your screen. Life is happening right now.

-- Courtney

Readers -- Do you use Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites and apps or do you choose to avoid them? If you use them, what is it that you like about them? How many hours do you think you spend on social platforms each day? Have you noticed any of these troubling side effects? If you avoid them, let us know why! Leave a comment below and let's discuss.

Courtney Prather is a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach, fitness and lifestyle writer, competitive athlete, model, spokeswoman, creator of 30DaystoLean.com and one of the fitness industry's rising stars. Her experiences -- from corporate America to pursuing an international modeling career -- inspired her to spread the word about being healthy and living adventurously. Courtney writes about fitness, healthy habits and following your passion. Follow Courtney on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

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