There’s little use in denying the fact that social media affects your health. Whether physically, psychologically, or a combination of the two, the addiction to our screens can have some pretty dire consequences to our health if left unchecked. The health effects of social media range from small stuff to frightening possibilities like altered brain structures. Social media and technology aren’t all bad. They can bring connectivity, ease, information, and excitement to our lives. Still, we should all consider putting our devices down a little bit more often. So if you’ve got a little bit of screen addiction, here are some ways that social media and screen time can ruin your health.

It Can Become an Addiction

Scientists created a scale with the sole purpose of measuring Facebook addiction. It’s called the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale, or BFAS. Researchers in Norway pioneered the scale to measure problem behavior linked to Facebook use. The basic premise of BFAS rests on the fact that has consensus in the scientific and psychological community: screens and social networking are addictive. According to the BFAS scale, women are more likely to become addicted to Facebook than men. Also, people who suffer from anxiety are more likely to be addicted. The boredom relief and positive reinforcement that the site gives make it hard for some people to stop using it, even if they don’t want to. The University of Chicago also found that social media is more addictive than cigarettes.

It Restructures the Brain

According to Psychology Today, there are now multiple studies demonstrating brain atrophy in grey matter in people with internet or gaming addiction. The grey matter areas of the brain are the parts where processing happens. They are the sites of the brain where planning, prioritizing, impulse control, and organizing happen. They’re the parts of the brain that enable us to get things done. If these areas atrophy, they shrink and become impaired, which isn’t good. Screen addiction also contributes to restructured white matter. White matter is the brain matter that links our brain hemispheres and helps our brain communicate with our body. Recent research indicates that developing children’s brains are particularly susceptible to these potential issues.

It Contributes to Anxiety

Social media creates and contributes to our anxiety in two significant ways: it causes us to compare our lives to others, and it’s involved in fear of missing out or FOMO. Even though we all know in theory that most people carefully curate the most idealized versions of themselves and their lives for their social media personas, it’s still challenging not to compare our lives to theirs. These feelings of envy and inadequacy are associated with seeing other people’s lives through the lens of social media. It can contribute to low self-esteem, personal failure, and anxiety, creating obsessive-compulsive thought patterns and behaviors.

It Leads to Sleep Problems

There are many reasons why too much screen time can lead to sleep problems. For one thing, there’s a hormone called melatonin that helps control our sleep and wake cycles. The blue light emitted by our screens restrains melatonin production and makes it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep well once you do. Sleeping with technology in the bedroom harms sleep because the chimes, alerts, and signals can wake you up. Sometimes, even if it doesn’t sound audible, technology in the bedroom can create the expectation of a sign, making it hard to sleep and sleep well. Experts recommend turning off all screens at least thirty minutes before bed and leaving tech outside the bedroom to get better sleep.

It Leads to Vision Problems

Many of us feel like the more time we spend staring at screens, the worse our vision gets. As it turns out, this isn’t just a personal feeling, but it’s a medically substantiated side effect of excessive screen time. A condition is known as Computer Vision Syndrome, or CVS describes the visual effects of life in the computerized, modern world. The symptoms of CVS include dry, itchy eyes; blurred vision; eye strain; headaches; and neck, back, and shoulder pain. The silver lining if you’re someone whose job requires you to be on the computer all the time? There are strategies you can use to help decrease the risk and symptoms of CVS. Reducing the contrast and glare on your computer screen, creating a work set-up that reduces head and neck strain, and adhering to the 20/20/20 rule (every 20 minutes, take your eyes off the screen for 20 seconds, and look at something 20 feet away) all help offset CVS.

It Glamourizes Dangerous Behavior

It’s worth mentioning that at least one study links social media usage to increases in poor health decisions in teenagers, like smoking and drinking. According to the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine study, “hypertexters” are young people who send 120 or more text messages per school day. Hypertexters, who are also more embedded in the world of social media, are far more likely to participate in illicit or detrimental health behaviors. For example, hypertexters are 41 percent more likely to have tried criminal drugs than their non-hypertexting peers, and they are 43 percent more likely to be binge drinkers. These are just a few of the unhealthy behaviors tested in the study. Although researchers are careful to point out that the correlations they found do not equate to cause and effect, their findings create a new category of health risks for teenagers.

Social media and technology have positive impacts. It can bring people together, and it can also bring excitement to our lives. However, social media has a plethora of adverse effects as well. It can cause issues with your sleep schedule and posture and make you second guess yourself. If you start feeling like social media has adverse effects on your life or how you see yourself, it may be time to consider taking a break. Remember that most people only post what they want people to see, not what’s going on in their lives.

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