by S G JanV


In these trying times, social media has served multiple relationships to remain connected. Social media platform has served multiple purposes, from online purchasing to being a casual pass time scroll through when boredom sticks. From having the opportunity to keep in touch with their loved ones, to continue following their idolized celebrities’ lives. Though occasionally discussed, the usage of social media has not been deeply understood. For example, about 7 in 10 Singaporeans are active users of social media, Singapore is one the world’s most active consumer of social media (Ngu, 2019).

What are the Psychological Effects? 

It has been studied that there is a strong link between heavy use of social media and  an increased risk in mental, emotional and psychological effects in people. Social  media may promote negative experiences such as, inadequacy about one’s own life  or appearance. 

The Psychological effects of social media when in excessive use are: ∙ Anxiety/ Social Anxiety 

∙ Depression 

∙ Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) 

∙ Cyberbullying 

∙ Self-image/ Self-esteem Issues 

∙ Isolation/ Loneliness 

∙ Social Media Addition 

∙ Self-harm/ Suicidal ideation 

Anxiety/ Social Anxiety 

The prominent risk factor for anxiety emerges from the time spent, activity, and  addiction to social media. In today’s world, anxiety is one of the basic mental  health problems. Anxiety is raised when you are on your toes waiting for likes and  comments on the uploaded photos and videos. 

You experience anxiety from social media related to fear of loss, which causes  many (mainly teenagers) who try to respond and check all their friends’  messages on a regular basis. 

You may face social anxiety when you’re faced with real people in a physical  setting and you lack the skills in communicating your thoughts and feelings because of the excessive time spent behind the screen. 


Excessive use of social media often results to sleep deprivation, which increases one’s physical and psychological stress. The cause of sleep  deprivation is found due to the artificial blue light given off by smartphones  activates arousing neurons in the brain that disrupt the body’s ability to produce  melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone. With the constant lack of sleep, you can  increase the likelihood of having depression or depressive symptoms. 

Therefore, an individual’s self-conception of his or her role, function, and status  might be a result of comparisons with others. In the social media world, seems  that any kind of comparison is linked to depressive symptoms. 

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) 

Even with FOMO’s long-time existence, Facebook and Instagram seems to  exacerbate feelings that others are having more fun or living better lives than you  are. The idea that you are missing out on certain things can impact your self esteem, trigger anxiety, and fuel even greater social media use. 

FOMO can compel you to check your phone every few minutes for updates, or  compulsively respond to every alert. This means even taking risks while driving,  missing out on sleep at night, or prioritizing social media interaction over real  world relationships. 


It is an easy outlet for online aggression and cyberbullying, further impacting a  child emotionally. You worry that you have no control over the things people post  about you. About 10% of teenagers report being bullied on social media and  many other users are subjected to offensive comments.  

Social media platforms such as Twitter can be hotspots for spreading hurtful  rumours, lies, and abuse that can leave lasting emotional scars. Cyberbully may  threaten physical harm to you and your loved ones to intimidate you.

Self-image/ Self-esteem Issues 

Images found on social media can make you feel insecure about how you look or  what’s going on in your own life. As much as we are all aware that other people  tend to share just the highlights of their lives, it is seldom the low points that their experiences. 

Social media users often compare themselves with others’ appearance, ability,  popularity, and social skills, which triggers strong psychological responses,  particularly when others selectively present more positive information. 


From a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania found that reducing  social media usage can make you feel less lonely and isolated and improve your  overall wellbeing. You may feel a sense of isolation because your only contact is  with people on social media. 

In a study conducted looked at how much people used 11 social media sites,  including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest,  Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat and Reddit, and correlated this with their “perceived  social isolation. Results gathered, the more time people spent on these sites, the  more socially isolated they perceived themselves to be. 

Social Media Addiction 

People can become addicted to social media. He, Turel and Bechara (2017) studied that social media addiction is associated with similar alterations in brain  anatomy as substance-abuse and gambling addiction. Addiction can also  contribute to poor outcomes such as general anxiety, social anxiety, and even  obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). 

There are not many extensive researches conducted in the correlation of  excessive social media usage with mental disorder. However, under addition criteria: neglect of personal life, mental preoccupation, escapism, mood modifying  experiences, tolerance and concealing the addictive behaviours are listed. It has  been studies by Nottingham Trent University that some who use social media  excessively, appear to have these psychological characteristics of personality traits. 

Self-harm/ Suicidal ideation 

With the speedy connection of social media, you know with depressing certainty  when you are being ignored. And when a person is waiting for a response that 

does not come, the silence can be deafening. The silent treatment might be a  strategic insult or just the unfortunate side effect of an online relationship. To deal with the above issues, which can snowball into numerous psychological disorders, can lead a person to self-harm or even provoke suicidal ideation. 

A recent study conducted in Singapore highlighted the effects between Instagram  Use, Social Comparison, and Self-Esteem on Social Anxiety. Results found that the  use of Instagram was associated with a higher level of social comparison. This study  indicated that social comparison increased one’s social anxiety.  

Wajda et al. (2008) contended that the difference in the level of social comparison  was rooted in the individualism–collectivism cultural difference. Individuals from  Eastern societies, with a collectivist culture, are more apt to hold an interdependent  view of self and others.  

Jiang and Ngien (2020), suggested that social comparison tendency is more  significant in Singapore than that in Western countries. It was studied that Singaporean culture has a strong focus on material life and peer comparison.  Scholars found that this is a common phenomenon among Asian populations, hence  they sought for more social comparisons, particularly with those perceived to be  better (White & Lehman, 2005). 

Who suffers from excessive use of social  


Adolescents and the teenage years can be filled with developmental challenges and social pressures. For some, social media has a way of exacerbating those problems and fuelling anxiety, cyberbullying, depression, and issues with self-esteem. 

Ehmke (2020) highlighted that kids were growing up with more anxiety and less self esteem. Many parents worry about how exposure to technology might affect toddlers developmentally. There is no question children are missing out on very  critical social skills.  

Thought texting and online communicating does not entirely create a nonverbal  learning disability. However, it puts everybody in a nonverbal disabled context,  where body language, facial expression, and even the smallest kinds of vocal  reactions are rendered invisible (Ehmke, 2020).

In a survey conducted in United States of America (USA) by Child Mind Institute, results found that Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all led to increased  feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image and loneliness. Peer acceptance is  a big thing for adolescents, and many of them care about their image. 

Knowing of these effects, in recent times, Facebook themselves have admitted  excess use of social media has a negative impact, while Instagram this year  hurriedly appointed a ‘wellbeing team’. In learning about these effects, higher authorities in various countries have started recommending new laws around social  media sites in the belief that they ‘expose children to harm’. 

In the study by Child Mind Institute, Dr. Steiner-Adai explained that self-esteem  comes from consolidating who you are. The more identities you have, and the more  time you spend pretending to be someone you are not, the harder it’s going to be to  feel good about yourself. 

How to identify the symptoms? 

Excessive use of social media can be deemed as a behavioral addiction that is  characterized as being overly concerned about social media. This is driven by an  uncontrollable urge to log on to or use social media and devoting so much time and  effort to social media that it impairs other important life areas. 

Behaviour and feelings of irritable or having a sense of sadness after being  separated from online media can imply an unhealthy connection to social media. 

Why is it important to address this issue? 

Even with the awareness that the photos or videos uploaded are majority  manipulated, it does not prevent or lessen the feelings of envy, dissatisfaction,  sadness or desires while you scroll through airbrushed photos and videos. 

Previous studies show that individuals with higher social comparison orientation  reported poorer self-perception, lower self-esteem, and more negative feelings (Jang  et al., 2016). Rather than helping to alleviate negative feelings and boost your mood,  you feel more anxious, depressed, or lonely after using social media. 

In having low self-esteem or negative body image, this may lead to patterns of  disordered eating. Social media addiction can often be a symptom of a greater  problem. For example, strained relationships, trouble at school, and a constant  feeling of being distracted.

What are the treatment options? 


Counselling with a counsellor/ therapist may help individuals dissociate from their  behaviour and realize the damage it has been doing to them and others. In  speaking with a counsellor/ therapist, you can formulate effective coping  mechanisms.  

Counselling can help a child, teenager and even adults overcome or adapt to their  troubles, rather than providing escapism. Speaking with a counsellor/ therapist  can provide an outlet for stress and help you find a healthy perspective with which  to tackle their problems. 

Practicing Mindfulness 

Practising mindfulness, yoga, meditation and spiritual activities, can help a person  effectively cope with issues. You can learn to live more in the present moment, lessen the impact of FOMO, and improve your overall mental wellbeing. 

This will help you be more fully engaged in the present; you’re not focused on the  “what ifs” and the “if onlys” that prevent you from having a life that matches those  you see on social media.  

Outdoor Activities/ Hobbies 

Hobbies that help you improve one’s self mentally or physically. Exercising is  great for relieving anxiety and stress, boosting self-esteem, and improving mood and it can be done with your friends and family. 

Going out with your friends and connecting with them offline will help them build a  good support system. By going out with your friends and family and having eye-to eye contact with someone who cares about you, can help reduce stress and boost your mood faster or more effectively. 


Going out on long walks alone and having time for self-reflection is important for every individual. When every spare moment is not filled by engaging with social  media, leaving you with more time for reflecting on who you are, what you think, or  why you act the way that you do. These are the things that allow you to grow as a  person. 

Reduce usage of being on social media 

You can work on limiting your screen time and monitoring your phone usage, by  setting a goal for how much you want to reduce it by. It is hard to resist the 

constant buzzing, beeping, and dinging of your phone alerting you to new  messages. Turning off notifications can help you regain control of your time and  focus. 

It is not all bad… 

All of this is not to say that there is no benefits to social media. It does help in  keeping us connected across great distances and helps us find people we had lost  touch with years ago. 

For people who struggle to maintain a relationship or communicate in person, online media provides the perfect environment to communicate and self-express. At its  best, social media is a great tool for facilitating real-life connections, such as finding new friends and communities; network with other people who share similar interests  or ambitions. 

You can join or promote worthwhile causes; raise awareness on important issues. It  can also be used as a platform to express one’s gratitude via a post. You can use it  to find an outlet for your creativity and self-expression. 

Choose TTP 

Though at some point in everyone’s lives, we struggle with an emotional/ psychological/ mental health. It is a well-known fact that seeking help when we are  struggling is seen as a negative from a very stereotypical point-of-view. With the  Covid-19 pandemic, troubled economy and many uncertainties in everyone’s lives,  many are in crisis right now. During these trying times is when, people need a  trustworthy place to turn to for guidance and hope. 

It’s important to follow up and continue seeking help for your problems. Or to encourage someone to seek out help the next time they feel like someone is slipping  or struggling with certain emotional problems. Counsellors are here to provide the  comfort and guidance where you feel is needed for you. Our part is to assist you in  the ways that you feel best suits you in being the pilot of your journey.


Ehmke, R. (2020). How using social media affects teenagers. Child Mind Institute.  Retrieved from: teenagers/ 

He, Q., Turel, O., & Bechara, A. (2017). Brain anatomy alterations associated with  Social Networking Site (SNS) addiction. Scientific Reports, 7(1). 


Jang, K., Park, N., & Song, H. (2016). Social comparison on Facebook: Its  antecedents and psychological outcomes. Computers in Human Behavior, 62, 147– 154. 

Jiang, S., & Ngien, A. (2020). The Effects of Instagram Use, Social Comparison, and  Self-Esteem on Social Anxiety: A Survey Study in Singapore. Social Media+  Society, 6(2), 2056305120912488. 

Ngu, T. (2019, April 05). Social Media Landscape in Singapore (2019). Retrieved  from 

Wajda, T. A., Cui, A. P., & Hu, M. Y. (2008). Culture, social comparison and  responses to advertising. Advances in Consumer Research, 35, 986–986. 

White, K., & Lehman, D. R. (2005). Culture and social comparison seeking: The role  of self-motives. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 232–242.

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Jananee Swamynathan.
She is an eclectic counselling psychologist who’s familiar and has utilised CBT & PCT



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