You can’t swing an iPhone without hitting a dozen studies about how social media is making us depressed, killing our relationships and depriving us of sleep. But it’s not ALL bad news.
Sure, there’s no doubt that researchers have found some significant downsides to thinking in 140-character quips and holding a little rectangle a foot from our faces for 90 percent of our waking hours. But there’s more to social media than an endless parade of Instagram-induced FOMO. And when it comes to health and happiness, some of the negative impacts of social media are actually balanced out by some awesome benefits. Check them out below…and don’t forget to tweet this article, obviously:
Social media helps the elderly feel less isolated.
Ever feel alone in the middle of a crowded Facebook thread? For many of us, social media can sometimes make us feel lonely and isolated. But for the elderly, a Facebook account can have the opposite effect. A UK project looked at the impact that having a computer would have on a group of participants aged 60-95 years old—and the effects were fantastic.
Those trained on using a computer experienced heightened feelings of self-competence, participated more in social activity, had improved cognitive capacity and showed a better sense of personal identity. “People who are socially isolated or who experience loneliness are more vulnerable to disease and decline,” explained Dr. Thomas Morton, the project lead. “For these reasons finding ways to support people’s social connections is a really important goal. This study shows how technology can be a useful tool for enabling social connections, and that supporting older people in our community to use technology effectively can have important benefits for their health and well-being.”
It benefits those with a chronic illness, too.
Not only are internet users with chronic conditions more likely to research and monitor their health online, they’re also using social media to connect with others who understand what they’re going through. Being able to research healthcare costs, treatments and engage in discussion can be empowering…especially when doctors often have you in and out of the waiting room in five minutes. Pew research cites comments in forums that an online support group is crucial: “[An] online support group helped me learn about the disease and provided comfort in knowing that my symptoms were not ‘just in my head,’ and helped me take steps to adjust to living with a chronic condition.” Another says: “I live in a small town and it is helpful to be able to use the internet to find others that have the same condition as I do.”
Social media can help you meet your health goals.
Want to run a 5k? Lose 10 pounds? There’s an app (or 20) for that…and that app can go a long way in helping you meet your goals. One study found that dieters who share their weight loss plans and progress on social media lose more weight than dieters who stay quiet about their goals. Social support is a major component of making habit changes stick…and not everyone gets that social support from face-to-face interactions.
Social media strengthens relationships.
Okay, so 80 percent of our Facebook time is spent checking how successful or bald people we went to high school with are now. But it has another important function—keeping us close to the important people in our lives. A study of 900 college students and recent grads found that 47 percent of participants said communicated with friends who live in a different state or country was very important to them. Twenty-eight percent said communicating on Facebook with those in the same city was very important. And 35 percent said communicating with family on Facebook was very important to them. The average Facebook user also has more discussion confidants (defined as people with whom they discuss important matters) than other online users. Frequent Facebook users also get a boost in social support equivalent to about half of what the average American gets from living with a partner.
Social media makes your doctor better.
Not only are two thirds of doctors using social media for professional purposes, 60 percent of doctors say social media improves the quality of care patients get. A lot of what they’re doing on social media is following what their colleagues are sharing and discussing, research shows, keeping them up to date on new research in their field.
Social media spreads joy…
And not just because you keep posting that video of a cat riding a Roomba. In an analysis of Facebook post data, researchers found that moods spread on Facebook…and positive status updates actually have a bigger impact. Each positive post spread another 1.75 positive posts, whereas each negative one only led to an extra 1.29 negative posts. “I think overall this is good news because it suggests that we have a mechanism now that we didn’t have 10 years ago that could be dramatically amplifying the positive messages that we send and that we receive,” researcher James Fowler told Fast Co.Exist.
When it comes to social media and your health, social media can be a great tool when taken with a balanced diet of fresh air and quality time with the people around you.