Many people come to therapy when they struggle with loneliness. They ask questions such as:
- “Why do I feel more lonely now than ever, despite being more connected online?”
- “How can I make meaningful connections with others when everything is done online?”
- “Why do I feel like social media is tunneling me into a dark, lonely hole?”
If you’re thinking about questions like these, you’ll be relieved to know it’s not just you.
What you are experiencing is an increasingly common phenomenon that is well documented in scientific research. For example, a study published in Journal for social and personal relationships found that today’s teenagers spend about an hour less per day socializing with their peers compared to teens who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. Also, according to the study, adolescents who reported fewer in-person social interactions and more online interactions felt the most lonely and isolated.
Social media can create a false sense of connection and belonging. Online interactions lack the non-verbal cues, physical presence, and emotional intimacy essential to building and maintaining meaningful relationships.
Social media can also lead to feelings of social comparison and inadequacy, as well as feelings of isolation due to constant FOMO (fear of missing out).
But there is hope. Here are some science-backed strategies to help you cope and overcome feelings of loneliness that stem from too much social media.
#1. Limit your use of social media
Yes, that is easier said than done. But the benefits of timing and limiting social media use can be enormous. Research published in Journal of social and clinical psychology found that limiting people’s time on social apps such as Facebook and Snapchat to 10 minutes per day significantly reduced feelings of loneliness and depression. The sweet spot, according to the researchers, can be about 30 minutes or less per day.
By setting boundaries with technology, we can focus on developing face-to-face interactions and building real connections. Social media is designed to be addictive, so there is no shame in seeking help from a mental health professional to reduce your addiction to it.
A therapist may suggest creating a schedule to limit your use of social media, set specific times of the day to check and engage with social media, and find alternative activities to fill the time you would have spent on social media.
Although this may seem challenging at first, with the right mindset and strategies, you can develop a healthy relationship with social media and reduce feelings of loneliness.
#2. Choose authenticity over social validation
The constant need to present a perfect image on social media can lead to a phenomenon known as “social surveillance,” where users not only carefully curate their own posts, but also carefully monitor the content posted by others on their profiles and pages. This can be detrimental to one’s mental health as it encourages individuals to chase societal norms and popularity rather than being true to themselves.
A recent study published in Journal of Psychology found that this dynamic can lead to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, as users often question whether their actions will be accepted or rejected by their peers before posting anything on social media.
It’s also important to realize that any validation you may receive on an inauthentic version of yourself will ultimately feel hollow and false. If genuine human connection is what you value, try to attract people who like you for you by showing the world what you really care about.
Remember that social media is just a tool to connect you with others. It’s not the end game. Focus on building real connections through your online presence and your loneliness will improve.
Loneliness is a difficult and painful experience. But if you can trace the cause to social media, you’re already halfway to fixing the problem.
By limiting your use of social media, being authentic online and seeking out face-to-face interactions, you can learn to address the causes of your social media loneliness and build the real connections you need to feel less alone .