Picture: Paul Sakuma Caption: Social Media has been linked to higher levels of loneliness, anxiety and depression.

In this day and age, social media has become an integral part of our lives. It has created platforms for people to share information instantly and communicate with people all around the world.

While the benefits of social media may be endless, such as keeping in touch with relatives, reconnecting with old high school friends, and building a personal brand, it also has negative impact on users overall health and well-being.

Excessive use of social media has been linked to higher levels of loneliness, envy, anxiety, depression, and narcissism.

Dr Ian Opperman, an educator at South African College of Applied Psychology SACAP and a clinical psychologist, says people use their social media accounts as platforms for self-promotion, becoming “friends” bragging about their “amazing lives”.

Social media has led to a culture of people becoming considerably more self-focused and narcissistic. It is believed that narcissism development from social media is certainly possible, as it provides a platform for people to present themselves in any manner they wish, creating an “ideal self”. By creating and maintaining “this identity”, a person could possibly become narcissistic. Studies have shown that narcissists were more self-promoting, had more “friends” and were more successful 'social media creators'.

While others use social media for self-promotion and portray their 'perfect life', on the other hand it has been shown to decrease ones self-confidence and self-esteem in many different ways as people start comparing their lives with that of social media 'friends'.

“We often use social media in order to get attention, When we do not achieve the likes or shares, we feel rejected, which in turn may cause a decrease of one's self-esteem," says Opperman.

When asked if these social platforms may lead to people being lonely, Opperman says the real question is which one came first; the social media causing isolation or isolated people tending to use social media more often; or more rationally put, is it a combination of both?" he asked.

While some studies suggest that the more time one spends on social media, the more likely they are to feel socially isolated others found that social media displaced more authentic social interactions.

“We, humans, are inherently social beings; however, we have become isolated due to communicating through social media as opposed to the old fashioned face-to-face interaction. Loneliness is largely a function of perceived friendship networks created on social media – the fewer “friends” one has the lonelier one feels," said.

Although some people may use social media as a means to escape their depressed mood, he says social media can also become a root for many emotional difficulties.

"Some people tend to be victims of their thoughts. They can find that a persons depressed mood is exacerbated by being isolated at home, feeling left out or not having any “real friends,” say Opperman.

Penny Louw from Neurobalance Cape Town – a technology-based tool that allows the brain to return to a state of relaxation – says there are basic things that the human mind needs in order to flourish. These include real human interaction, exercise, nutrition, relaxation, fun plus a sense of meaning.

“People who spend hours on social media and not making the real human connections are not relaxing and having fun in a way that allows their systems to recover from life stresses. In fact, quite the opposite. We are building up and storing stress at levels unprecedented in the history of mankind. And social media is making this situation worse partly by the stress of trying to live up to the supposedly wonderful lives that 'friends' are living and by increasing the stress relating to making meaningful connections with others.”

For some people, as stress builds up in their brains they start to experience symptoms such as depression and anxiety, which Louw says may not always be obvious.

"The fact of the matter is that in order to thrive in this modern world we need to be clever about making sure that our basic needs are correctly met. The ability to relax and allowing stress to be released from the brain makes people who are receptive, warm to human relationships, and who are creative and productive."

Louw said stress management was becoming more vital as our society becomes increasingly stressed.

Exercise is an excellent way to reduce stress while meditation has also been shown to be beneficial.

But for many people, the stored stress levels are so high that conventional methods can be inefficient, and treatment may be needed to avoid further negative consequences such as eating disorders, depression, and poor sleep.

According to South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), South Africa has a cyber-bullying was at its peak, estimated at about 24%. Sadag said social media could be partly blamed for the increasing stress levels.