Is Facebook hazardous to your health?


You may do it standing in line, sitting at a red light or even in the middle of a conversation. Mark Zuckerberg himself estimates you spend 40 minutes of every day doing it.

It’s Facebook. And research indicates the pervasive urge to see what’s been posted since the last time you checked could be cutting into your sleep, your relationships and your health. While using Facebook may seem like a harmless habit, some research points to health hazards — and a few benefits.

About 73 percent of adults online use social networking sites, with Facebook leading the pack, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project . Facebook users are also some of the most engaged, with 40 percent of users checking in multiple times each day.

The effects of Facebook

You may not give much thought to how a status message or shared photo affects you, but research indicates that these seemingly benign actions can have a collective effect on your health and well-being.

One study  of the effects of Facebook use on undergraduates found time spent on Facebook was tied to lower self-esteem, and a greater number of Facebook friends were negatively associated with academic and emotional adjustment among college freshmen. Among older students, the effects were more positive, with Facebook use tied to improved social adjustment. But undergraduates are at a unique point in their young adult lives, and they may not represent social media users as a whole.

Regardless of age, your social media engagement could make you more anxious. Several studies  have linked Facebook use to increased anxiety, whether that discomfort arises when comparing your life to those presented by Facebook friends, or when you haven’t checked your notifications for a while. Research also indicates Facebook could make it more difficult to recover after a breakup.

Even as you lie down at night, social media use could be affecting your health. A British poll of  6,000 people found the average adult is spending about 16 minutes each night on social media, cutting into sleep time and ultimately affecting their well-being.The lack of sleep can elevate your risk of depression and anxiety, obesity, heart attacks and death.

But it isn’t all bad news. Many people are using Facebook to cope with health problems and to connect with people going through similar life experiences. These connections may not have been possible before reaching out to strangers became so easy. Also, people who are honest in how they present themselves on Facebook could experience enhanced happiness as they reap increased social support from their friends online.

What your Facebook use says about you

Unlike some other social media platforms, Facebook draws a wide variety of users , reaching across age groups, genders and income levels. But across these groups, Facebook users have other things in common.

“Facebook users are more likely to be extraverted and narcissistic, but they also have stronger feelings of family loneliness,” says a study from the journal Computers in Human Behavior , comparing Facebookers with nonusers.

In other words, using Facebook doesn’t do much for strengthening family bonds, and a happy family is more apt to be a healthy one . Further, narcissism  itself has been linked with negative health outcomes, including increased cortisol, a stress hormone and possible risk factor for cardiovascular problems.

Surely not all Facebook accounts belong to narcissists. Sharing your job promotion in a status message doesn’t mean you’re showing off, and posting a photo doesn’t mean you want people to fawn over your beautiful family. Still, the “likes” and comments are nice, right? Time Spent on Facebook Better Spent Elsewhere?

On a conference call in July, Facebook founder Zuckerberg estimated the average user spends 40 minutes  each day on the social networking site. That’s more time than the average American spends on the phone and checking email each day and more than the average time spent commuting to work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics . Perhaps most importantly, it’s also more time than the average adult spends on health-related self-care and exercise.

Forty minutes daily adds up to 280 minutes, or over 6½ hours, each week and 20 hours every month. If you cut your daily consumption of Facebook to 10 minutes, you would free up 30 minutes each day to spend on a workout or with family.

It would give you 15 additional hours every month to use on cooking meals, getting fit and participating in other activities that could garner far healthier results than scrolling and “liking.” Paired with the fact that research shows  your mood worsens with every additional minute spent on Facebook, your health could be a good motivator for logging off now and then.

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