Imagine that you are at home working, when your cell phone rings. Looking at it, a friend shared a video on TikTok. Convinced that he needs a break, he clicks on the link and sees “how to make delicious grilled meat”. An hour later, he’s still on his phone, but now he’s gone from recipes to viral dances, to animal videos and fitness gurus talking about weight-loss tricks.
If this situation sounds all too familiar to you, you’re not alone. Most people check their social networks daily, and younger people are more likely to return to their favorite platforms several times a day. TikTok is especially popular among teens: A 2022 survey by the Pew Research Center suggested that 67% of teens use it, while 16% do so almost constantly.
So why do people spend so much time online? An underlying reason is that platforms like TikTok promote infinite scrolling. You can start by watching a video and the page will continuously load an endless stream of content.
Mindlessly scrolling through content can seem like an innocent activity and a good excuse to waste time. However, research suggests that this can negatively influence the brain and mental health.
Why infinite scrolling is bad
Social networks, including TikTok, are not necessarily bad for your health. In fact, according to several studies, they can generate positive feelings of connection and well-being. In addition, they allow for personal expression, which can have a positive impact on mental health.
However, the way in which social networks affect people depends on the use made of them. For example, the abuse or excess in its use is associated with feelings of anxiety, loneliness and a general malaise. It is important to use social networks in a conscious and moderate way to avoid these negative effects on mental health.
“The more attached we are to our devices, the more problematic it becomes,” said Lisa Strohman, a psychologist and founder of Digital Citizen Academy, an educational program that teaches children and adolescents to have a healthy relationship with technology.
Plus, Strohman says that seeing photos and videos of everyone living their best life can make you worry or feel sad that you’re missing out. Some research suggests that comparing yourself to others on social media can lead to aggression and anxiety, while other studies suggest a link between negative comparisons on social media and suicidal ideation.
On the other hand, according to Pion-Berlin, scrolling without thinking can cause a trance-like state of mind. The expert is concerned that “moving without thinking is a way of disconnecting or dissociating from reality.”
A study published in 2023 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that high school students who constantly consulted social media showed changes in the way their brains responded to comments and criticism from their peers.
Infinite scrolling can also disrupt the sleep patterns of adolescents and adults. The blue light from the screen would make it hard to fall asleep, and the constant content prevents the brain from turning off at night.
How to break the toxic habit and improve emotional well-being
While it’s true that endless scrolling on social media can have negative consequences for mental health, it doesn’t mean we have to give it up entirely. In fact, staying on these applications can have its advantages, such as connecting with people who share our same interests or maintaining long-distance relationships.
To get the most out of our time on social media, it’s important that we become active rather than passive users.
Active users interact with others, comment on posts, and create content, allowing them to have a specific purpose for being on the app, cultivating online friendships, and improving their well-being.