Is Social Media Effecting Your Mental Health? How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Help

The internet has become a necessity for modern society.  For many, it is used for everything from working, schooling, and banking, to keeping in touch with friends and family.  Social media is particularly pervasive with some estimates showing over half of the people on earth (4.48 billion!) as being active users on social media platforms.  Although there are numerous upsides to social media including discovering new interests, connecting to people with similar hobbies, the dissemination of information, and network building.  There are also many detrimental effects that social media has on our mental health, such as anxiety, depression, stress, and loneliness, and these effects can be particularly pronounced among young people.  

So, how then, do we navigate our internet-infused daily lives, while still maintaining our mental health?  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques have been shown to help negate the negative effects caused by the internet and social media use

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

CBT is a form of psychotherapy that operates on the assumption that:

1) Psychological distress we experience is partially caused by dysfunctional ways of thinking.

2) Those who suffer from psychological distress can relieve this distress by learning new ways of thinking about the stressors in their lives.

The cognitive model of CBT looks like this:

Situation —> Thought —> Emotion—> Behavior

What does this look like in real life?

If a student does poorly on an assignment (situation), then thinks that they are stupid (thought), they may get depressed (emotion), and because they see themselves as the problem, they will not bother working hard on the next assignment (behavior).  This can lead to a vicious cycle that leads to worse situations, worse thoughts, worse emotions, and worse behavior. Alternatively, if upon receiving a poor mark on an assignment(situation), the student thinks “I can do better if I work harder” (thought), they might feel encouraged (emotion), and put in a better effort on the following assignment (behavior).  In both of these situations, the student experiences the same negative experience of receiving a bad grade.  However, the student in the first scenario is more likely to experience anxiety and depression, as well as continue to perform poorly in school.

How does this apply to the effects of social media?

When browsing social media, we can often be left with a feeling of being less than.  Not rich enough, not attractive enough, not fun enough, etc. This is often the result of seeing the social media posts of others and thinking our lives are less fulfilling in comparison.  When in actuality a life of excess and partying may be a lot of fun in the short term, but fancy cars and clothes are not going to provide any sort of meaningful satisfaction, and that’s not even considering how performative and unrepresentative social media posts can be.  Despite having been taught lessons of this nature throughout our lives, many of us will still fall into the cognitive distortion of thinking “I would be happy if I only had...”.  CBT emphasizes learning to recognize this sort of cognitive distortion as it is happening and reminds us to have more realistic and advantageous ways of thinking about the situation.  For example, when scrolling through social media posts, we might see people leading a life that makes us envious(situation), this might lead to us thinking that our life isn’t good enough(thought), this can lead us to feel down (emotion), which could lead to negative acts like increased anti-social behavior on the less serious end, substance abuse, self-harm, or suicide on the more serious end (behavior).

How can we change the way we think?

The tricky part is that these negative thoughts can enter our minds quickly and under the radar, we refer to them as Automatic negative thoughts.  However, with patience, attention and practice, we can begin to recognize these Automatic negative thoughts as they are happening, and train our brain to conceptualize negative events in new ways.  Which in turn leads to less negative thoughts, and more adaptive behaviors.  Here are some techniques to help with that process:

1)     Paying attention to our feelings and identifying specific problems that we experience regularly.

An example of this could be experiencing depression, stress, or anxiety as a result of scrolling through social media.  By paying attention to the emotions that we experience and the situations that we are in when they occur, we can begin to identify the specific problem. Knowing the specific problem, we are facing allows us to focus our attention on what needs to be fixed.  If you notice that you become depressed after engaging with social media this becomes a great starting point for finding a solution.

2)     Making ourselves aware of unproductive thoughts and realizing how they affect our lives.

After identifying the specific problem, we can do some self-analysis to help us reveal some of the Automatic negative thoughts we are experiencing. Self-reflection on our thoughts during problematic situations can reveal negative thought patterns that contribute to our negative emotional state.  An example of this might be thoughts of our lives not being as fun, exciting, or perfect as the lives of people we see on social media.  These types of thoughts can lead to thought patterns which include other thoughts about how we value ourselves, or a decrease in hope we have for the future, which can lead to feelings of sadness and depression.

3)     Replacing distorted negative thoughts with more productive ways of thinking that change how you feel.

Once we have made ourselves aware of the distorted thoughts that contribute to our negative emotional states, we can work on actively replacing those thoughts with more accurate, and productive thoughts.  An example of this might include realizing that people on social media are only showing a very small portion of their lives, and that everyone has problems that they are not sharing with the public.  This can also include adopting thoughts about how even if things aren’t going great in our lives currently, we can still actively work towards improving our lives in the future, and that our self-worth is not limited to our present conditions.

4)     Learning new behaviors and making them a part of your daily life

It should be noted that it will take time and effort to successfully replace negative thought patterns with more positive and productive thoughts.  This process can be difficult, and require the assistance of a therapist, but we can also assist ourselves in this process by learning and implementing new behaviors in our daily lives.  In the case of social media, this may include such behaviors as not following certain people, limiting the amount of time we spend engaging with social media platforms, and taking a moment to ensure that we are in the right frame of mind before engaging with social media, or perhaps avoiding social media altogether if we are not strong mental state at the moment.


Social media, and the internet in general, can be very useful tools for navigating and interacting with the world at large, but their usefulness is limited if they are having damaging effects on our mental health.  By incorporating some CBT techniques into our lives, we can help to limit these damaging effects on our mental health, and have more productive and beneficial experiences engaging with social media.  If you feel as though you could benefit from learning how to include some CBT techniques in your daily life, please contact Matthew Hall at Wholetherapy for assistance by calling at9024611721, or emailing us at

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