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Instagram’s influence on depression has prompted a decade of research on the health consequences of using popular social networking apps. Prolonged exposure to social media apps like Instagram has been associated with higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress among users. According to the Pew Research Centre 2018, young people are at particular risk since at least 92% of teens are active on social media. At this point, the terms Instagram anxiety and Instagram depression are commonly understood as potential consequences of social media app overuse.
In a study published by the Journal of Technology in the Behavioral Sciences, lead researcher Rebecca Keyte and colleagues (2021) examined the effects of self-compassion when using social media apps. They hypothesized that higher levels of self-compassion would increase emotional well-being and thus protect people from social stressors associated with Instagram use.
Self-compassion is generally defined by Kristin Neff as extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. Neff defines self-compassion as having three primary aspects – self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
In the researcher’s Instagram anxiety and depression study, Keyte and colleagues looked at whether self-compassion is connected to emotional wellbeing while using social media and the amount of time spent on Instagram.
They conducted a cross-sectional study with 173 adults (average age 24.53 years; 115 females, 57 males, and one transgender person) who completed questionnaires assessing their use of Instagram, their level of self-compassion, and the presence of depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms. The amount of time spent on Instagram was measured by self-report whereby participants answered whether they feel they spend more time on Instagram than they would like to.
Instagram Anxiety & Instagram Depression: Myth or Fact?
Results of the Keyte study indicated that participants who used Instagram more often may be at risk of Instagram anxiety or Instagram depression, as they reported lower overall emotional wellbeing. Higher self-compassion was related to lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. However, the researchers also found that the relationship between total time spent on Instagram and self-compassion was not mediated by emotional wellbeing.
They interpreted these findings as suggestive of self-compassion’s functioning as protective against Instagram anxiety and Instagram depression, as participants with high self-compassion scores spent less time on Instagram. They concluded that lower levels of exposure to the social media app tend to lower the likelihood of suffering Instagram anxiety and Instagram depression.
The Keyte study supports the use of therapeutic interventions to develop and strengthen emotional well-being for Instagram and possibly other social media users to better manage the potential consequences of social media overexposure.
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