Faculty Spotlight: Social Media

Social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, are the norm for college students. In and out of the classroom, students are generally engaged in at least one, if not all, of these social media platforms. As use of social media increases, what are the consequences for students? How is social media impacting mental health among college students?

Fear of Missing Out (FoMO), is a phenomenon that has gained attention with the rise of social media. Defined as a “pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent, FoMO is characterized by the desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing”.1 Essentially, FoMO could explain why college students feel the need to be constantly engaged in social media. Research has indicated a relationship between academic motivations (intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, and a-motivation), social media engagement in the classroom, and FoMO.1 Students that were either extrinsically motivated (e.g. “I’m in college because I can get a higher paying job when I graduate”) or a-motivated (e.g., "I’m in college because I have to be”) had a positive relationship with FoMO, which in turn lead to more social media engagement.1 These findings could point to the use of social media as a means of distraction for students that are already struggling with finding intrinsic motivation (e.g., “I’m in college because I enjoy learning”) in the classroom.

While FoMO is a relatively new phenomenon being examined among college students, depression is not. However, with the addition of social media, depression among college students is being examined in novel ways. Looking specifically at Facebook envy (e.g., seeing others with or doing things you want but cannot have), researchers hypothesized that Facebook use would predict depression.2 Interestingly, Facebook use did not predict depression among college students, however, heavy Facebook use is associated with Facebook-related envy, which increased self-comparison to others.2

Overall, awareness of the consequences of social media on college students may be helpful in self-monitoring social media use. While the research on social media use doesn’t appear to swing one way or the other for it being harmful or not, it’s important to recognize that while technology advances, we are continuing to see and feel the consequences of social media inside and outside the classroom.

1Alt, D. (2015) College students’ academic motivation, media engagement and fear of missing out. Computers in Human Behavior, 49, 111-119. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2015.02.057
2Tandoc, E. C., Ferrucci, P. & Duffy, M. (2015). Facebook use, envy, and depression among college students: Is facebook depressing? Computers in Human Behavior, 43, 139-146. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2014.10.053


Opposite Action

This month we’ve talked about understanding emotions, values and how to accumulate positive emotions, and checking the facts. This week we’re talking about opposite action – a strategy you can use to regulate your emotions and change your behavior.

Opposite action is exactly what it sounds like – it’s doing something that is opposite of the emotion you’re feeling. This might sound like the popular saying “fake it ‘til you make it” and it’s not far off. When you’re feeling sad or down, it’s easier to withdraw from the things you like doing and the people around you. While this might feel like the easiest option, it can actually be beneficial for you to do the opposite. Sometimes you can break the cycle of feeling sad or down by doing something you would normally do when you are feeling happy. You may be able to change the way you’re feeling through your behavior.

Opposite action isn’t just for when you’re feeling down, it can be helpful when you’re angry or upset with someone, too. Being kind or doing something nice for someone when you’re not happy with them can seem even more infuriating at the time, but you can take charge of your anger through opposite action. Often, feeling angry doesn’t help us resolve what made us upset in the first place – opposite action can help get you to a place where you can process how you feel and how you want to respond in the future.

While opposite action can be useful, it can be really hard to do in the moment. It’s also important to realize that every emotion you feel is valid and real. The way you feel and respond to a situation or event is useful information that you can use to learn about yourself. Try out opposite action and see if it’s helpful, and if not, try again!

Checking the Facts

We’ve talked about how we’re always feeling an emotion and how identifying your emotions is a great step towards understanding them. While describing your emotions are useful, it’s also helpful to know what you’re responding to in a situation. Since emotions are automatic, we’re quick to emotionally react to an event and even our thoughts about what is happening. Sometimes, though, we don’t have all the information we need to respond appropriately. Additionally, sometimes we are actually responding to how we think, believe, or are interpreting a situation rather than what is really happening.

Checking the facts is a way you can make sure you are respond to the actual event or situation. To check the facts, you have to ask yourself:

  • What is the feeling I want to change? This is why identifying your emotions is so important!
  • What happened that brought on this feeling or emotion? Think about what came right before you started feeling the emotion you identified.
  • How am I interpreting, thinking about, or what am I assuming about what is happening? This is where we have to be careful with reacting to our thoughts and not to what is actually happening in reality.
  • Am I jumping to conclusions that something negative or bad is going to happen? When we do this, we cloud our ability to see what is happening.
  • Do my emotions match the intensity of the situation? This is where we can stop to check if we are catastrophizing or downplaying your own emotions.

When we can check the facts, we can respond to situations better and more in-line with what is actually happening. It also allows us to slow down and assess how we are really feeling in response to what is actually happening instead of emotionally reacting to what we think, assume, or how we are interpreting the situation. Lastly, it’s important to try and see situations from other perspectives – this can help you gain more information and insight into how your emotional response measures up to reality!

Values and Positive Emotions

Values are what you find important, meaningful, and they affect your every day actions. We all have values. Values inform your priorities and are a way that you might unconsciously measure your success. Different types of values include relationships (friendships, family, or romantic), spirituality, community service/volunteering, education, health, recreation/leisure (such as traveling or other hobbies), or your career. It’s important to recognize that these could all be things you value, but they might rank differently, or maybe your values might be completely different. Whatever your values are, they are yours and there are no right or wrong values.

When you do something that aligns with your values, it feels good. You feel satisfied and happy with yourself – you feel positive emotions. On the other hand, when you do something that doesn’t align with your values, like maybe not making enough time for a hobby you enjoy, you don’t feel great and you might feel like something is missing.

One of the things you can do to take care of yourself is to accumulate positive emotions. When you accumulate positive emotions, you can improve your resilience to experiencing negative emotions. How can you do this? Try doing one enjoyable activity a day that aligns with your values. Maybe you value your leisure time – what is that one hobby you put off doing because you have so much school work? It could be as simple as taking time to listen to your favorite artist. Maybe you value learning but even though you’re in college, this doesn’t feel satisfied. Take time to research or read about an area that interests you. Maybe you want to make more time for the relationships in your life or you want to eat healthier.

Regardless of what you value, taking the time (daily, if not at least weekly!) to prioritize your values can set you up for living the life you want and for accumulating positive emotions. This also allows you to have positive memories, activities, or people to fall back on when something negative happens. Lastly, try to be mindful when doing something positive – don’t ruin the experience with worrying about what you “should” be doing!

Understanding Emotions

Emotions are always present. Even when you feel bored, or neutral, you are feeling. Emotions can range from positive (such as love and happiness) to negative (such as shame, anger, and jealousy). Emotions are complex and you can often feel a mix of them at the same time. Emotions are also automatic. Sometimes it can feel like emotions are bad or unhelpful in distressing or stressful situations, but they serve a function – they can inform your behavior, help you to communicate to others, and help you to communicate to yourself.

How can knowing about emotions be helpful? When we can identify and name our emotions, we can take a step back to observe and describe them, which can help us change the behavior that comes after feeling the emotion. At the same time, it’s important to identify with why you’re feeling the emotion. While it’s not possible to directly change the emotion, it is possible to change how you respond to the emotion you’re feeling.

Pretend you took an exam and you didn’t score as well as you thought you would. You might feel a range of emotions, from sadness, to anger, to envy of other students who did well. Taking a moment to step back and identify the emotion may prevent your next action, which may not be helpful. If feeling sad, you might go eat that pint of ice cream in your freezer. Anger, you might have written your professor a rude email, or envy – maybe you would have lashed out at a friend who scored better than you. The next step, identifying with the emotion, whether it’s sadness, anger, or envy, can inform you that you really cared about doing well on that exam or maybe that you value your education and performance.

Regardless of the situation, when we understand emotions, we understand ourselves better and we can choose better, more positive actions afterwards. You can use your emotions, even the negative ones, to learn about yourself and what you value!