Your social media use is linked to how lonely you feel — and not in a good way, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. People who spent the most time on social platforms reported feeling more socially isolated than less frequent users.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Researchers asked 1,787 American adults between the ages of 19 and 32 how often they used 11 different social platforms and how socially isolated they felt. Those who spent more than two hours a day on social media were twice as likely to report feeling isolated than people who spent 30 minutes or less on social sites per day. Even more striking, people with the most frequent social site visits (58 or more a week) were more than three times as likely to feel isolated than those who logged fewer than 9 weekly visits, according to NPR.

Study co-author Brian Primack, director of the Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health at the University of Pittsburgh, told NPR that the findings took him by surprise. “It’s social media, so aren’t people going to be socially connected?” he said. But as we’ve written, our relationship with social media isn’t so simple, and it’s not always healthy.

It’s important to note that this study proved correlation not causation, meaning the researchers can’t say for sure that constantly using social media makes people feel lonely. It could be that lacking social connections makes people more likely to head online in the first place, or some unknown factor could be at play. FOMO could also work against you here — you go online to feel connected only to see the connections other people seem to be creating without you. Plus, the fact that we tend to present the rose-colored-glasses view of our lives (travel with family, meals with friends) rather than reality (late nights alone at the office, first dates that don’t go anywhere) doesn’t help.

This doesn’t mean you should delete your social accounts immediately, but it is a wake-up call. Connections with people you interact with in real life can’t be easily replaced by DMs and likes. If you really want to forge meaningful relationships, try getting offline more often to do it.

Read more on NPR.

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