It is amazing to see how social media grew over the years.

When I was in high school, Myspace was the largest social networking service. When I went to college, Facebook was quickly rising in popularity. Now, we have Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok.

Even though these mediums have changed the way we communicate with our friends and family, there are some adverse effects associated with the power of social media, such as feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation.

It is so easy to get lost in it all.

For some, social media is just social media. It’s something to kill time, catch up with loved ones and news, and learn the choreography to the latest dance trends. For others, social media is another world to live in. It’s an escape and a new life that can be created. It’s a highlight reel that only shows the amazing things that are happening in someone’s life.

Even as positive information can get around quickly, so can the negative.

Social media can be harmless, but often it can be mentally unhealthy.

There are so many social media outlets that can consume hours of our everyday lives. While some mindlessly scroll through their feeds, they may fall into the trap of comparison and make judgments about how their lives are or should be compared to family, friends and peers. Research has shown how social media affects our feelings of self-worth and happiness, yet we still get caught up in other people’s lives and find it hard to distinguish between what is online versus reality.

We see users with more than 10,000 friends or followers online and may wonder why we only have 200. We start to believe that our lives aren’t as exciting and feel the need to post more to prove that life is actually good. On the other side, someone with 10,000 followers may get addicted to the attention and think they have to keep their audience engaged and connected, so they continue to post every part of their day to show they are booked and busy!

Social media is a game, but it can be a dangerous one to play.

I, too, have had to take a break or cleanse from some social media outlets such as Facebook and Instagram. Once I start to feel jealous of what is happening to my friends around me, I know it’s time to take a step back.

When we see our friends doing well and accomplishing goals, we should feel motivated and inspired. For some, social media does just that. It’s not a reminder of how we didn’t start that business, but it’s a motivator for how we can start that online boutique or consulting service. It shows us that things are attainable, and we are all capable of living our dreams.

Instead of letting social media take over your mental health, use it as a resource. Social media has made the transfer of information simple and right at our fingertips. When we get the urge to learn how to make a new dish or connect with an old friend, it quickly allows us to do so.

But even as positive information can get around quickly, so can the negative. Be mindful of your comments on others’ posts and the words you spread on your profile. What is written online lasts forever, and just like your words, they cannot be taken back.

It is easy to think that you aren’t doing enough, but it’s essential to be happy with where you currently are. Our lives will always be different from others. There will be things we wish we had or things we wish we could have done.

The worst thing you can do to yourself is discrediting how far you have come and the accomplishments you have made.

Social media should never replace in-person interaction. “Friends” on your social networks are sometimes strangers, so be careful who you follow and what you share online. Pay close attention to how social media makes you feel, but don’t hesitate to take a break from time to time.

Online communication will always be an invaluable tool for keeping in touch but never forget how to differentiate between what’s online and reality.

Ashley Turner ’12 ’15 is the associate director of Alumni Professional Engagement for UCF Alumni Engagement and Annual Giving. She can be reached at [email protected].