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Is Social Media Making Us Happy Or Miserable?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Some spend their lives searching for happiness, and with smartphones close by, many of us look for it online.

But is social media making us happy or miserable?

WCCO conducted a special experiment to find out, and the results even surprised the experts.

The experiment began with Belle Bosman. She's a 15-year-old high school sophomore and your more typical social media user.

"Daily, I use Snapchat, VSCO, iMessage," Bosman said.

Bosman has tracked it before. She checks her phone hundreds of times a day. She says there's not a good reason for it, it's just what everyone does.

Studies show teenagers spend an average of nine hours a day online. But, we wondered, at what cost?

Inside Hennepin Healthcare's Clinic and Specialty Centers' Cardiac Rehabilitation Center, exercise physiologist Jill Carter measured two numbers for our test: blood pressure and heart rate.

"To get a true resting blood pressure you have to be relaxed, sitting," she said to Bosman.

Carter let Bosman relax for five minutes first to get her resting rates. Her blood pressure reading is 117 over 67. Then, she gets her phone back to look at social media.

Just a few minutes later, there's a difference.

"Belle, your resting heart rate was 65 beats per minute, and since you've been on your phone, it's up to 85 beats a minute," Carter said.

The beats climbed every time Bosman went online. Before recording her final results, we wanted to see if adults registered the same reaction.

Tracy Peltier, a busy realtor and mother of three young girls, admittedly worries about her kids' future with phones.

"Social media scares me," Peltier said.

While Peltier recognizes her daughters will grow up in a digital world she didn't experience as a child, she is fully aware how her Facebook and Instagram accounts affect her own mood.

"It is interesting how people put their firm beliefs out there for everyone to read," she said.

From politics to youth sports, Peltier checked the feeds that got her fired up. In a few minutes, her numbers go up.

"Sixty-one to 74. That's a little more of a jump heart rate-wise, but not so much blood pressure-wise with you," Carter said.

Peltier's blood pressure went from 125 over 80 to 131 over 87.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Matthew Syzdek points to the research already indicating the damage social media is doing to our mental health.

"When you're talking about the people using it day in and day out, it's not appearing to be very healthy for them actually," Syzdeck said.

Whether it be at work, on a walk or even a sporting event, constant checkers are at the greatest risk for depression, loneliness and stress. They are in a constant state of comparison to other people.

"Maybe for some individuals, brief interactions do add value, but the high quantities I think it's really questionable about the real value it adds to their life. Does it really enrich it or not? Doesn't seem to be the case," Syzdeck said.

This brings us back to Bosman and the physical toll.

Her blood pressure did change to 121 over 63. But, Carter is most concerned with her heart rate increase.

"That was a bigger jump than I would have expected," Carter said.

Bosman's heart rate ultimately climbed from 65 to 100 beats per minute.

"You don't want your heart to be beating faster unless there's a good reason for it," she explained.

Those numbers can impact your cardiovascular system over time. Carter likens that kind of acceleration to swerving quickly to avoid something with your car.

"The mind and body is very closely connected; you can't separate the two. So, something that creates an emotional response on social media, it makes sense it creates a physical response, as well," she said.

Bosman admits the numbers were a wake-up call. But, spending some time away from her phone might be easier said than done.

"I've tried. I only made it a day," she said. "It's very hard to stop."

So what can we do? Experts suggest parents use apps that limit their kid's time on social media. Like Bosman's parents, make sure your kids don't take their phones into their bedrooms at night.

Syzdeck adds you should give yourself a gut check every time you use social media. Ask yourself, does it make you feel better or worse? Then, adjust your time online accordingly.

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