Social Media and Mental Health

Social media has infiltrated pretty much every aspect of our lives, which is incredibly powerful considering these platforms started gaining popularity in the early 2000s, where pop music was at its best, and our happiness levels were at their highest (probably). Let’s take Facebook for example, this platform blessed or cursed (choose your preference depending on your relationship with it) us in 2004 as it joined the internet. And while we all jumped on the bandwagon because it was something new, and a rather large upgrade from MSN (throw me back to this time please), it didn’t take long for many of us to become addicted, and rather obsessed with a social networking site where we could talk to friends, ignore family member friend requests, and poke people we fancied. Honestly, I just want to be back in the early 2000s so I can enjoy some Hollaback girl, or serenade my bedroom walls as I dramatically sing burn by Usher.

However, less of the reminiscing – Facebook was the first platform to really change and challenge the way we browse online, it developed our behaviours and how much time we spend online – it was a game changer. Then YouTube joined us in 2005, Twitter thought we needed a platform better than Facebook so it crashed the party in 2006, Instagram joined in 2010 and Snapchat came for our lives in 2011. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are the three main networking sites we’re all familiar with, and I for one, just want to say that Instagram is the supreme out of them all. The elite. Vine had a good go of it, but they had to take that from us as well.

These social media platforms have changed the way we communicate, changed the way we interact with others because our smartphones allow us to access social apps which make it quicker and easier. And sure, sometimes my introverted ass doesn’t want to have a conversation with someone because I need to recharge, and in that instance using my phone to stay connected is useful, but human interaction is nice sometimes too with the right people. Have we somehow lost the ability to form genuine connections and relationships because of social media and what it has taught us, and continues to teach us? It’s ever growing, and as we subconsciously internalise things we see on the television, things we hear about on the radio, and things we see online – are we really surprised by it’s impact at this point? And can you find the perfect balance between not letting it affect your mental health and gaining something positive from the social networking experience overall?

There are various studies from social scientists that have showcased the impact social media has on our relationships. This not only applies to relationships with other people, but the relationship we have with ourselves too. Of course, the positive or negative impact is determined by how we, as individuals, use the platforms. There is a clear link between social media usage and mental health disorders – this includes depression, anxiety, eating disorders and more. Are you making sure you’re helping your mental health, and not doing the opposite? Is the time you’re spending online contributing to someone else’s mental health?

Social media is an illusion, it’s deceptive. It has us thinking we should have our lives together by our early 20s, but you are mistaken. This is not realistic, and we constantly put an insane amount of pressure and stress on ourselves to reach this point in our lives, because it’s what we’re taught from a young age, right from when we leave school, and now the online universe has us comparing our lives to others too. Do you think that is healthy? Would you prefer to live vicariously through others, or do you want to experience the joy of living your own life, without comparisons that tear down your self-esteem, confidence, and damage your belief system and how you see the world? It’s important to not fuel any negative feelings or emotions when we’re connected to social media. If you need some help with that, there are a few tips below.

How To Form a Healthier Relationship With Social Media

We have all invested too much time in social media than we’d like to admit, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to catch up with your friends, get tagged in a few SpongeBob memes then come away from your phone feeling good, but is this a regular occurrence? The state of the world at the moment isn’t really a pleasant place to be, so of course we will try to distract ourselves with social media, Netflix, (Gilmore Girl marathons) and anything else that has the ability to grab our attention for more than 10 seconds. While it doesn’t take us long to become immersed in the digital life, it’s harder for us to come back out of it. 

If you are actively trying to avoid hearing things on the news about police brutality in the US, and the excessive and illegal use of force and murder against black people, countless protests, deaths due to COVID19 and so on, you should take a social media detox too. If you do not have the mental capacity to deal with things that are happening around us during these challenging times, it is okay – there is a LOT going on and we need to take care of ourselves first before we can join protests, and help other people. 

With that being said, below are a few tips on how to improve your relationship with social media and better your mental health.

1)Detox from Social Media – Smartphones have evolved significantly, and it does have it’s pros and cons, but you should know when you need to take a step back, and actually want to take it. You can decide on how long you would like your social media detox to be, how frequently you would like to do it – but the purpose of this is to give you a fresh mindset, away from technology, away from things that can influence you without even realising. Spend the time you’re not online, by having a nice relaxing bath, and use the strawberry scented bath bomb you physically leaped over someone in Lush just to get. Reading a book can be calming, and is great for taking you out of your existing bubble, and placing you in a completely new one for the duration of your read.

Detoxing is taking care of yourself, and especially knowing when you need to. I recommend you use the screen time feature on your phone and set time limits for each app that you use most often. Once the time has run out, it’ll lock the app! You do have the ability to unlock it, but that’s not what it was designed for. Take advantage of this feature, and adopt new, healthier habits for your own health and wellbeing.

To kick things off on your social media detox, start small and set 1 hour each for your social media apps, so you can only spend this much time on the app before your phone will say no, thanks.

2)Think About Your Mental Health – Although this isn’t a conscious decision most of us think about before logging into Twitter and laughing at a bunch of memes, it’s an important one. If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed by other things recently, and you’re actively choosing to log in to your social media platforms – think about whether or not it’s going to make you feel better, or worse. Check in with yourself as often as possible.

3)Be Aware of Your Presence Online – When you do spend time online, make sure you are aware of your presence and be careful. While social media is a place to connect and interact with existing friends and potential new ones, it can also be a place for other users to hop on bandwagons and spread the opposite of joy and positivity. Do not let strangers turn your positivity into something negative, so know when to have a little break. There are various sensitive topics that are constantly discussed online, and this can cause debates and conflicts – you need to be mindful of what you post and what you share. You are entitled to your own opinion, but facts are facts.

Your right to an opinion doesn’t make your opinion valid.

4)Think Before You Post – You might as well just reread the point above. However, in addition to this, if you think something you post could offend someone, then simply don’t post it. You don’t have control of what other people may post, but you have control over what you post yourself. Because Instagram is an entirely visual platform, it has a significant impact on those who struggle with body dysmorphia. 

“Body dysmorphia is a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance. These flaws are often unnoticeable to others.” – NHS

If this is something you are doing constantly, it’s a clear sign that you need to stop spending so much time online, and place that focus and energy towards yourself. You can also avoid these feelings by having a clean up of your following – a declutter shall we say. Don’t follow someone if they make you feel bad about yourself, but if you do come across a user that does this, ask yourself how they are doing this and why, before unfollowing them.

5)Don’t Make Comparisons – Comparison tends to fuel your insecurities, and negatively impact your self-esteem and confidence. Instead you should use comparisons as inspirations. We know that, for the vast majority, when we see someone broadcast their success online, or post picture perfect moments, we will immediately compare ourselves – it’s also known as the social comparison theory. This is the idea that we determine our own social and personal worth based on how we compare to others. This theory can enable us to act in two, very different ways. Either it can increase our motivation to improve ourselves and our lifestyle, or on the other end of the spectrum – increases our feelings of dissatisfaction, guilt, sadness and leads to self-destructive patterns and behaviours.

One critical aspect to remember, is that when these moments are posted online, they are not representative of someone’s whole’s life – it is not an accurate representation. If you allow yourself to feel inspired, rather than directly compare your daily life to an unrealistic lifestyle you see on Instagram, it is much healthier. Do not let social media change your perception of who you are.

The topic of social media and mental health is never ending, and as social media evolves and trends come and go, it’s always going to be important to recognise your triggers online, and what to do to better take care of yourself in every aspect. You can also take a quick look at some other tips on how to look after your mental health during COVID19.

Let us know what online habits you have that you’d like to try control, or share some of your own tips when it comes to social media and your mental health. Like, share and comment on this post – it’s time to spark the conversation.

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