Our daily lives have become increasingly involved with social media. You’ve probably already glanced at many forms of social media today… and will see even more by the end of the day if you’re reading this.
That isn’t an innately “good” or “bad” thing; it’s simply a new aspect of our social lives to be mindful of, particularly in relation to mental health. (And, as we frequently discuss, mental health has a significant impact on overall physical health!)
Social media’s health benefits and costs
There are many advantages to using social media: it allows us to stay in touch with friends and family—and social connectivity does contribute to positive health outcomes! Social media also empowers “the people” to create and distribute news, and as a result, it has aided key social movements by giving voice to themes and populations that are underrepresented in traditional media.
However, social media has its drawbacks, including cyberbullying, which has become a serious concern for children (as well as their parents and teachers, who struggle to “mediate” it in the vastness of cyberspace); and the unregulated spread of misinformation, which is currently a problem in the United States’ political climate and election process.
These are all important topics that we need to be aware of as a society. However, in addition to its societal effects, social media has deeper, more personal consequences that those of us who use it should be aware of—and take steps to handle in a healthy way.
Social media’s impact on mental health
Even for those of us who aren’t being actively cyberbullied (which is a mental health worry in and of itself), there are some major negative mental health consequences linked with spending time on social media.
According to research, social media consumption may be addictive, meaning our brains get wired to use it and continue to use it in order to feel “normal.” Addictive behaviors (those that our logical brain is not deliberately driving) are, of course, unhealthy.
According to other studies, spending more time on social media is linked to feelings of melancholy, loneliness, and jealousy. Again, these aren’t feelings we want to develop for a happy, healthy life.
It’s becoming increasingly well-documented that the more time we spend on social media, the worse our mental and physical health becomes. That isn’t to say that “healthy living” necessitates complete abstinence from all social media platforms. There are a few things we can do to keep getting the benefits of social media while limiting the bad consequences.
How to maintain mental health when using social media
Here are some suggestions for staying mentally healthy while using social media:
Know your purpose
Knowing why you’re using social media can help you stay in sync with that purpose—and realize when it’s no longer serving that goal.
For example, if you’re using a social platform to stay in touch with friends and family who live far away, then do so—but if you find yourself scrolling your feed, getting lost in hours of cat videos, or Facebook stalking your high school classmates, knowing your purpose can help you remind yourself: this isn’t why I’m here.
Knowing your objective (and when you’ve gone from it) allows you to refocus on what you want to get out of your social media time.
Curate your social media feeds
Once you’ve determined your objective, you can better decide how you want to curate your social media feeds to achieve it.
If you’re just using Facebook to keep in touch with distant friends and family, for example, a feed with 1,000 acquaintances isn’t necessary. Similarly, if you come to Instagram to be inspired by artistic work, you aren’t compelled to re-follow everyone who follows you—simply choose the accounts that post content that inspires you.
Knowing your purpose on each site and managing your feeds correctly might help you achieve your goal of being there—while also avoiding potentially destructive “noise” you didn’t sign up for.
Which takes us to the next point: unfollow Do you find yourself reading through your page, incensed by your uncle’s ill-informed political posts or the profoundly intimate musings of a friend you haven’t spoken to in 15 years?
In some circumstances, completely unfriending someone you don’t want to keep in touch with is a good idea.
(Don’t worry; downsizing your social network isn’t cruel, and they’re unlikely to notice!) However, if you want to stay “friends” (whatever that means in the context of social media), simply unfollowing someone who posts offensive or triggering content can help reduce the negative effects of engaging with it on a regular basis.
Now, this isn’t a recommendation to unfollow everyone who disagrees with you on anything. It is beneficial to have a wide range of viewpoints. It’s critical to be exposed to a variety of perspectives and backgrounds in order to learn from them.
People who often preach hate and hostility, offer disinformation, or generally make you feel terrible in their online presence are recommended to be unfollowed.
(We’ll leave it up to you to figure out whether your desire to unfollow arises from your personal discomfort with being exposed to diverse points of view, or if you’re dealing with someone who has some harmful social media habits you’d be better off avoiding.)
Comparison is the thief of joy
The comparison game is one of the most well-known ways that social media contributes to poor mental health.
It’s a highlight reel on social media. It is used to share people’s “best” experiences—happy moments, amusing memories, a fantastic hair day, and so on. Even if we are dimly aware of this (and don’t publish our own terrible hair day photographs), it’s easy to slip into the trap of believing that someone else has it all and that we are lacking.
This one is difficult to handle, but knowledge is power. Pause when you notice yourself engaging in the comparison game. Remind yourself that the person whose post is causing you to feel jealous or insecure is also a human being like you. They have their own set of difficulties and insecurities. They might have taken 40 photographs to get the angle they wanted for the photo you’re looking at.
In the case of Instagram influencers, hundreds of dollars in professional hair and make-up, as well as cosmetic surgery, may have gone into the making of this photo. (This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s something many people overlook when looking at a photo and wondering why they’re the only one without a tan and sun-kissed hair in the dead of winter.) Comparison is the thief of joy, and comparing our lives to the highlight reels we see on social media does us no favours in finding joy in our own happy moments.
Keep track of how much time you spend in front of the computer or other
Monitoring your screen time—and setting limitations if necessary—is one of the most effective strategies to make a difference in how social media affects your mental health. This is especially crucial if you spend your days browsing through your social feeds or if it’s just second nature to open your Facebook app whenever you have free time.
You can set screen time limits on Facebook and Instagram, and they’ll alert you when you’ve reached them.
Another typical method is to deactivate social networking apps from your phone, forcing you to check in each time you want to access your accounts. This little pause in accessing your account is really useful in giving your brain the time it needs to consider whether you really want to be doing that or if you’re simply doing it for the sake of it.
Take a break from social media
A social media sabbatical is sometimes necessary. That doesn’t mean you have to delete your account and never use social media again. However, taking a vacation (or, as some refer to it, a “social media detox”) might help you reset your mind and return to healthier, more conscious habits.