Social Media and Mental Health

We all know that social media can negatively impact your mental health. I have spoken about it in my post “f*ck corona virus” and I am far from the only blogger that has written about it.

Depression: Getting Social Media To Work For You by Blurt Team

#BlurtChats We Asked: Social Media: Friend Or Foe?

Facebook Depression: Much Ado About Something? by Bill White on Chipur

How To Avoid The Social Media Comparison Trap by Own It Babe

As a blogger social media is very much needed as a way to both connect with readers and promote new content. It is a way to see what others are up to and a way of driving traffic to your site and Blah Blah Blog stuff… My point is in this day and age it is incredibly hard to maintain an online presence without the use of social media. Increasingly employers too are checking what potential employees are up to online before hiring.

 

Despite all the negative attention it gets, I am sure most of us have at least one forum, blog, or account that we would dearly miss if we had to give up social media all together. I personally follow an embarrassingly high number of greyhounds, lurchers and assorted sighthounds, as well as far too many rescues on both facebook and instagram. And I love seeing the daily updates and shenanigans from my noodle friends.  

From Barking Mad

Don’t judge, I am surprised I managed to write so many blog posts without silly greyhound pictures in them.

From increasing social connection to addiction and the use of social media in the organisation and fuelling of riots, even scientific studies are finding that it can both improve and negatively impact mental health.

Social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol (Royal Society for Public Health, 2017), but the nature of addiction is complex and the idea of it being more addictive may relate to the fact that it is available without restriction and is accessible and socially acceptable.

The Good Bits

  • Connecting with friends, family and like minded people no matter who you are or where you are from
  • Getting new ideas, inspiration or motivation to create
  • Dog pics
  • Meeting new people with shared hobbies and interests, enabling easy sharing of information, tips and tricks
  • DOGS
  • Funny animals/people/comedy accounts/being able to find uplifting news and or posts
  • Remaining connected when sick, away from home or living in an isolated community

The Bad Stuff

  • Only seeing the highlight reel of others lives
  • Comparing yourself to what is shown, even though you know it is not the full reality of someones life
  • Following celebs and/or aiming for a lifestyle that is difficult, if not impossible to recreate
  • Chasing likes/follows/reblogs and (probably) always feeling inadequate as there will always be another post that was more popular, whether it’s yours or someone else’s
  • Overexposure to news/catasrophizing information
  • Feeling the need to be connected at all times due to FOMO, to the extent that real world relationships can suffer
Lists compiled from my own experiences and with details from this Help Guide post. Definitely worth a read if you want to know more about exactly how social media can have this affect, and methods you can use to combat negative affects.

Not all social media is equal either:
Infographic: Mental Health: The Impact of Social Media on Young People | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

My mental health and social media

I have talked a lot (and will continue to do so) about my history with various eating disorders and depression. And I can honestly and truly say that social media was definitely an incredibly unhelpful and destructive tool while I was sick and struggling, yet one that has been beneficial to my recovery and restarting social connections.

In my worst time I was a member of Pro-Ana forums (pro anorexia forums for those who don’t know). These claim to be supportive of recovery and its users would always end posts with “Stay safe <3” or “look after yourself lovelies 🙂 🙂 :)” but at it’s heart these sites are just full of tips to starve yourself better, posts from people is desperate pain and diets that are harmful at best and deadly at worst. No I will not post a link to any, and yes, I found the forums via social media. I also followed “thinspo” blogs on tumblr, used Instagram and Facebook to follow athletes, fitness gurus, diet guides and “healthy” eating accounts for “motivation to eat well and exercise healthily”, which in reality was more me cutting out more and more food as it was labelled as “bad” or “unhealthy”, and following harsher and harsher exercise programs in the hope that this would make the whirlwind in my head calm down.

For me the accounts and content I was following was a distinct contributor to my ill health and continuing issues, they encouraged comparison, and gave the message that “you can look like this if you follow exactly what I do”. SPOILER ALERT you can’t. A scientific study from 2017 found that:

Results showed … poorer self-compassion among those who viewed fitspiration images. However, women who viewed self-compassion quotes showed greater body satisfaction, body appreciation, self-compassion, and reduced negative mood compared to women who viewed neutral images” (A. Slater, N. Varsani, P. Diedrichs).

I wanted to look like the thinspo images I was seeing, and for all I know with a BMI of under 17 I did, but with body dysmorphia I clearly remember looking at my legs and seeing them about to burst through my trousers. In reality I know for a fact this isn’t true, as I still own the jeans I was wearing, and they still fit now I have a healthy BMI of 21. 

My point with this is: viewing content that encourages self analysis when I was so out of touch with my own body was hardly a positive step. And even off social media idealised images are EVERYWHERE, on TV selling us the latest diet or fitness program, on adverts for lingerie, even promotional images for things like internet providers and businesses. There is almost nowhere to escape, and for me obsessively viewing bodies on social media made me hyper-aware of those kind of images in day to day life. And once you have started looking it is hard to stop.

Even now I cannot view the social media of people who excessively promote diets, exercise or have lots of images focusing on body type, even gym selfies. It all catapults me back to a time of being lost and trapped in a cycle of self hate, unrealistic aspirations and a body I was completely disconnected from. 

image showing a femaly body and an edited version to show how the person views themselves
@diaryofafitmommyofficial

So how do you look after yourself?

  • This is an incredibly personalised point of view as the suggestions that work for me will almost certainly not work for someone else. But there are points that are proven to be beneficial for everyone. The main one being:
  • PUT DOWN THE PHONE.

Spending time with loved ones and close friends is the best way to ensure you get a break from self comparison. It is harder to compare yourself badly to someone who you have seen throwing up repeatedly after a night out, or when you know for a fact for all their #HealthyEating posts on Instagram they still eat nutella straight from the jar on a frequent basis.

Healthy Place also has the following recommendations:

  1. Track time spent on social media. Then set a goal for how much you want to reduce it by. There are various apps out there that can do this for you, Space app for android being highly recommended. Less time mindlessly scrolling can help you focus on the accounts that you do want to see updates from.
  2. Turn off your phone at certain times of the day: Use this time to focus on the real world eg, spending time with offline friends, or playing with your kids. Don’t take your phone with you to the bathroom. And for the love of god the only use for a phone while driving is to navigate, no selfies PLEASE.
  3. Don’t bring your phone or tablet to bed. Turn devices off and leave them in another room overnight to charge. I ignore this one as my phone is also my alarm clock, I do set it to silent and while breaking my own social media habit I plugged it into charge at the other side of the room. Getting out of bed to browse Facebook wasn’t worth it.
  4. Disable social media notifications. It can be hard to ignore constant notifications, turning them off can help you regain control of your time and focus. I allow notifications for friends and a select few others as I like to keep connected and found I checked more when I was completely cut off.
  5. Remove apps from your phone: If this sounds too extreme, try removing one social media app at a time to see how much you really miss it. For years I had an old Nokia with zero internet and used my tablet to check social media in the evening and I definitely connected better with people around me during this time. Then I bought a smartphone for Google Maps and you can guess what happened.
Jelena Kecmanovic, an adjunct Professor of Psychology at Georgetown University seconds these recommendations with an important addition:
  •  PRUNE
Unfollow accounts with triggering or unhelpful content, for me I completely wiped accounts and started again with more positive blogs, those about dogs, uplifting messages and mental health support rather than those about about fitness or “healthy eating”.
It has been shown that following accounts that show inspiring messages lead to an improvement in:
“gratitude, awe, vitality, prosocial motivations and prosocial behaviors” source
Find ones you like and follow them, make your social media a place that you could show a friend to cheer them up.

Comment below and let me know what you think!

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