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Social Media + Mental Health: The Good, The Bad + The Balance

Social Media + Mental Health: The Good, The Bad + The Balance by @stronginsideout

I’m not on Instagram as often as I used to be. I used to post new pics 3 times a day and spend tons of time on there… until I started to realize how I was feeling as a result.

After more than a couple minutes spent on the app, I noticed a feeling of constriction in my body: my breaths had gotten short, my chest felt tight, my jaw clenched and I usually found myself gripping my phone tightly. All of these things were happening to me gradually without me even noticing it.

When I asked myself why I was feeling this way, it was hard to pin it down. There was a post by this person that I didn’t align with, and then a post by that person that was slightly triggering and then there were posts by those people that made me feel bad for not being like them…

Apparently, I’m not alone.

The UK is doing some amazing work in the field of mental illness and breaking through stigma. The Royal Society for Public Health recently conducted a study that revealed that Instagram is the #1 worst offender for young people’s mental health especially body image. Snapchat came in at #2, then Facebook, then Twitter.

Here are more specific findings from the study:

  • 1/2 of the people surveyed (aged 14-24) said that Instagram and Facebook exacerbated feelings of anxiety
  • 7 in 10 said Instagram made them feel worse about their body image
  • 2 in 3 said that Facebook made cyber-bullying worse

Yikes. Those are some strong allegations that we at SIO just can’t overlook. Social media is supposed to be a fun way to interact with peers and friends across the world. To ensure your sanity stays intact, we need to make sure that you’re use of social media is deliberate and purposeful.

Making it mindful

Social Media + Mental Health: The Good, The Bad + The Balance by @stronginsideout

While I could say you should just give up social media altogether, it’s not that simple. Social media is how we connect to each other now; it’s the norm. To forsake it is to remove oneself from the flow of modern day society. Plus, many people use social media to interact socially in a very healthy way, and reach out for help in tough times.

When we mindlessly scroll through social media, we may think we’re giving ourselves a break or turning our brains off, but that mindless scrolling could be exactly what’s making you feel more anxious, depressed or ashamed of your body. To resolve the sabotaging effects of social media, we must employ one key element in our browsing habits.

The key to a healthy balance in social media is the same as finding a healthy balance with all other things: mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a choice we make to be deliberate in our actions. When using social media, here’s how we’ll integrate mindfulness:

  • Be purposeful about the amount of time spent on apps
  • Be aware of the chatter in which you choose to take part or allow on your feed
  • Choose the accounts you choose to follow with intention
  • Check in with yourself throughout social media use

I’ll take you through each part of employing mindfulness in social media use below. Then, choose what resonates and go with it!

Getting to know you

Social Media + Mental Health: The Good, The Bad + The Balance by @stronginsideout

The very first step before integrating mindfulness into your social media use is getting to know how you react to it. Your boundaries and needs for mindfulness will be particular to you. Spending some time getting to know yourself will allow us to determine the boundaries you need to set around it.

Spend the next couple days paying attention to yourself as you scroll through social media on all the platforms (Insta, Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, Twitter, etc.). Don’t worry about changing anything yet – just pay attention to your current reactions to social media use. Also, make sure to take separate notes for each social media platform you use; your reactions may differ on each app.

It will be helpful to be intentional about checking in with yourself every few breaths while you use social media for the next couple days. For me, it helps to place a post it that says in big, bold letters, “CHECK IN,” right on my computer or phone.

Keep a tiny notebook with you or use your Notepad app to answer the following questions at least once a day for the next couple of days:

  1. At what point in my social media use do I start to feel constricted in my body? (breathing gets shallow, body feels tight, jaw clenches, bearing down, knots in the throat, etc.)
  2. At what point do I start to think negative thoughts? (shame, guilt, comparison, self-judgment, beating myself up, etc.)
  3. What kind of language makes me feel bad about myself or in general?
    1. Is there anyone or any account in particular that often uses this language?
    2. Do I use this language?
  4. Are there any accounts that I follow that make me feel bad about myself?
  5. Are there any accounts that I follow that provoke constriction in my body?
  6. How do I want to feel every day? What accounts might I follow to feel that way?

After a couple days spent being mindful of your current reactions to social media use, you’ll have data that will inform you on how to create balance. We’ll visit every question you answered in the next few categories.

Before we start, know that this doesn’t have to be perfect. You will make some mistakes. You will have to tweak some things. All of this is normal in designing a balance that feels right for you.

Time suck to just enough

Social Media + Mental Health: The Good, The Bad + The Balance by @stronginsideout

Have you ever been scrolling through Instagram to waste some time before your next appointment, then glanced at the time and realized you’re actually running late for it? *my hand goes up*

Sliding into your default of social media scrolling can suck your life energy out if you’re not careful. We want to find a healthy amount of time that catches you up on the happenings of the day/week without sucking you into comparison mode or anxiety.

For this category of balance, let’s look at questions 1 and 2 from your notes from the last couple of days:

  • At what point in my social media use do I start to feel constricted in my body?
  • At what point do I start to think negative thoughts?

You might wonder why I asked you to take note of constriction in your body for this part. Body constriction is often a sign that we are having a negative reaction to something when our brain doesn’t know how to label it. The constriction signals that we are uncomfortable with something or that something doesn’t align with our Truth. So while it’s very helpful to be aware of when negative thoughts hit, body constriction is often a precursor to those thoughts, the awareness of which can help us carve out boundaries before the constriction makes way for full-blown thought processes to form.

Now that you have your answers to questions one and two, we can set boundaries around the amount of time we use social media. It’s super simple to do:

  1. Look at your answers for each social media platform.
  2. Set a daily time limit on your social media use with the earliest time of the two answers for each app.

It’s that easy! …and also not.

When we are used to tons of time on social media, it’s going to be very hard to go down to the “perfect” time limit. So hard, in fact, that many of us might just quit trying to find balance altogether because our expectations are too high to live up to.

If you noticed that you started having negative reactions super early into your social media use but aren’t willing to cut your time spent on apps down quite that far yet, start by committing to a shorter amount of time than you’re used to. The following categories will help you increase mindfulness in your social media use so that you may not need to decrease your timing quite as much as you think.

Start slow, knowing that any step toward more mindful social media use will be beneficial. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be worth anything!

Sticks and stones

Social Media + Mental Health: The Good, The Bad + The Balance by @stronginsideout

Now, let’s move on to bringing mindfulness into the way we interact with commentary on social media by looking at your answers to question number 3.

  • What kind of language makes me feel bad about myself or in general?
    • Is there anyone or any account in particular that often uses this language?
    • Do I use this language?

Cyber-bullying is a serious problem online and the way we react when we come in contact with it says a lot about who we choose to be. But cyber-bullying isn’t the only aspect to this part of the equation. The language we use and choose to stand by – even if it’s not full-blown cyber-bullying – is important to be mindful of.

In the answers to your questions above, you might have noticed that the language that bothers you isn’t necessarily “bullying.” Many judgmental comments that tear other people down can be harmful on both the receiving and creating ends. You might have even found that some comments wear a mask of “inspirational” or “motivational,” but actually make you feel like you’re not enough.

It’s important to be aware of the way that comments and language affect you so that you can start to set boundaries around what you are willing to stand by and what you aren’t.

In the same vein, being aware of triggering friends or accounts is important no matter where you’re at in life. On most apps, you have the option to block or hide certain people. Here’s what I’m going to recommend:

  • Block and report anyone on any app that trolls or cyber-bullies you, and immediately delete their comments. This is non-negotiable. There is no reason why you need to continue this relationship or keep these kinds of comments. It would only serve to harm you further.
  • For people who make you feel badly about yourself (even if it’s not on purpose), hide them on Facebook, unfollow them on Instagram or Snapchat, or unsubscribe on YouTube. You can always un-hide or follow them again later. If this worries you or inspires FOMO, write a list of all people/accounts you unfollow so that you can come back to revisit whether or not you’d like to follow them again in a few months.
  • For people that you’re close to that comment regularly on yours or your friends’ posts that you don’t feel comfortable blocking or unfollowing, make a deliberate effort not to read their comments. When you do, take a deep breath and state some kind of energy-separation mantra like “Their truth is not mine.”
  • Be intentional in the way you comment or speak to others. It helps me to ask myself if it’s kind, helpful, necessary or true. If it doesn’t abide by at least 2 of those things, it’s better to sit on it for a few hours before posting it. What you say ends up coming back to you in the end. What kind of language do you want to invite into your world?

This can be a very scary step for a lot of us, but it’s essential if the people we follow are making us feel worse about ourselves all the time. If you’re struggling to take this step, ask yourself:

What’s more important: making them *maybe* feel better, or my mental health?

I hope that you’ll choose the latter. It’s an important choice on the road to recovery!

Out with perfection, in with REAL

Social Media + Mental Health: The Good, The Bad + The Balance by @stronginsideout

For this category, we’ll build off the last one and also look at your answers to questions 4 and 5:

  • Are there any accounts that I follow that make me feel bad about myself?
  • Are there any accounts that I follow that provoke constriction in my body?

We’ve all followed those accounts that represent who we want to be when we grow up. Unfortunately, many of these accounts represent unhealthy representations of what health/success/beauty looks like.

It’s common in the world I’m in for fitness professionals to only post photoshopped pictures of themselves. Trust me: I know these people. I’ve heard them freak out at unfiltered pictures. I’ve heard them tear themselves apart when they’re not on a shoot prep plan for those 5 extra pounds on their still-flat stomach. THIS is what we need to see; not the “perfect,” photoshopped, deprived girl who tortured herself for those un-maintainable abs you’re seeing on Instagram.

The same thing happens for online entrepreneurs: we see their success and their “perfect” work spaces, but we don’t see their struggles with their spouses, their fear that they’re not good enough, all the struggles behind the scenes that aren’t pretty.

You’ll find many other types of accounts post similar kinds of unrealistic photos: fashion or makeup bloggers, “health” magazines, models, movie stars, and many other genres.

When you’re working on your mental and physical health, these kinds of accounts can be more damaging than helpful.

On one side, we tell ourselves that they’re motivational: they make us strive to be better. On the other hand, we constantly compare ourselves to an unreal life that this account portrays. We are only seeing what this person has chosen to show us. It’s an incomplete picture that teaches us to hope for unrealistic goals.

When sh*t inevitably hits the fan for us (as it does for everyone), we wonder what we did wrong. We think, “X person never has this problem,” because X person has never shown us all the fear, doubt and failure that she goes through day in and day out. We set ourselves up for failure because we will never be able to live up to this perfect life we’re looking up to. Because it doesn’t exist.

In my eyes, it would be beneficial for all of us to unfollow accounts that make us feel badly about ourselves or offer up unrealistic expectations. This especially goes for you if you’re in the early stages of recovery from depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse or a suicide attempt.

You’ve probably cleared out a few of the accounts/friends you named in these answers with the last step, but if you haven’t, follow the same rules as the second recommendation in the last category to clear out triggering accounts that you follow:

  • For people/accounts that make you feel badly about yourself (even if it’s not on purpose), hide them on Facebook, unfollow them on Instagram or Snapchat, or unsubscribe on YouTube. You can always un-hide or follow them again later. If this worries you or inspires FOMO, write a list of all people/accounts you unfollow so that you can come back to revisit whether or not you’d like to follow them again in a few months.

Again, this doesn’t have to be forever. This is just for right now so you can concentrate on taking care of yourself and limiting anxiety, body shaming, comparison and self-judgment.

Follow what feels good

Social Media + Mental Health: The Good, The Bad + The Balance by @stronginsideout

To round out our social media mindfulness injection, let’s visit the final 2-part question from your “Getting to know you” questions:

  • How do I want to feel every day? What accounts might I follow to feel that way?

This is a straight-forward question to connect you with accounts that could prove to be beneficial for you. These kinds of accounts could help you heal even faster!

The same study that this post is based on included an amazing positive discovery. Here is is straight from the text:

“Social media has prompted a revolution in peer-to-peer interaction and sharing. Social networking offers young people who may be suffering from mental health issues an opportunity to read, watch or listen to, and understand, the health experiences of others – relating them back to their own reality. Research into this phenomenon suggests the act of learning about others’ health experiences may be hugely beneficial to those experiencing health issues themselves.

Wooohoooooo!!!! It’s not all bad, guys!

Social media can be a force for good if we choose the right kinds of accounts to follow and conversations to be a part of. All we have to do is follow accounts that make us feel good, validated, understood or less alone. Accounts that share the struggle and how they overcome get bonus points for inspiration!

Lucky for you, I’ve been curating my Instagram feed for quite some time. Here are a few of my favorite Instagram accounts that promote mental health, recovery, and positive body image. Enjoy!

Mental Health

  • twloha – To Write Love On Her Arms is a nonprofit dedicated to offering support and resources to people who struggle with depression, substance abuse, self-harm and suicide. They post inspiration, real quotes from their awesome blog, and events they do across The U.S.
  • letstalkaboutmentalhealth – Can I get an amen for REAL talk?! This account posts real quotes and stories from people who have mental illness. Inspirational, real and relatable for many of us Strongies.
  • StrongInsideOut*ahem* You’ll get more of the real, raw sh*t you read here in short, digestible, more frequent snippets plus a bit more of my life as it flows through me than you’ll find here on the site. And NBD: I was rated one of Refinery 29’s 30 Instagram accounts that will make your life better. :)

Recovery

  • onedayatatime61 – If you’re looking for recovery inspiration for all forms of addiction, this account could be just what the sponsor ordered.
  • NEDA – The National Eating Disorders Association posts inspiration, true stories and quotes from recovering disordered eaters and events that they run where you can help make a difference.
  • RecovryWarriors – A great account if you’re recovering from an eating disorder or just want to adopt a mindful mindset around food. Also a great website!

Positive Body Image

  • lenadunham – I just LOVE this woman. The creator of HBO’s Girls is devoted to being real and not keeping her mouth shut on matters of body image and feminism. If you’re a riot girl (or want to be), definitely follow her!
  • dothehotpants – Ex-fashion blogger turned BoPo feminist, this chick talks about all the things women are a bit scared to talk about in relatable, often-funny, real talk. PCOS, body hair, acne, it’s all out there so that we can feel less alone. *big heart*
  • bodyposipanda – This lovely lady used to struggle with restriction and over-exercising, but now she’s accepted her plus size body and helps others accept (and celebrate!) theirs, too! Super body-positive and uplifting!
  • mamacaxx – Ok I wanted to keep it to just 3, but she’s too good to miss. This woman is an amputee who proudly wears beautifully-decorated prosthetic legs. She models and role-models as she talks about the full, vibrant life she lives now, and inspires others to do the same.

Just to feel good

  • marniethedog (my fav!) – Guaranteed smiling.
  • overheardla – Maybe it’s just because I lived in LA for so long, but these are hilarious…and real.
  • mantramagazine – Just great inspiration every time.

As you explore, pay attention to the recommended accounts that pop up after you follow an account you really like. They can lead you to a more positive Instagram feed!

Check In

Social Media + Mental Health: The Good, The Bad + The Balance by @stronginsideout

Now that you’ve cleared the way for more peace and mindfulness in your social media use, commit to checking in with yourself every so often while you scroll. It doesn’t have to be long, journaling exercises or anything like that.

Take a deep breath before you spend time on social media, every couple of minutes while you’re on it, then when you’re finished.

Breath can be extremely cleansing for both your mind and body. Any pent up constriction can work it’s way through more easily when you take deep breaths.

Along with those deep breaths, you may find it beneficial to check in with how your body’s feeling and what you’re thinking. When you start to notice any constriction or negative thoughts, put the social media down for a minute until you’re feeling more spaciousness.

Aim to answer the questions in “Getting to know you” every month or two to gauge whether your mindful social media practice needs some tweaking.

Well, that was longer than I thought it would be…

I guess I had a lot to say about social media and how it affects us as humans. Though social media can be a useful tool for social interaction, motivation, inspiration, knowledge and staying in touch with friends, there’s a dark side that we can’t overlook if we’re to take our wellbeing seriously.

I hope that something in this lengthy post helped you feel a little more peace or spaciousness today. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions on Instagram or Facebook, or if you’re taking a social media break right here in the comments below.

Stay strong and mindful,

Amy

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4 responses to “Social Media + Mental Health: The Good, The Bad + The Balance”

  1. Kristen says:

    Found your website today, and read this post. Great points, so I scrolled through more of the blog and then your Instagram feed to see if it’s something I’d like to add to my life. I see that you get a little political, and that is EXACTLY what I am trying desperately to cull out of my life, as both sides have lost their minds. So many lies and so much hypocrisy. So much. I need it out of my life, as do many others in our journey for a calm, peaceful existence in such a brutal world.

    It’s your social media platform and I’m certainly not trying to tell you what to post and what not to, but perhaps that’s something you might want to think about if you’re truly trying to help others. To use the trendy speak, it’s triggering. All of it. Both sides.

    Cheers and best wishes, but I’ll pass and continue my search for neutrality.

    • Amy says:

      Hi, Kristen. Thanks for your feedback and honesty. I understand that I’m not for everyone and I’m sorry to hear that it’s not for you. I wish you all Love and health as you continue on in your journey.

  2. Thepdcafe says:

    Hi Amy,
    So glad that I found your site. While I understand Kirsten may feel your style of writing is not for her; there will be many more that will benefit from visiting your site.
    Mental Health is such a hidden, walk on eggshells, Marmite topic that means there is no one size fits all solution.

    • Amy says:

      Thank you for your kind words. Yes, mental health can be a polarizing subject and not every resource is meant for everyone. I’m glad you’ve found a resource in us here. :)

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