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My Instagram Cleanse: Mental Health and Social Media

Are you questioning your social media use?  Have you found yourself trying a social media detox?  Do you worry that social media is having a negative impact on your mental health?

If you answered yes to any of these, you are not alone.  More and more often, clients are coming in to my office discussing social media as having a negative impact on their well-being.  This is usually in conjunction with other concerns such as; anxiety and/or depression, body image, perfectionism, and self-worth.  Nonetheless, it is clear that as a society, social media is having a profound impact on the way we view ourselves, our perceptions of others, and ultimately our mental health.

From a personal perspective, I have been examining my own relationship with social media.  I am currently on month 2 of my Instagram purge.  Events in my personal life left me feeling disconnected, lonely, sad, and anxious.  Life happens, as it does.  However, I needed to take a closer look at the way social media was impacting me negatively. Most importantly, the consequences social media was having on my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. 

Research is showing more correlation between mental health and social media.

For example, this article from Forbes, describes research that not only shows a correlation between mental health and social media usage “but causation—in other words, tweaking your time on social media actually has measurable effects on mental health.”  Social media impacts our worldview and our sense of self.  Comparing our lives to the lives others can lead to low self-worth.  In addition, beliefs such as; “I’m not good enough” and “I’m not worthy of that life/relationship/experience etc.” are a catalyst for increased depression.  Using social media as a way to numb throughout the day and obsessively checking our feeds promotes anxiety.  And for what?

I believe ultimately we are looking for a way to feel connection. 

Unfortunately, the distorted reality of social media is having the exact opposite effect.  Comparing our lives to those we see on social media can create more loneliness and isolation, increase negative beliefs about self, and further fuel anxiety and depression.  For me, some platforms tend to be more triggering than others. However, here are the 5 most powerful lessons I learned about my mental health and social media while on hiatus:

  1. Comparison breeds resentment.  The more I compared my life to others, the more indignation I felt.  It became harder and harder to come from a place of love and compassion.
  2. The impact on my mood was IMMEDIATE.  I could start the day feeling content and after only a few minutes of scrolling I would find myself agitated, unsettled, and anxious about who I am and where I was in my life.
  3. I waste a TON of time scrolling.  I mean A LOT! I could actually be spending that time doing something productive, that made me feel good about myself.
  4. What I don’t know can’t hurt me.  Piggy-backing on #1, I only felt like shit when I compared my life to others.  If I could limit the amount of information that encouraged comparison, I could focus I what is working for ME, in MY life.
  5. Being more intentional about how I spend my time actually decreases anxiety!  Choosing to do something different is incredibly empowering.

If it is true, and I believe it is, that we are all ultimately seeking connection, changing our relationship with social media is a step in the right direction.  Whether it is connection with others or a deeper connection to self we have to be willing to do something different.  So even if you are not quite ready to give up social media cold turkey, here are 5 ways to begin to shift the pattern of behavior.  Ultimately, helping to improve self-confidence, decrease depression and anxiety, and be more mindful about living in the present.

  1. Limit the amount of time you spend on social media.  Allow yourself a given number of minutes to spend on ALL social media.  Use your phone app to track it, don’t just assume you can keep track of it in your head, because we all know how it can become a black-hole-time-suck. 
  2. Turn off notifications.  All the posts and likes will be there when YOU choose to look.  Avoid being tempted by the distraction of notifications. 
  3. When you need a mental break, choose to do something different: meditate, journal, take a walk.  Focus on what is working for you right now, as opposed to comparison the others.
  4. Notice changes in your mood over time.  Do you feel better throughout the day if you do not look at your accounts before you even get out of bed? 
  5. Choose to connect to the real humans in your life instead.  Call a friend, family member, or attend social activities.

I imagine one day I will go back to scrolling Instagram, but for now I feel a sense of peacefulness knowing that my life and my mental health are my focus.  These tips are not a substitute for professional mental health treatment.  If you feel anxious and depressed I encourage you to reach out for support from a licensed professional.  However, these are small steps that yield big results for our mental health!

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