Tips to Have a Healthier Relationship with Social Media
Ding. Buzz buzz. Ding.
Throughout the day, a symphony of notifications turns into the texts, posts and likes that propel news forward. As social media continues to rapidly evolve, so, too, does the way we interact with it. And for many, the relationship is getting a bit complicated.
Social media has empowered its users with unparalleled self-expression. Along the way, it has also collected more of our time and attention than ever before. While the benefits of innovation and connectedness are countless, it is also important to acknowledge the very real mental health challenges of an “always-on” digital world. Let’s dig a little deeper.
The Role of Social Media in Everyday Life
What role does your smartphone play in your life? Some people use social media sparingly, while others check their phone first thing in the morning and right before bed. Though neither practice is “right” or “wrong,” it is important to stay in tune with your emotional response to the content and role it plays, which could be:
- Keeping in touch with friends;
- Staying informed of news and world issues;
- Following an organization, event or campaign;
- Learning new ideas; and,
- Some (or all) of the above!
Remember: social media is not inherently bad. It is helpful to reflect on any investment of your time and how it may or may not be impacting your daily life. Below, we have identified several potential challenges to having a healthy relationship with social media.
Learn more about these common concerns and how to engage with your smartphone in a way that supports mental wellness.
Four Ways Social Media Can Affect Your Mental Health
1. Accessing Hurtful, Disturbing or Triggering Information.
The news is filled with stories about natural disasters, political unrest and violent crime, and the barrage of tragic headlines can feel overwhelming. Prevalent exposure to this type of news can be particularly detrimental to a person’s wellbeing. It can cause feelings of anxiety or hopelessness, and even threaten a person’s sense of safety.
This could look like:
- Stumbling upon a news article about a sexually violent crime.
- Viewing a graphic livestream video before it is removed.
- Finding pictures of your ex with a new love interest.
Many people are also exposed to trauma within their careers – whether as an Emergency Room nurse, crisis counselor, police officer or otherwise. Maintaining a balance of stimulation is key. Fortunately, social media users are being given more and more control over the topics and advertisements that appear in their newsfeed.
TIP: Unfollow, unfriend, unsubscribe.
If you consistently feel sad, irritated or upset by posts that appear in your feed, it may be time to update your settings. Remove any friends, influencers or pages you follow that leave you feeling unfulfilled.
2. Comparing Your Life Circumstances to Others.
The so-called American Dream revolves around ideals of perfectionism: nice homes, happy marriages, cute kids and a successful career. These milestone achievements are shared on social media much more prevalently than relationship difficulties, health concerns and other everyday challenges. As a result, this can create an online echo chamber that seems to imply personal struggles rarely (or never) happen.
Examples could include:
- Feeling self-conscious about your body after seeing a fitness influencer’s post.
- Seeing that a friend got engaged and feeling disappointed in your own love life.
- “Cyberstalking” someone and looking at social media posts from very long ago.
It is important to remember that what you see on another person’s social media page is likely just the portion of their life they feel comfortable sharing. While you may not know the private struggles they are dealing with, they are just as human as you are.
TIP: Find people who are on your journey.
Follow hashtags or join groups related to whatever is weighing on your heart. For example, if you are struggling with infertility and feeling overwhelmed by all the pregnancy announcements in your newsfeed, you may find support in a networking group for women who are trying to conceive.
3. Being Cyberbullied or Targeted by Social Media Trolls.
Social media is empowering – so empowering, in fact, that people may have the courage to write or post something on a social platform that they would never say in-person. This has led to the 21st century form of bullying: cyberbullying.
This could be:
- Participating in a gaming app where other players gang up on you.
- Seeing an unflattering photo turned into a hurtful meme.
- Receiving hate speech in a comment or private message.
Adults are not immune to bullying behavior on social media. Whether as mom shaming, body shaming or straight-up trolling, the comments section of any post can quickly take a turn for the worse. While debate can be productive, using words to harm others is not.
TIP: Carve out some time for a real conversation.
The next time you find yourself feeling angry, frustrated or hurt by something you’ve seen online, close your apps and indulge in a face-to-face conversation with your family member or friend. If you or a loved one are in crisis as a result of bullying, please contact a crisis hotline.
4. Replacing In-Person Socialization with Screen Time.
Does frequent social media use cause loneliness, or does loneliness and isolation cause a person to use social media more frequently? Mental health professionals are faced with a “chicken-and-egg” scenario where the answer might be that the influence goes in both directions.
This could involve:
- Prioritizing digital relationships over family and friends.
- Feeling anxious or upset when internet access is unavailable.
- Declining social invitations in favor of being on a phone or tablet.
It is important to participate in self-care, and to withdraw from social settings when your body and mind need rest. This involves being mindful of your needs and your limitations. However, if you are having a hard time maintaining healthy relationships, attending regular sessions with a therapist can help you gain a more fulfilling social life.
TIP: Practice mindfulness.
Be intentional about your social media use and the time you dedicate towards it. If you are interested in reducing the amount of time you spend online, consider taking social media breaks, turning off notifications or removing apps from your phone. Reflect on these seven questions to help guide your mindfulness practice.
Begin Your Journey to Wellness
We live in a social world that thrives on human connection. And while the over-use of social media can be very isolating, the platform can also connect you to helpful resources. If you think you may be struggling with feelings of anxiety, PTSD or depression, reach out to the team of compassionate professionals at Sparlin Mental Health.
Therapists at Sparlin are trained in a variety of evidence-based treatments to help clients change their lives using solutions that work. Our approach is also Trauma-Informed, to ensure clients from all walks of life are treated with dignity and respect.