Social Media and Your Mental Health

Student looking at a mobile device

There are lots of studies out there that say that social media is bad for your mental health and can actually make people feel bad about themselves. There are also lots of benefits to social media, including helping people meet or stay in touch when they aren’t geographically proximate to each other, helping social movements organize, and bringing attention to important news.

So how can you use your favourite apps for connectivity, collaboration, and information without feeling the effects of negativity that can come with them? Read on for our tips.

It is okay to take a break

Social media apps give us a 24-hour news awareness that, while good for information purposes, can actually be quite damaging to your perception of the world. Instead of reading or watching a news story once and moving on to the rest of your day like in previous generations, we’re now provided multiple updates throughout the day about sometimes traumatizing and horrible news stories. If we keep reading these stories as they come in, our brains don’t have time to heal or process the information. And while the conversations that follow them are important, it is equally important to give yourself a break from them as well. It doesn’t make you any less passionate about a subject if you step away from it for an hour, a day, or even a week.

This is particularly true if the subject of the current news cycle is something that you’ve experienced yourself. If you are a survival of sexual assault, for example, the #MeToo movement could be extremely comforting and validating, but it could also cause you to feel drained or triggered as the weight of the trauma of others as well as your own is played out over and over again in your mind and on your screen.

Timing is important

Try not to check social media right before you go to bed. Seeing something upsetting can impact sleep quality or create upset or rapid thought processes right before bed. Similarly, it can be tempting to check your newsfeed during class, but not only is this practice bad for your focus, it can also lead to emotional reactions in an environment where it is not easy to leave.

Use the mute functionality strategically

If you can’t step away or stop yourself from using social media, it is perfectly okay to use the mute functionality of your app to turn off the stream of upsetting content. If the current news is causing you too much anxiety, mute the breaking news accounts that you follow and any journalists or bloggers that are focusing on the topic. This doesn’t mean you are weak, it just means you are human and you need a break.

The same applies to friends that you follow that are constantly posting things that upset you. Try to keep track of your mood after you view your newsfeed, is there someone who constantly raises your blood pressure after you read their posts but you don’t want to lose your connection with them? If yes, consider muting them for a while and see how you feel after taking a break from viewing their content. If you really want to stay up to date with them, you can go back to their page later and see what they’ve been posting, but do this once a week instead of every day or every hour. In most apps, your friends or accounts you follow aren’t aware that you’ve muted them, so it is an easy way to control the flow of information without alienating the people in your list.

Keep a balance in who you follow

While keeping engaged in current events is important, you can balance the flow of information you see by making sure you also follow accounts and people that bring you joy. This practice will be very personal to each individual, but some examples could include:

  • If you like animals, follow a couple of accounts that just post pictures of adorable creatures.
  • If you are inspired by beautiful landscapes, follow users or hashtags that post pictures of lovely views from around the world.
  • If you have an interest in history, sociology, or anthropology, follow accounts that post interesting digitizations of old manuscripts, new research in the field, or historical pictures.
  • If you need a boost, find some positivity accounts that post affirmations or motivational strategies.

Understand that what people share isn’t the whole reality of their lives

Sometimes social media can leave people feeling that their lives are not as exciting or full as the people they see in their newsfeeds. It is important to remember that what people share on social media doesn’t represent the entirety of their lives. Social media is like the highlight reel of life and that doesn’t usually include people’s low points.

Other resources

For more perspective on how to cope with the news or social media check out these posts:

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