Social Media and My Mental Health

Thanks again to Beckie’s Mental Mess for this week’s insightful prompt about how social media impacts our mental health.

Conscious use of social media has been something I have advocated for since starting this blog and it’s what actually led me to start the mentally me hashtag. Realizing the power social media has, both good and bad, has been paramount in redefining its role in my life.

So without further ado, here are the questions for this week. If you’d like to participate checkout the original post I reblogged for details – it would be awesome to hear from you.

1. Does social media affect your overall mental health? If so, please describe how it affects you?

In general, the more disconnected I am – the better.

When my mental health really took a down-turn a couple years ago I realized that my  use of social media really negatively impacted me so I began to try to use it more like a constructive tool. With the creation of my recovery/mental health Instagram and this personal blog, I have been able to make an online space for myself where I can connect with interesting people and research and where I largely feel inspired and supported.

That being said, while I am grateful to be connected to a community of passionate people, too much of anything can be a bad thing, and social media in particular tends to get me stuck in my own head a great deal. Using my blog as a place for personal reflection has been invaluable, and my Instagram often serves as positive reminder that I am not alone. However, there’s no real substitute to getting out and being present to the life I am working so hard to build for myself.

2. How does it make you feel when you see family/friends posting pictures of them living their life happily?

Whether they’re friends, family, or complete strangers, the comparison trap is dangerous. Fortunately, I decided to try to limit my personal social media use to stay connected with people I am close with in real life and I use my mental health accounts to promote vulnerability and authenticity and connect with others doing the same.

Don’t get me wrong, I love connecting with my family and loved ones online and getting to celebrate their lives with them. I appreciate the capacity the computer has to bring me together with fellow students and to collaborate professionally, but where I think social media falls short for me is when I stay associated with people I consider “acquaintances”. I spent many a day scrolling through my feed in utter jealousy of girls I went to high school with – comparing my body and life to theirs, only to realize that doing so made me feel like utter crap. Plus, why do I care?! If these aren’t people I even know well enough to engage with about what they’re doing, why bother?! Knowing what concert my peers went to last weekend or who wore what bikini to the beach doesn’t make me feel any closer to them, in fact I would argue it actually causes me to put up walls between who someone genuinely is and the idealized version I see of them on the internet – making it harder to authentically connect.

Social media is a place my insecurities and perfectionism can thrive, but it’s also somewhere I can turn for help. Being constantly exposed to people posting the highlights of their lives often leads to dangerous assumptions about others’ and how I fail to measure up. It’s so easy to airbrush away our human vulnerabilities and lose sight of who’s truly behind the twitter handle, but by being intentional with the people and content we engage with, we can use social media to foster greater connection.

3. Do following people make you feel inadequate in any way due to your mental health?

Of course there are times when my tendency to compare myself to others gets to be too much, but I’ve become increasingly selective with who I connect with online to try and limit this.

Sometimes the juxtaposition of the lives of many of my peers to my own makes me feel guilty for missing out on what I think should be my “wild twenties” away at university. However, I’m increasingly able to choose environments, both in real life and online, that are better for my mental health and it’s reassuring to see plenty of people doing the same.

In other cases, places that I thought would be beneficial for me (like the Instagram “Recovery Community”) have proved to be rather toxic as well. Triggering content and the promotion of unhealthy behaviours are unfortunately easy to run into online, but I know myself well enough to make sure I stay away from it.

4. What has been your overall experience with social media? And, what sites do you follow?

My experience with social media is gradually shifting from a negative to a positive. I’m still working on trying to reduce my overall screen time but the summer hasn’t proved to be an easy time to do that lol…!

I follow a wide variety of sites! I like reading academic journals, mental health blogs and news sites, and I love connecting with personal recovery accounts, writers, advocates, and just generally passionate people.

5. Have you considered not being on social media?

I’ve considered it, but I know social media is always something I will want to use and as long as I can focus on the benefits and be mindful of how it affects my mental health I see no reason to leave.

6. If you have quit social media sites, has it improved your mental health and stability?

I do tend to see some benefits when I take a break from social media on occasion but it all just depends on how its impacting me at the time. If I’m missing out on life because I’m stuck behind a screen it’s definitely time to unplug.

7. Has social media ever triggered you in a negative way? Explain how?

Definitely. Basically anyone can post anything they want online and unfortunately you might come across things you don’t want to. Apps like Instagram and Pinterest are making a decent effort to act with their users’ health and safety in mind but it’s hard not to simultaneously approach censorship boundaries.

I found it quite difficult to learn to navigate the Instagram eating disorder recovery community because there’s so much promotion of dangerous behaviours, even disguised behind good intentions. Through a process of trial and error I’ve learned to minimize my exposure to things that perpetuate stigma and spread misinformation (i.e. eating disorders being associated weight, “hospitalization tallies”) and I avoid harmful beliefs I personally don’t want reinforce.

Social media was once a deadly weapon when I was in the midst of the worst of my eating disorder because you can find everything you need, for better or worse. Yes, I’m tempted on occasion to go back to those dark recesses of the internet where my illness can thrive in secrecy, but I know now that it’s not doing me any favours. I’m taking responsibility for my use of social media as I’m taking responsibility for my own recovery and that means recognizing both the benefits and drawbacks to having the world at your fingertips.

 

 

4 thoughts on “Social Media and My Mental Health

  1. Hello, Jill! I was really looking forward to your participating based on what I have read on your own site. Thank you so very much for participating in Week #10 “Working on Us” –
    A lot of what you shared here is for the most part exactly how I’ve felt about social media for some time. Although I still have two sites open, I rarely view them. But, it was another blogger today that gave me a great idea as well as you. Begin again, and only allow what content to be used and served on my sites.
    I want it to be a positive experience, not a negative one like I felt in the past. It’s like here on WP, I have found nothing but positive come from it… The people are real, down to earth, and I feel as if I relate better to everyone here than I do with people that I know on FB and Instagram.
    Again, Thank you kindly for being a part of “Working on Us” – Also, if you happen to think of other mental health content to be a topic in future weeks, please feel free to add them to the comment section of this post.
    Take care & God Bless,
    Beckie 💚

    Liked by 1 person

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