As Mental Health Awareness Week is coming to a close, we would like to share some of our tips for developing a healthy relationship with social media. Research suggests that social media can negatively impact our mental health. Below are some examples of studies that have investigated this association:
- A study in 2016 involving 1,700 participants found that depression and anxiety is three times more likely to occur in people who used the most social media platforms.
- A survey of 1,500 people found that social media sites made more than half of its users feel inadequate, and half of 18-34 year olds said that it made them feel ugly or unattractive.
- A study of 1,000 Swedish Facebook users found that women who spent more time on Facebook reported feeling less happy and confident.
- A third of participants in a study involving 600 adults reported that social media made them feel negative emotions, particularly frustration due to envy of others.
In spite of the research, social media is not inherently an evil force. The problem with social media comes when we develop a toxic relationship with it. If we can find ways to use social media in positive ways, then social media can be helpful, not harmful. Here are our recommendations to help you develop a healthy relationship with social media:
Managing Your Social Media Time
Realising the amount of time we spend on our devices can be unsettling. We intend to look at our social media for two minutes, and then suddenly two hours later we find ourselves lying in the same position questioning our life choices. Wasting time is far too easy, so what can be helpful is to create a schedule whereby you have set times to spend on social media. If you have an Android phone, you can use the QualityTime app to monitor your online activity. QualityTime gives you reports on how your apps are being used and the daily and weekly frequency at which they are being used. You can even set reminders to take a break from your devices.
Similarly, if you have an iPhone rather than an Android, you can use Screen Time. This is a new feature of iOS 12 which shows you how much time you spend on each app. There is also the option to set limits for your Most Used apps. This feature also allows you to Share Across Devices, where you can then view your overall usage across devices that are signed in with your Apple ID and password. Some additional settings include Downtime, App Limits, Always Allowed, Content & Privacy Restrictions and Family Sharing.
Turning Off Your Notifications
Notifications can be useful, however not all notifications are created equal. A lot of the time, they are simply distracting and often disrupt our focus on tasks that are more important. For instance, a reminder of your upcoming dentist appointment is useful, while a suggestion to buy a pointless item from Facebook Marketplace is not. You might want to consider switching off notifications from your social media accounts if you feel that they are regularly distracting you. Here is how you can disable notifications from specific apps on your phone:
Android 9.0 Pie
Disabling notifications on the Android 9 Pie is quick and simple. If you get a notification that you want to disable, simply hold down the notification, then select the small 'i' icon, in the top right of the notification, where you will then be taken to the app's settings. Select the Notifications option, then from here you can turn off the notifications from the app.
iPhone or iPad
Launch the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad then select Notifications.
Select the app you want to remove from the Notification Centre and then you can use the toggle to switch off Allow Notifications.
Being Selective About Who You Follow
Just as there are certain apps we do not want to receive notifications from, there are also people who we would be better off not hearing from. There is unfortunately a vast array of people online who will put you in a bad mood and drain your energy. These people will be different for everyone, but here are some notable examples: an ex from a messy breakup, your significant other's ex, habitual gym selfie enthusiasts and people who spam everyone's feeds with bad memes and political vitriol.
Once you have unfollowed the people that make you feel bad, you can follow the people that make you feel good. Again, this will be different for everyone, but you might want to consider following some body positive content. A recent study of 195 young women found that exposure to #bodypositive Instagram content appeared to boost the participants' satisfaction with their own bodies.
While women are usually the focus of these sort of studies into the relationship between social media and body image, there have been similar results found with men. One study found that men who reported looking at #fitspo content more regularly said that they compared their own appearance to others more frequently and had a stronger desire to be muscular.
Inspiration, Not Comparison
It is no secret that many people begin to feel that they are inadequate when they are constantly bombarded with images of people with seemingly perfect lives: sculpted physiques without an inch of fat, stunning views from a blissful holiday, and selfies taken with perfect lighting, camera angles and just the right amount of editing. What is important to remember is that a lot of the time these images do not represent a person's lived experience, but rather a highlight reel of all their most flattering moments.
One way to switch your way of thinking from envious to inspired is to follow accounts of people who post content about things which interest you, even if you do not know them personally. For example, if you envy people that go on wonderful trips abroad, follow travel photographers. They take photos of incredible destinations around the world, which could give you some ideas of places to add to your bucket list. This will help you to focus on the goal itself, and not on how supposedly lucky someone is for going on holiday.
While social media can sometimes be detrimental to our mental health, there are ways to control its effect on your life. If you have tried different things and still feel that social media is negatively impacting you, then it might be time for you to delete it completely. Social media works better for some people than it does for others, but ultimately it is up to you to figure out how you want your relationship with social media to be. Be mindful before you scroll.