4 Ways to Improve Your Relationship With Social Media

4 Ways to Improve Your Relationship With Social Media

Paul Hanaoka/Unsplash

Paul Hanaoka/Unsplash

Does your social media use make you feel more depressed or anxious? Recent research examined 159 studies on the impact of social media on mental health. Across these studies, there were significant associations between social media use and depression and anxiety.

People who had symptoms of depression or anxiety were more likely to have problematic social media use. More extreme use of social media also tended to make symptoms of anxiety and depression even worse in vulnerable people.

Some reasons this study found for worsening mental health symptoms include feeling left out, increased body image concerns, unfavorable social comparison of oneself to people online, cyberbullying, and social isolation from people in real life. For some, social media use interferes with sleep.

Steps for ameliorating the negative impact of social media

Suppose you notice a negative impact of your social media use on your mental health. In that case, you don’t necessarily need to disable its use (although it may be an option). Instead, a more thoughtful approach can make a world of difference in your mental health.

1. Evaluate your social media use

The first step in making changes is to assess areas for improvement. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • Do some platforms make you feel worse than others?
  • Are there specific people or accounts you follow on social media that make you feel bad about yourself?
  • How much time do you spend on social media?
  • When are you most likely to be on it? Does it get in the way of your sleep or do you spend time with others?
  • What are you not doing in your life because you are on social media?
  • When you post on social media, how do you feel about it? Do you seek validation from others? (I previously wrote this post about people seeking excessive reassurance and validation on social media).

2. Reduce disturbing content

If certain content makes you feel worse about yourself, you can change what content is shown to you. So if you feel vulnerable about a specific aspect of your life, give yourself permission to hide/mute/unfollow people and accounts that cause you distress. Consider some common areas of personal vulnerability that may affect you:

  • Relationships
    • Examples: Recent loss of a relationship due to break-up, unhappily single, dissatisfaction with a romantic relationship, family conflict or estrangement
  • Financial struggle
  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Body image concerns
  • Heart broken
  • Race, sexual orientation, or gender-based traumatic stress
  • Medical problems or physical disability
  • Mental health concerns
  • Examples: Recent loss of a relationship due to break-up, unhappily single, dissatisfaction with a romantic relationship, family conflict or estrangement

Suppose you struggle with one or more of the above issues and find that seeing content on social media makes you feel worse about your situation. Consider making changes to the content you see (eg unfollow or hide/mute certain people or accounts, skip videos that feed into specific algorithms).

My clients often say they feel guilty because they don’t feel happy for someone who has something they don’t have. However, if you’re struggling to make ends meet, you don’t need to see pictures of your brother at an expensive resort in Hawaii. If you just had a miscarriage, you don’t need to see images and videos of your friends’ babies and children anymore.

Suppose you struggle with an eating disorder or have body image issues. You don’t need a flood of photos of celebrities or friends in bathing suits or bodysuits. Your mental health comes first. So, if you’re going to be on social media, it’s important to curate what you see.

Relatedly, if you follow people who post disturbing political or social commentary, consider unfollowing or hiding their content.

Finally, if a particular platform, no matter what you do, has content that still upsets you, consider significantly limiting your exposure to it.

3. Increase content that improves your well-being

Consider what kind of content brings you joy. When I discovered the world of foster kitten accounts on Instagram, I started following several of them. I often see cute and playful kittens when I open the app. I also started following accounts about positive news, and now I’m usually put in a good mood after being on the app because of this compilation. There are some great accounts on social media – think about the things that make you happy and start following those accounts.

4. Get off social media and get into your life

If you spend too much time on social media, consider strategies to reduce your use. For example, on your phone you can limit your time on certain apps (eg using Screen Time and Sleep on the iPhone).

It’s also helpful to consider whether you’re using social media for avoidance purposes (you might not even realize you’re doing it). Do you use social media to avoid problems or do things that cause you stress?

For example, someone with relationship problems may use social media to avoid contact with their partner. A person who has social anxiety may feel as if they are interacting with people using social media. Yet they avoid going out and doing things in the world. Or maybe you have something you find unpleasant, like looking for a job or writing a paper for school, and you use your time on social media to avoid it.

Others use social media to gain validation and reassurance through likes and comments. If this is the case for you, it may be healthier to spend quality time with others in real life.

A new relationship with social media is possible

Social media is not always problematic. However, do an honest assessment of your usage and note that it does cause you some problems. A few changes can help you have a healthier relationship with technology.

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