How social media can be bad for our mental health

You're feeling particularly fabulous and decide to take a selfie. The post only gets a couple likes, while your friend's picture gets hundreds. You immediately feel self-conscious when you, previously, were feeling pretty damn good about yourself.

You've been struggling to lose weight, and, when you scroll through social media, all you can see is your friends, celebs and influencers, showing off their bikini ready bodies. 

You just went through a devastating break-up, and, as soon as you open Instagram, there's another friend, displaying her new diamond engagement ring. 

You scroll through photos of your former classmates' trip to Cancun, while you're struggling to pay your monthly rent. 

You've been trying to have a baby for years, praying each month that you will see two lines on your pregnancy test instead of one; yet every time you get on Facebook, you see someone else posting their pregnancy announcement.

Before social media, we wouldn't know. We wouldn't know how successful the kid who bullied us in school turned out to be. We wouldn't know what our ex's new significant other looked like. And we wouldn't be constantly comparing our lives to everyone else because everyone else's lives wouldn't be so accessible to us. 

Of course, there is good that comes out of social media. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, social media is a way to feel more connected with the friends you can't see in person. It's a way to keep up-to-date and stay in contact with people you otherwise probably would have lost touch with. Through social media, people have started and spread important movements, like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. It's also a way to share your ideas and creativity and maybe to even become famous from the comfort of your home.

But there is also the bad. Like actor Bill Murray said, "Social media is training us to compare our lives, instead of appreciating everything we are. No wonder why everyone is always depressed." 

Research shows that the average adults spends about two hours and the average teenager spends about nine hours on social media each day — and these numbers have surely increased in 2020 with most of us spending a lot more time bored at home. But experts say it's not necessarily the time spent on social media that's a problem. It's the content we are consuming that affects our mental health. 

In a CNN column by singer, actress and mental health awareness advocate Selena Gomez, she wrote, "We are constantly bombarded with images and social media posts that make people feel like they need to achieve perfection, which is unattainable."

"I'm actually a big advocate for social media detoxes ... I try to remember that everyone is usually sharing a highlight reel and only their best photos, and that I don't need to feel bad."

Here are some ways you can help limit the effects social media has on yours and others' mental health:

Take a social media detox.
You can temporarily deactivate your Facebook and Instagram. When you reactivate it, all of your pictures, posts and friends will come back, just as you left it, whenever you're ready. (For those of us who are affected by all the political arguments on social media, it's not a bad idea to deactivate until after Nov. 3). 

Or, if you just need a break from the temptation of checking your phone, turn it on airplane mode or put it in another room. Even better, if you don't trust yourself, buy this time locking container on Amazon — you set a timer on the box and it will not unlock until the timer reaches zero.

Delete your social media apps from your phone.
One of my Facebook friends said she did this to limit the easy accessibility, and she, instead, gives herself designated times to visit the websites — twice a day, in the morning before work and after dinner.

Unfollow or mute people whose posts are affecting your self-esteem.
I'm not saying it's their fault. People shouldn't stop posting their engagement photos because they don't want to offend their single friends. But if you are in a dark place and it's affecting your mental health to see friends' gushy posts about how in love they are, you can "mute" them so they don't show up on your social media feeds. You aren't deleting them; you just can stop seeing their posts until you are in a better head space. And there's nothing wrong with deleting people either. If certain accounts don't make you feel good, you don't need that negativity in your life. Don't feel bad about unfollowing; your own health is way more important.e

Be authentic on social media.

Don't just share a filtered version of your life, but talk about the things that matter. Talk about your bad days and the days you're struggling with your mental health. For one, it's really comforting to get it off your chest and to give your friends the opportunity to show their support. It will also help your followers going through the same thing know they're not alone. It'll make more of a difference than the perfect selfie ever would. 

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