How social media can support your mental health

By Mulesa

Photo by Gratisography

The negative effects of social media on our mental health are well documented. Facebook envy makes us long for the seemingly blissful existence of our Facebook friends. We stay glued to our phones because the FOMO has us believing that we need to be plugged in consistently so that we don’t miss being a part of that viral moment. We spend all of our time curating the perfect online journal of our best moments that we actually forget to live those moments. In short, social media can leave us feeling miserable, anxious, dissatisfied, lacking in confidence and disconnected from ourselves. 

That said, working in digital marketing has given me insights into the utility of social media – it can be a great source of information, a vehicle to achieve social good, a purveyor of (mostly) trustworthy news in quick time, a great awareness-raising tool, and a platform for small businesses to showcase their products. If approached carefully and correctly, social media can also benefit your mental health rather than harm it.

Social media gives you the ability to reconnect with your people

While Facebook and Instagram are often blamed for replacing face-to-face interactions, social media platforms can help you maintain connections with your loved ones. Twitter is a great connector of like-minded people and LinkedIn is an online exercise in networking. This has become especially important during the Covid-19 pandemic as social distancing regulations have hampered our ability to connect physically – something that is so inherently human – in the same ways we used to.  Persons with disabilities that limit their mobility can also connect with friends and family using the myriad of social media platforms available today.

Social media can encourage healthy habits

As more influencers, celebrities and ordinary users alike are lifting the rosy veil on their lifestyles online, it’s fairly easy to find a plethora of motivational stories about overcoming addiction, coping with injury, conquering mental health struggles, and more.  Content creators are showing us the little tricks they use to snap the perfect photo, fitness influencers are sharing what their bodies really look like, and motivational speakers are using social media to connect with their fans on a more personal level. These stories can be used as motivation to achieve healthy lifestyle goals like quitting smoking, beating addiction or maintaining a set training schedule. Sharing a goal publicly also promotes accountability and helps increase focus, as well as your chances of achieving it.

Social media platforms can help you find support and community  

Social media can help you feel a little less lonely in your struggles through the many support groups and anonymous fora where users can share their experiences online. Those who are part of marginalised groups can also find people just like them to interact with in a safe way. The anonymity afforded by social media platforms also offers a safe space for expression without stigma. Many organisations are also using social networks to get at-risk individuals the information they need. As a social media user, you can use these platforms to spread messages of hope, spark meaningful conversations, and promote worthwhile causes. 

But don’t let social media rule your life 

How social media affects your mental health also boils down to how you manage your consumption of it. Fundamentally, the power is in your hands and your social media experience is what you make of it. So, rather than being a passive consumer of content, you can control its place in your life. 

Here are a few tips to help you get there:

  • Curate your newsfeed to suit your preferences: 

Social media algorithms are always learning what you’d like to see on your platforms, based on your online behaviour. So, be mindful of the type of content you view or engage with.  Be purposeful about choosing the posts you want to see online and create a balance with all of your content sources. For example, hashtags are not just for tracking trends. They’re a useful tool for finding positive, inspirational and uplifting content. You can even follow hashtags on Instagram.  

  • Give your feed a spring clean every once in a while

Do an audit of your feed. Unfollow or mute the accounts that bring you down. The mute button is your friend (and personally, my favourite little tool). If you don’t want to take the extreme step of hitting “unfollow”, “mute” may be the option for you. Block and restrict accounts, where necessary, to limit your exposure to trolls and cyberbullies. 

  • Control how often you consume social media content 

Take regular “digital detoxes” to reset your brain. Don’t just do this when you’re experiencing social media fatigue though. Dedicate a few hours in a day or days in a week to a break from your social media platforms. You’ll realise how little you miss out on, and how much peace you gain, when you switch off from social media and plug into the real world. 

I would also highly recommend that you switch off your notifications every so often. Hearing that little tone signalling a new message or seeing your screen light up to tell you that so-and-so liked your post can be very addictive. An act as simple as checking a notification from Twitter can lead to 30 minutes of mindless scrolling through your feed. Cut yourself off from that, and see what a difference it makes. 

Another nifty little trick I learned is to move your social media app icons on your phone further down on your screen so that you’re forced to scroll over one or more times to open it. I would also recommend rearranging them regularly to ensure that you forget where they are. Physically limiting your access means less time online. 

You can check out more healthy social media habits here.

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