Today one of the top news stories was how Instagram is rated as the worst social media platform when it comes to its impact on young people’s mental health. The Royal Society for Public Health study warns that “social media may be fuelling a mental health crisis” in young people. But the report also said it can also be used as a tool for good, for example Instagram was found to have a positive effect on self-expression and self-identity.
Social Media in todays world is not easily avoidable. Even if you don’t participate you may find that you need to become a user for work. Many of your friends are users and there will always be social media for people to express themselves and connect with others. It is a useful tool and it is possible to use it in a healthy way.
As someone who works online as a writer, uses social media for fun and work and has also struggled with mental health I offer some suggestions for healthy use.
Un-follow any accounts that showcase a lifestyle that you can’t afford and don’t need. I have un-followed accounts that show products or a lifestyle that seem heavily promoted and are what I call envy-provoking. Many users with high follower numbers are paid to post and show companies products on Instagram. They know that people will see the photos and bank on the fact that people want the product and lifestyle that the viewer assumes goes with it. Notice your reaction to posts and if you find yourself constantly provoked to envy or desire by certain accounts, un-follow them.
Remember a picture only tells a thousand words. There is another story behind the image that is not being told, you are only seeing a thousand words of it. The feeling that it provokes in you is not the whole truth. Seek out accounts with photos that encourage you, and inspire you. I now look for accounts that show pictures that lift my soul, pictures of flowers, nature and books. Look for accounts that show the real alongside the pretty.
Choose your social friends wisely
Follow users that seem authentic and positive online, make friends with people who have the same interests as you. Intersperse your feed with users that put up positive memes. Much as you would be careful who you meet in real life from online, be careful who you spend time with online. But also meet up with users offline, I’ve been on organised group photowalks with others I’ve met online, have been to writers workshops with others. You always get a more rounded picture of someone offline than from a square picture! It gets you meeting with and talking to people with similar interests.
The online world is a better place when people are real. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression and feel you can talk about it online then do so. You don’t have to share everything, but there are people online who also share about their journey and you may find help and solace from that. If you mention that you are taking a health break from social media for awhile your friends will understand.
Take a break
Don’t be on constantly, turn off notifications. Choose a time once or twice a day to connect, and don’t feel under pressure to heart all your friends photos. Social media and Instagram can be addictive, perhaps turn your phone off for a day at the weekend, or delete the social media apps for a time, so that you don’t find yourself absent mindedly scrolling through.
Avoid pods that may require you to instantly like and comment on photos.
Focus on contributing not consuming
Think about how you can change how others may be feeling when they spend time online. If you are feeling inadequate or anxious, there will be others also feeling the same way. How could you encourage someone? How could you make someone else feel included and worthwhile? Stop scrolling and start taking photos that don’t provoke envy in others, instead make pretty squares that encourage and inspire.
And finally, follow the fun!
I’m Abi and I write about simple soulful ways to be creative.
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