In recent months, many of us have spent more and more time using one or more social media platforms. For many who have been following shielding advice, it’s virtually been their only form of contact with others for months.
So it’s fair to say that social media has played a huge part in keeping us connected, and in many ways has been useful in supporting our mental health at a time when it has been difficult to physically get out to see friends and family.
However, interaction on social media has its drawbacks, and many of us will be recognising unhealthy behaviours rearing their heads. There’s a lot of frustration being vented right now, and between the negative news cycle, lockdown-fuelled anger and uncertainty and the never-ending political debate, it can feel like only the most uncomfortable aspects of social media are flourishing.
How to recognise unhealthy social media habits
Here are some of the behaviours I find myself spiralling into (and the coping techniques I use to overcome them).
1. Comparing yourself to others
“That mum is handling lockdown so well. She’s working from home, raising three kids, her house always looks immaculate and so does she!”
I can’t be the only mum who scrolls through social media only to burst into tears because everyone else seems so much more together than me, right? That instinct to compare ourselves to everyone around us seems to be pretty common. So how do I talk myself down from this belief that I’m failing at everything?
I ask myself questions.
Do I post photos of my kids having tantrums on my social media? No. Do I post photos of me slumped, half asleep on the sofa with no energy? No. Do I post photos of nice days out at petting farms, walks along the beach, and hikes through the mountains? Yes.
I am selective in what I show the world and that doesn’t make me special. I need to remember that everyone else is being just as selective. Just outside of the camera frame, it’s likely they are struggling in some way too.
2. Compulsively checking notifications
With the instability of living through a pandemic, I’m constantly looking for somebody to talk to and to tell me that I’m doing well. Too often, I turn to social media for this type of recognition. I would actually hate to find out how much time I spend refreshing my notifications!
I also find myself playing the numbers game far too often. “How many likes has my last post got now?” Well, probably the same it had 10 minutes ago.
I recently realised that this particular behaviour – of constantly checking notifications and comments and likes – had spiralled way out of control. As a result, I took the decision to delete all my social media apps from my phone for a few days. Instead, I went for a weekend of hiking and camping in the mountains, and remembered that the only person I really need to please is myself. I really don’t need the approval of hundreds of other people on the internet. It means nothing and isn’t fundamental to my mental health.
3. Investing in other people’s opinions
This is an issue I’ve always had to deal with. Whether it’s being open about being LGBT+ or about my mental health, I’ve come across my fair share of painful expressions of opinion. This has become worse over the course of the pandemic. People are shouting in both directions about all manner of things – from the possible outcomes of wearing a mask, to arguing about whether pubs should be open.
For many, the discord is only getting worse as the year progresses with political conflict flooding their newsfeeds. For this, I’ve only got one solution and I’m still learning to apply this to my own browsing:
Do not read the comments!
The concept is basic. If you stay away from fire, you won’t get burned. As an activist, I know that being vocal is important, but you don’t have to engage with every person’s opinion. I’ve lost enough friends to know that it’s not worth it if it’s detrimental to your mental health. Some minds will never be changed and to continue trying to change them can be exhausting and painful.
It’s important we understand what unhealthy social media habits look like and manage our usage as best we can. The behaviours above have all felt suffocating to me at one point or another. I’ve found myself being angry for days at a time at random people on the internet while running out of patience with the actual people around me, to the point of me hurting them by snapping at them.
When your social media consumption becomes damaging, not just to you, but to those you love, it’s time to step back. Hopefully you will be able to apply some of these tools the next time you’re browsing. Remember to use social media mindfully, and to steer clear of the traps we all fall into too easily.
NPS-IE-NP-00101 October 2020