Social media can be an incredible tool for communication, helping people around the world to discuss and debate, learn about each other, support important causes and have fun too. Sometimes it can even help us to build self-confidence. But it’s important to recognise that social media also has its limitations, as well as the potential to adversely affect our mental health.
Here are some ways to protect your mental health and stay in control while using social media.
Social media isn’t a replacement for real life
While this might seem pretty obvious, at times it can be easy to forget.
When something happens on social media, sometimes it can seem like it’s taken over the planet. And there are occasions when something really major has happened but it’s worth remembering that while social media may be a window on reality, it’s often a very narrow one. When it comes to how people appear and behave online, it’s very rare that you get the full picture.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by what you’re seeing on your phone, tablet or computer, take a moment to look out of the window and remind yourself of all the things you enjoy that aren’t trapped within the prism of Instagram, TikTok or WhatsApp.
Make sure you hit the off switch at least once a day
This may not be pushing the literal ‘off switch’ on your device, rather just finding a way to take time out from social media each day.
While it’s convenient to have notifications on your phone from your social media accounts, never having a break from contacts and updates can feel emotionally draining over time, eroding our sense of privacy, ability to truly relax and time alone with our thoughts.
Finding a way to close the door on this when time alone is needed is vital. It could be by temporarily disabling notifications for an app, putting your device on silent or even turning off your phone (providing you’re not expecting urgent calls).
For how long and when is entirely up to you, but disconnecting and doing something offline can be a refreshing way to recharge. A few hours watching a movie with family, a walk outside, or even an entire week away from social media can be a refreshing experience which broadens your horizons.
Pick your disagreements carefully
In 2019, there were estimated to be 2.95 billion social media users worldwide. Everyone has varying opinions, interests and knowledge, which makes disagreement an inevitability of human nature. However, while there are certainly issues and injustices which warrant making a point, it’s important to pick your battles carefully.
Look on any form of social media for long enough and you are bound to find views or behaviour that’s disagreeable from your perspective. How much so will vary, but keep in mind who’s saying the thing you find problematic, what their motive might be (see the next point), whether they appear to be civil, and whether it will be worth the potential anxiety an online argument could cause you.
Even if you do disagree with someone, always remember to extend them the same respect and kindness you would hope to receive in turn.
Don’t rise to abuse from trolls
It’s a sad truth that there are people using social media who act with the intent of causing emotional upset. If you’re unfortunate enough to suffer online abuse or deliberately offensive comments, the most important thing to do first of all is to calm down before you act.
Take deep breaths and step away from your device for a few minutes. Remind yourself that you are not the problem in this encounter, the troll is.
At this point you have a number of sensible options. You could:
- Block the account in question to prevent further abuse
- Report them to the social media service or site moderators
- Report them to the police if harassment is persistent, threatens physical harm or is discriminatory
Above all, no matter how angry or upset you are do not respond with abuse in turn. Besides this being the response the troll probably wants, it’s likely it will prolong the exchange, cause you lots more stress and make it harder for moderators to determine who misbehaved.
By staying calm, you can show you’re the better person, and it makes it clearer to the moderator who action should be taken against.
Fact check news and stories before acting on them
In recent years, social media has come under intense scrutiny for sharing so called ‘fake news’ to influence public opinion. Using social media as a source of information isn’t necessarily wrong, but it should always be treated with caution.
Approaching everything said or suggested on social media as fact carries more than the danger of simply being incorrect. When stories conflict and ‘facts’ are mismatched, it can lead to an overall sense of uncertainty, which can have a hugely negative affect on our mental health and sense of reality.
Rumours, exaggerations and complete fiction are often posted to serve unpleasant agendas, gain followers or cause trouble.
Before liking, sharing or commenting on someone’s post, always consider:
- Who’s posting this? Are they trustworthy?
- Where does the information come from?
- Can you find a reliable source who directly found the information in question?
- Are any mainstream news sites talking about it?
Be mindful of what you share
Sharing pictures, thoughts and feelings on social media has been largely normalised, but it’s worth remembering to hold some things back as well.
Keep in mind, that putting everything about yourself on social media connects your entire identity to that online life. In a certain light this may sound appealing, but it could leave you feeling emotionally vulnerable if things go wrong or people become critical of what you are posting.
Always think carefully before sharing anything and be mindful of who could potentially see it. Even if you have a small number of followers at a given moment, ask yourself how you’d feel if it went viral or became a news item.
Remember that it’s an option, not a necessity
Social pressures may have us believe that we must have an active account on a social media platform if the people we know do, but keep in mind that it’s an option, not a necessity.
If using or posting on a social media platform makes you feel extremely uncomfortable, anxious or unhappy, then remember that deleting the app or closing your account isn’t an unreasonable decision.
If moving to a different service or stopping your use of social media makes you happier, then it’s absolutely worth it.
Only use it if it’s enjoyable for you, not simply to please other people.