Social Media is part of our lives but how is it affecting our mental health?

Four years ago I quit Facebook (FB). I was never a Twitter user, and I rarely used my Instagram (IG) account. For the first year or so I suffered a degree of “FOMO” an acronym for “fear of missing out”. A friend used FB to invite people to her wedding; my invite therefore never got to me. I missed out on conversations and photos from events held at the gym I went to and social events I attended. Whenever the inevitable conversation came up of “Did you see it on FB” I was always the single person who said no. However, I suddenly had a lot of time. I started doing things without the thought of “posting” my activities for the world to see and give me their oh-so-valuable opinion on. There was no thought of “how many likes will this photo receive” or “was that comment aimed at me”.

In truth; I felt free. It took time to adjust to not being on social media (SM). For the reasons above I almost felt isolated and not a part of things. But then my mindset started to change, the longer I was off of it. I “lived” more. Instead of clicking on IG, I clicked on Duolingo and gradually learnt to speak French. Instead of browsing old school friends on IG, I found I instead connected with friends in my life right now. I wasn’t caught up in the dramas and often negative comments about “so and so’s” posts.

Four years on, I wondered if my sabbatical had been long enough that I was now immune to the many negatives of social media. Could I soon be on one of the platforms but engage only in the positives and, what were the positives?

I decided to test these thoughts. Even writing this, I wonder why I did this. Was I perhaps in a lull in life that made me want to be part of something again or need attention? Perhaps.

I downloaded the Instagram app (I chose Instagram as it appears to have superseded FB as the go-to SM app). I signed in to my old account and picked a random photo to post.
One hour later I put my phone down. I spent 10 minutes selecting a photo to post and writing the caption and “hashtags” underneath. I then spent 50 minutes browsing through the IG “stories” of people I followed, and some I didn’t follow. I checked every 15 minutes or so to see who had liked my post. I am writing this with the brutal honesty that I feel many would not.

How often do you hear “I don’t care what people think” and “I couldn’t care less if no ones “likes” my post and “I don’t use a filter or take anytime when posting” and “I’m only on it for all the friends I have from travelling”. Sorry, but I’m not sure you will convince me, particularly if your account isn’t private.

Why? Because whether you are ready or admit it or not; social media channels are for telling the world the parts of your life that you want them to see. If you genuinely did not care, I doubt you would be on it. I invite you to convince me otherwise. We also go on social media to look at other people: this is where SM can be positive; looking at your favourite athlete, looking for ways to improve a skill, finding ways you can progress at something, support from people with similar interests and of course, self-expression.

Back to my experiment.

The second day I clicked on the app three times. By week one I had posted a few photos of things I love; my family, my interest in fashion, my travels and my fitness progress: hardly original. In that first week, one friend text me asking me if everything was okay, that they had noticed I was using IG and was there maybe something wrong? This shows the kindness of my friend but also an interesting reflection of how we analyse other’s behaviour on SM. This can be a positive. Certainly some years ago a friend recognised my FB posts as someone in crisis.

As I continued using the app for the next month, I made the following observations:
1. I became less focussed on work and life as I started thinking about things I had seen on IG both good and bad. Either way, it took up a portion of my thoughts.
2. I used it more and more. Browsing, posting.
3. I became a little negative towards others. We dress it up as a joke but be honest; have you made negative comments about someone’s posts? “Oh they are attention seeking” “Did you see what she posted?”
4. I became a bit envious of others (and consequently back to point 3 above). The girl who can do a backflip, the couple who always look so happy and travel every weekend, the woman who gets to be home with her children all day and not work every minute, etc. etc.
5. I became slightly distant from my family. I was busy looking at everyone else’s life I missed out on what was happening right in front of me.

Again, I have been brutally honest which is brave but challenging because I am aware how it comes across: that I have insecurities, that I am not immune to the opinion of others, that I showed negative behaviours such as envy and contempt. Dare I say; I was human.

I wonder if you could be brave enough to recognise these points in yourself…..?

The conclusion? I deleted the app again. And the result?

Immediately I had more time. A lot more time. I started doing things again without wondering if it would make a good IG post or “just checking” what the people I followed had been up to on a Tuesday at 4 pm. Instead, I wondered what my family were up to and found them. My daughter was making her slime. My partner getting stressed with a significant amount of work that I hadn’t even seen he was trying to cope with alone. I phoned my friend instead of just checking out her page. I asked people how their day had been instead of just looking at their updates.

Have you ever observed how people act when they are flicking through a SM channel? (Which you can do even if you don’t have an account: few people have private accounts, which speaks volumes) Decreased focus; decreased communication, zombie-like trance, morbid curiosity (Family law firm Forsters stated there is a marked increase in infidelity as a result of technology).

However, I feel confident now that SM is something that you should be aware of, and limit the use of. You don’t “need” it. You need to just be you, not a filtered, edited version of yourself. You won’t miss out on the people or things that matter. In fact, you will appreciate them more. The Royal Society of Public Health has launched a campaign #statusofmind in response to a report it published that found Instagram to be the most harmful SM channel causing detrimental effects on mental health and wellbeing. YouTube was the most positive.

In the workplace, much time is lost on Social Media as well as employees mental health being put at risk from comments or photos posted by others. Wellness London provides hard-hitting talks and workshops on how to manage SM in the workplace and at home.

I challenge you to take a sabbatical from SM or limit your time on it. Perhaps delete the app from your phone, so you can only access it on your computer. Safe, healthy and controlled use of SM will boost your wellness, productivity and overall happiness. Be you.

Thank you for reading.

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