How mindful social media usage improved my mental health
Being self-aware of how we use social media can go a long way.
Scour the Internet and you’ll probably find tons of articles advising you to cut down on your social media usage or stay away from it altogether. Indeed, multiple studies have shown that heavy social media usage is linked to low self-esteem and an increased risk of depression and anxiety.
While I understand the rationale for being wary of social media, I have to emphasise that social media itself is not the problem – it’s how we are using it.
A study by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that while excessive emotional dependence on social media, like checking apps obsessively in fear of missing out, is associated with negative mental health and social well-being, routine social media use is associated with good mental health and social well-being.
Social media can actually be helpful in improving one’s mental health when used mindfully.
Being mindful begins with self-awareness – to recognise how what we see on social media affects our thoughts, emotions and behaviours, and to remain cognizant of where we are in real life even while engrossed with the digital world.
If that sounds hard, you’re not wrong. It takes practice and a lot of self-reflection to be able to practice mindfulness successfully, especially on a place as addictive as social media. But here are some ways I’ve found to be helpful in improving my mood and mental well-being.
Saying goodbye to toxicity with content filters
I frequent platforms such as Twitter, which features its fair share of toxicity. To prioritise my mental well-being, I use content filters on such platforms, muting topics, keywords and accounts that contain inflammatory and potentially toxic content.
This works on any social media platform with feeds and a muting function. On Twitter specifically, I frequently came across petty fights and drama that hindered my enjoyment of the platform. Upon muting a number of inflammatory words, however, I have enjoyed a drama-free Twitter timeline.
I have since learned that it is wise to avoid getting caught up in unnecessary drama. While social media provides an avenue to keep up with things you care about, getting too personally invested in every single cause can take a toll on your emotions and leave you mentally drained.
Instead of having to scroll past and ignore toxic content, taking the first step towards removing them from your own social media life can help you clear your mind, as you only see content that is truly useful to you.
However, it is still good practice to be mindful of what you are filtering out; you shouldn’t filter out or mute everything you don’t like to see. Social media gives us access to a diverse range of people and viewpoints, and shutting out everyone you disagree with would enclose you in a dangerous echo chamber.
Curating safe spaces in social media feeds
Besides avoiding toxic content on social media, I also make sure to keep my social media feeds full of positivity and self-love content.
The accounts we follow directly influence the social media feeds we scroll through daily. If the content in our feed tends to induce self-doubt and negative thoughts, our habitual social media usage can lead us into negative thinking patterns.
For instance, there are social media accounts made with the intention of spreading hate or promoting unhealthy ideals like extreme dieting and body shaming. On Instagram, the intense focus on materialism and others’ perfectly curated lives can also be pretty exhausting, especially if you often compare yourself to others.
By filling my social media feeds with positive, loving content, I have created a healthy online environment for myself, which doubles as a safe space that reminds me to take care of my mental health. Such reminders are especially important as many of us lead hectic lives while studying or working.
Many of the positive accounts I follow on Instagram promote self-love and mental health awareness. Others produce content designed to cheer people up and brighten their day. Examples include influencers such as iskra, mental health professionals like Nicole LePera, and general positivity-related accounts such as fullspiritquotes.
Art and animal accounts are also growing in popularity, and having these in your feed can certainly lift your mood at any time of day. Instead of having an Instagram feed filled with stick-thin models and glamorous parties, why not indulge yourself in appreciating good art and cute puppies instead?
Building relationships and strengthening them
I have made some wonderful friends through social media, who have stuck with me through thick and thin even though we live in different parts of the world and have never met in person.
Social media is great for finding like-minded people to befriend and share experiences with. While parents may caution their children not to talk to strangers on the Internet, doing so with discretion may just make you some very good friends for life.
As long as you don’t give away personal information, it’s pretty easy to have an enjoyable and safe conversation with others online. Just remember to talk to people who build you up, not tear you down (or ask you for money).
It’s also a good idea to use social media to strengthen your existing relationships, as it’s a handy tool to connect with those whom you care about but cannot meet in person.
Even though I have not seen some of my friends in a long time, I still feel close to them as we find out about each other’s daily lives through social media. Taking the initiative to engage with the content your friends post is a nice way to show that you still care about them and reinforce your friendships.
Resources for a troubled mind
Whenever I go through something difficult, connecting with others who relate to my struggles makes them more bearable and helps me feel less alone.
There is a wide range of platforms for people to offer their knowledge and gather support, especially on sites like Reddit, which has specific communities for different topics. Besides, social media is home to a wide conservatory of resources and options you can access if you are going through something difficult.
It can be hard to talk about some things with people in real life as they may not be able to understand, but reaching out on social media may help you find the support you need.
However, social media is still home to a variety of fake news and malicious messages, so it is still important to remain mindful of your usage and exercise discretion when communicating with others and accessing resources.
It takes work to make social media a healthy place for your mind. But by using it mindfully, with the right attitude and reasons, it’s entirely possible to welcome social media as a tool that heals your mind and enriches your life.