Whether you feel social media is a modern day friend or foe, there's no denying the incredible influence it has on our lives.
It's completely altered the way we digest information, communicate with others and exchange thoughts, feelings and ideas.
The link between mental health and social media is one which has been the focus of several studies, particularly in young people.
Social media can be polarising; there are, of course, lots of positive updates but those are interspersed with regular updates about the ugliness within society too. And that can be tough on those of us who live with depression. The world in our head is already ugly, we already feel a heavy weight of despair. It's tough to hang onto hope when you're exposed to such cruelty online. The news, trolls, discrimination and bullying all serve to validate the cruel thoughts we're already fighting in our heads.
It can also be addictive. So addictive, in fact, that the Department of Psychosocial Science at the University of Bergen, Norway, have designed a scale to measure addiction to Facebook.
But between you, us and the garden gate, there have been days when depression has totally sucker-punched us and on those days, social media has been a really helpful tool.
It allows us to connect with people who innately understand our struggles, who know the words of encouragement we need to hear and who help us to feel heard at a time when we feel our most invisible. Social media allows us to preserve existing relationships too. Ones which might be inadvertently damaged otherwise. It gives us a window into the outside world and it allows us to be totally candid about how we feel, in a way that we might not otherwise feel brave enough to express. It also allows us to dip in and out of some useful resources of help, support and knowledge.
Being self-aware means being clear about what works for us, and what doesn't. If we're going to get social media to work 'for' us, we need to be aware of how it makes us feel inside. Which platforms seem to be great and which ones grate on us? Do we feel more judgmental on certain platforms? Do we feel more judged on certain platforms? How can we fix our boundaries surrounding all of those to ensure social media works for us, and not against us?
Consider the use of alerts
Once upon a time, communication with others was much slower. It took time to write a letter, post it, for it to be delivered, then read and then replied to. And there was no expectation either, for the reply to be written the exact same day it was received. We allowed people the space and patience to write back when they wanted.
Fast forward to now and we've got these handheld gadgets which ping alerts at us all day long. Letting us know that someone, somewhere, wants our attention and they want it right NOW. And on the days when we literally have nothing left to give, that can be a source of anxiety (don't even get us started on those pesky read receipts!).
When we switch off those alerts, we regain control over when, how and where we log in. We get to choose when to communicate, not when some flashing light/vibration/sound tells us to.
Access help and support
There are times when anxiety wins the battle. When leaving the house and answering the telephone just aren't going to happen. When interacting with friends and accessing any help outside of social media feels impossible. Thankfully, there's a lot of support to be had online.
On Twitter, people are using hashtags to connect with others who have shared similar experiences, to reach out for support and to provide support. These hashtags are used regularly and are a fantastic way of finding people to chat to: #mentalhealth #depression #whatyoudontsee #BPDChat #askAshOCD #PNDHour #anxiety #mentalillness
There are lots of depression support groups on Facebook. These groups are often secret or closed groups so that nobody, other than the group members, can view or comment on posts.
If you use Facebook messenger, there are apps to help you track and improve your mental health. Like Joy, which was created by Danny Freed. Joy checks in with you once a day and asks how you are doing and what you did today. It works as a journal of your thoughts and feelings, helping you to identify patterns and triggers.
If you're in crisis or considering suicide, there's I'm Alive, which is an Online Crisis Network. It uses online instant messaging to provide help to those who are in intense emotional pain.
Remember: what you are seeing is not the whole picture
Depression already tells us that we're not worthy. It reminds us of the things we've messed up, the hurts we may have caused, the hurts we've been caused and it makes us feel that we're severely lacking as humans.
Social media is a hot bed of people posting the best versions of themselves (filtered to the max) and a maelstrom of the world's events. It's easy to see why research has shown that social media negatively affects our self-esteem.
Posts are a reflection of a person's perspective. THEIR perspective. Not yours.
Our experiences, our likes/dislikes, personalities etc. are our own. We'll never be like other people because we're our own person. We're all so different. Your path, your life, your journey, your personality, your peaks, your troughs, your dreams and aspirations will be totally different from another person's. There are so many different things which make up our unique-ness - our parents, the way they brought us up, where we live, our genetics, life experiences, outlook, illness...
Yet, standing out can feel icky, we want to feel as though we fit in with our peers. That we measure up.
It might not feel like it, but you DO measure up. Exactly as you are.
Comparing ourselves with others is futile, we have gotten to where we are in such a different way. And, what you're comparing yourself to, is what others WANT you to see. Not the true, fair picture at all.
It's YOUR social media feed
The key here, is in the word 'your'. YOUR social media feed. It often feels to the contrary, but you do have control over what appears in your feed. Here are some of the things you can do to make sure your social media feed aids your mental wellbeing:
- Go through the list of people you follow on Twitter and only follow those who really interest you.
- Use Facebook's 'unfollow' feature to remove updates from your feed which make you do anything other than smile/learn/feel good. You know the ones - those which make you feel below par, less of a person. The ones which kick-start comparison and the 'coulda, shoulda, woulda' thoughts. This feature allows you to remain friends with people but stops their updates popping up in your feed. You can always re-follow them in the future.
- Follow pages/people who inspire and encourage you.
- Unfollow news outlets if you find their updates to be particularly upsetting. It's important to know what's going on in the world but choose a way to access that information which works for you.
If there's nothing at all about social media that seems to be working for you right now, then it might be time for a break away from it. A spell of time to create space for connection with yourself and others, in different ways.
This post was originally published on The Blurt Foundation's Website.