Over the past ten years Social Media has become compulsory for our everyday lives, but is it a good or bad thing? And most importantly how is it impacting our mental health?
In the age of social media and smartphones it can be hard to disconnect from the world, even for five minutes. Sometimes this constant reminder that everyone else is having a good time, or those pesky texts from your bank to remind you that you’re overdrawn, can leave you feeling inadequate and anxious.
This is by no means a new concept, but it’s something I’ve started to consider on a more personal level since I started struggling with anxiety. After spending two days in my room alone, trying to work up the courage to go outside and tackle at least one thing on my to do list, I realised that what was making this even harder was the constant buzz of my phone. Whether it was a WhatsApp message from work, or a friendly Facebook message from someone I would normally love to talk to, it was making my stomach churn.
And I know what many people are thinking while reading this - why not just turn it off? Sometimes it isn’t that easy. For me the problem is that when I’m in an anxious state I get this overwhelming feeling something bad may happen to someone I love. Or I worry that there might be something important I’d miss and I could upset a friend. Because when it comes to anxiety it’s hard to separate the irrational thoughts from the reality.
It also doesn’t help that, like a lot of people, I have a tendency to scroll through Facebook too much and my newsfeed is often guilty of giving an unrealistic view of people’s lives. I try to share the good with the bad these days when I post on Facebook because I think it’s beneficial for everyone to know that life isn’t always perfect. But in a sea of sexy selfies, couples in love and friends enjoying each other’s company, it can make your own life feel like it’s lacking certain things that everyone else has, and that can be damaging to your self-esteem.
So I started to consider the questions: Is it possible for us to escape these highly idealised representations of people’s lives and not allow them to skew our perception of our own? And would limiting my use of social media and my phone help to reduce my anxiety when I was struggling the most?
I read articles that suggested that from a psychological perspective, the reason social media can be addictive is because we crave social validation from others. Getting likes on our opinions and photos makes us feel accepted. But the danger is, when you don’t receive the validation you expect, this has a negative impact, and too much of this is undoubtedly going to take its toll on your mental wellbeing.
It wasn’t so much the need for likes that ever bothered me though, it was just the suffocating feeling of being constantly bombarded with images of everyone else. And I was sending messages that I had to read over ten times after because I didn’t trust that I hadn’t said something stupid or inappropriate. I knew what I needed was to regulate my time on social media and my phone.
My strategy for allowing myself time to think without the non-stop social media buzz was simple. I spent a few months without any mobile data (I’d just moved countries and had no German sim card - so refreshing) and I muted certain conversations on Facebook and WhatsApp for a few hours a day, or longer if needed, for some respite. I instantly felt a weight lifted. The first time I took the S-bahn to work, instead of looking down at my phone the entire 40 minute journey feeling stressed, I looked out the window at Berlin in the summer and felt proud that I had achieved moving here. And I wasn’t staring at my phone and panicking about not keeping up with everyone on social media when I was out with friends either, I was socially engaged in face-to-face conversations which for me were far more rewarding.
Social media can definitely play a part in increasing anxiety levels, but it’s important to remember that it’s within our own control how much we allow ourselves to fall into the trap. If Instagram and Facebook are making you question whether you look good, if you should be married with kids by now or if you’re going out enough, take a break. Focus your mind on yourself a little more. It’s easier to see things more clearly when you’re not staring at a laptop or phone screen and you’re engaged outside of the digital world.