Mental Health Awareness Month: Improving Your Relationship with Social Media

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and this week, we’re talking about social media: how it can impact your mental health—for good and bad—and what to do about it.

Surprise to no one: our relationship with social media is complicated and nuanced. That’s why we’ve split this article in two. This week we’ll talk about improving your relationship with social media. (If you missed part one—detailing the pros and cons of social media—you can check it out here.)

Improving your relationship with social media

Developing a healthy relationship with social media starts with recognizing it as a tool.

Like most things, social media can be used for good, or it can become problematic when used incorrectly or in excess.

So, how can you use social media in a way that actually benefits your mental health instead of disrupting it? These tips offer a place to start.

Get curious about your behavior

Explore why you turn to social media. Are you actively connecting with people and forging new relationships or fostering old ones? Or do you find yourself mindlessly flicking through pages of content for the sole purpose of “having something to do”?

Ask yourself what function social media serves in your life. Taking stock can help you minimize unhelpful patterns of use and begin to identify behaviors that address your needs more effectively.

For instance, if you fall into the “mindless scrolling” category, do you see this as an effective, productive use of your free time? Or does viewing Photoshopped Insta-Filtered images of strangers chip away at your self-esteem?

Skip social media in the morning and night

Using social media apps first thing in the morning could potentially set a negative tone for the rest of your day. And using these apps at night could disrupt your sleep. (For more on “blue light”—the light emitted from your phone that can mess with your REM—check out Protips on How to Sleep Better at Night.)

That’s why it might help to leave your phone in another room when you go to bed and try a digital or old-school alarm clock. Alternatively, you could leave your phone in a drawer in your room. That way, it’s out of easy reach but you can still hear your alarm in the morning.

Instead of gorging on social media, consider bookending your days with truly nourishing rituals that support your mental health, such as these from SleepAdvisor:

  • Drink a cup of warm milk or a cup of tea
  • Take a warm bath
  • Get a massage
  • Meditate
  • Read a book or magazine (just don’t read on your phone or tablet!)
  • Try yoga stretches / poses
  • Listen to soothing music
  • Write out a to-do list for tomorrow

Curate your content

Spend a few days paying attention to the kind of content that seems to negatively affect your mental health. Then get selective about the people and organizations you follow.

Block or mute any content that doesn’t help you. Make a point of seeking out content that inspires and uplifts you.

Set yourself up for success

If you’ve come across stories of successful social media detoxes, you may feel tempted to go cold turkey.

Taking a complete break from all your social apps could certainly be helpful, but be honest with yourself: are you really willing to give up social media altogether? Or are you just saying you will—which is a way of setting yourself up for disappointment?

Setting your expectations higher than your willingness can lead to a cycle of shame, which can, in turn, fuel more of the behavior you want to reduce.

So, ask yourself:

  • What are good boundaries for me on a regular basis?
  • Would I like to experiment with skipping social media for a day?
  • Can I keep my phone elsewhere to minimize use?

Be gentle with yourself

If you find yourself getting sucked into social media these days more than ever before, you might feel a little guilty about your habits. But going down the social rabbit hole is completely understandable.

It makes sense to look to social media for distraction during pandemic times. However, this could end up transforming social media into a doggie chew toy of sorts—something to chomp on to distract our anxious minds.

Instead of criticizing or punishing yourself for scrolling, try a generous dose of self-compassion instead.

Seek out other kinds of fun

You can often make social media seem less appealing by:

  • scheduling fun outings with friends or fulfilling solo activities
  • keeping an interesting book by your bed or in your bag or backpack
  • taking an in-person class that interests you
  • watching documentaries or YouTube videos on topics you yearn to understand

Take a few minutes to make a list of people, places, and activities you’d like to dedicate more time to, and start working through that list right away.

When to get professional support

Your relationship with social media may not always be simple, or easy to understand.

If you find yourself getting caught up in the nuances, a therapist may be able to offer more guidance.

How do you know it’s time to reach out? You may want to consider getting help if you find yourself:

  • spending more time focused on social media than caring for your needs
  • experiencing conflict and other challenges in your relationships
  • frequently comparing yourself to others and berating yourself for not measuring up
  • unable to step away from social media despite unwanted consequences

A therapist can offer support with:

  • identifying patterns of problematic social media use
  • exploring underlying reasons for excessive use
  • setting limits
  • addressing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns
  • strengthening your relationship with yourself

Learn more about whether it’s time for you to consider therapy.

Summing it up…

The effect social media has on your mental health often comes down to how you use it, and why.

Case in point: social media can lead you to feel more isolated and alone. But it can also help you connect with people going through similar life challenges or exploring the same interests.

Ultimately, the key to building a better relationship with social media lies in exploring how your use affects you. Small steps and more thoughtful use can lead to an improved relationship with social media and yourself.

Keep in mind, too, that social media apps tend to be designed to keep you engaged and actively using them. So, you might not always find it easy to cut back on your own. If that’s the case for you, a therapist can offer more guidance and support with setting boundaries for more mindful social media use.

This article was brought to you by the Proactive Health Management Plan in partnership with Healthline.

876 Comments
  • Rachel Leyden
    Posted at 10:26h, 14 June

    great article thanks.

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