What to Do If Social Media Is Impacting Your Mental Health

Patrick W.
photo of man on bench in los angeles immersed in smartphone with cap covering face

The desire for connection and to have relationships with others is a basic human need. Extended periods of loneliness and detachment from human bond take a toll on a person that often leads to feelings of depression and diminished self-esteem, which influence our ability to develop and sustain resilience — an important skillset when we face rejection of any form.

The advent and evolution of different social media platforms have provided an outlet for individuals to connect, relate, share and support each other. In this way, social media creates a sense of community and belongingness. When it is used as such, social media has helped build resilience for those needing it most. Unfortunately, most of us know that not everyone uses it in such a way.

Have you ever shared a picture on Instagram, post on Facebook, sent a tweet, or added something to your Snapchat story and obsessively (sometimes unconsciously) checked to see the number of likes, comments, retweets, favorites and screenshots you’ve received? I know I do — I’m just as guilty as the next person. We have all drafted our version of the perfect post or taken our idea of the perfect picture and expected immediate positive feedback in the form of likes, screenshots and retweets because we expect that people will view our thoughts and lives in the same way we do. We experience a rush of dopamine (the feel-good neurotransmitter our brain releases when we experience gratification and other happy feelings) when we get the little red dot notification. When those notifications flow in rapidly, we experience instant gratification, feel validated and worthy of someone’s attention and approval. However, what happens when the stream of likes, comments and retweets run dry quicker than we anticipate? We feel deflated and ignored. I’ve experienced both sides of that virtual stream, and I much prefer the stream that flows uninhibited.

Related:18 Texts to Send Your 'Strong Friend' Struggling With Their Mental Health

The other concerning side to the social media attention craze is that social media worth is based on the number of followers and likes you have. The more you have, the more “street cred” you have. This has set us up to experience a lack of self-esteem. People more often than not post on social media to display a moment in time that shows them as happy, proud, accomplished and so on. Don’t get me wrong — there is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling this way.

However, the consumers of these posts make subconscious comparisons between themselves and the individual who posted to establish a barometer of their own achievements and happiness. This is where we run into true feelings of deflation and negative self-worth. This is where we begin to feel isolated and dissatisfied with ourselves, our bodies, and our own achievements. This is where we begin to lose our sense of personal identity because we strive to feel like we belong. This is where we fall into the vicious cycle of posting, editing and adapting ourselves to fit someone else’s mold that may not be authentic or genuine, simply to seem appealing and worthy of a like, retweet or comment.

Related:How Telling Our Sons to ‘Be a Man’ Can Affect Their Mental Health

“That post/picture/snap/caption is so basic!”

Wanna know why it’s basic? Because someone, somewhere, some time ago discovered that post or pose received immediate gratifying feedback that promoted their virtual popularity. And because it worked for someone else, we have fallen into the trap of copying those ideas because we think it works for our audiences too. This doesn’t unite us. This creates a separation between our true selves and our ideal selves. We are isolating ourselves from ourselves by not appreciating what actually makes us unique — our imperfections, our vulnerabilities and our sensitivities. These aspects never make the Instagram or Facebook feeds, unless you tweet out for the third year in a row that you just filed your taxes and end it with #adulting. Umm, congrats for fulfilling your legal responsibility. (Sorry for the cynicism.)

My point is to not attack or make judgments about those who regularly post on social media. I truly believe it has awesome potential to bring people together and serve as a channel for advocacy and change. I am, however, challenging you to be more aware of how these outlets have impacted your mental health. Be more mindful of your physical environment and engage with those who share your space or the natural world that surrounds you. The virtual world can be turned off by pressing your phone’s lock button or close out of an app. Reduce the time you spend on your phone and start talking to people again. Leave your phone hidden in your car when you’re out to dinner with someone.

Related:What It's Like Being a Professional Patient

There’s nothing better than having a genuine conversation with someone or actually hear someone congratulate you on a recent achievement. The little red dot on your phone or social media app is artificial and superficial. You and your true self are not. You have value, worth and significance. You don’t need your 1,539 Instagram followers (most of whom you probably don’t know well) to validate that your barista whipped up a creative design in your latte. Give your barista a genuine compliment and let them know they are talented. This is the natural form of pressing that little heart on Facebook or Instagram, but it has a more lasting impact.

Read more stories like this on The Mighty:

5 Things I Wish I Knew About Mental Health When I Was Younger

Why the Words ‘You Seem Better’ Can Cause So Much Shame

What You Should Know About the Person Always Wearing a Smile