For most of us, social media is as much a part of our day-to-day life as brushing our teeth or clocking in for work. It’s part of everything—from modern dating to brand-building—and it’s pretty much impossible to avoid. The ubiquity of apps like Twitter and Instagram is exactly why learning how to spend less time on them can be confusing. When you have to open up the apps every day to do your job or find a date, taking time away from them can be difficult, even if it’s the best choice for your mental health.
Most of us who use social media are aware we can follow or unfollow whoever we want on our accounts. But hitting that unfollow or hide button can be a little more difficult in practice. It’s easy to assume we should all be used to social media now and unfazed by how it affects our self-image, but it’s a little more complicated than that, as Tamika Simpson, MPH, IBCLC, PMH-C and Becca Burns, MA explain.
"Scrolling can quickly become a reflection of everything you may feel inadequate about. It's easy to make comparisons and then feel like you aren't good enough," says Simpson. "I frequently hear parents talk about how clean people's houses are on social media or how well they are raising their kids while still maintaining a great appearance. But in looking at it from another perspective, people post the best parts of them. They don't necessarily post when they are at low points."
Meet the Expert
- Becca Burns, MA is an LPC of Taylor Counseling Group,
- Tamika Simpson, MPH, IBCLC, PMH-C is a digital health coach at Ovia Health.
Experiencing Heightened Stress Levels
If you’re feeling a higher-than-usual level of stress, it’s probably time to reevaluate your use of social media and potentially unfollow some accounts. It’s also important to ask yourself if you’re using social media more in response to negative emotions.
As Burns explains, it’s common to use social media as a way to soothe or numb uncomfortable emotions, which isn’t helpful, either. "Often, my clients use social media as a 'self-soothing pacifier' when they’re experiencing uncomfortable emotions," Burns says. "Identifying your triggers for turning to social media can help start the process of reducing the negative impact on your overall health."
Having Trouble Sleeping
Think back to the last time you had trouble falling or staying asleep at night. Did you spend hours before bedtime scrolling through social media and comparing yourself to bloggers, celebrities, or even your friends or family? If the answer is yes, then it’s important to reassess your social media habits.
"Social media use can also lead to less sleep due to blue light and overstimulation," Burns says, "Limit your use to certain times in the day and stick to it."
Even if you feel good about everyone you follow, spending every night before bed on social media will affect your sleep negatively, as Burns points out. Needless to say, you can imagine how following people who make you feel bad about yourself will only exacerbate the effects of late-night scrolling.
Constantly Comparing Yourself To Others
"One of the biggest red flags I sometimes see is individuals comparing themselves to certain influencers or pages," Burns shares.
You might think it’s harmless to follow dozens of "aspirational" accounts on social media. But if you find yourself constantly falling down a comparison spiral, it may only be a matter of time before more serious effects manifest.
Burns says this type of comparison can ultimately lead to "feelings of inadequacy or dissatisfaction with personality, lifestyle or body."
If you don’t like the idea of unfollowing anyone, experiment with adding different types of bloggers or influencers to your social media feed to balance things out. Making sure you’re exposing yourself to different types of bodies, careers, and lifestyles can be a good reminder that not everyone’s life (or body) needs to (or should) look the same.
Feeling A Need For Perfection
It’s easy to scroll through social media and think everyone’s life looks perfect. The danger comes when you let yourself fall into the trap of believing that this image of perfection is reality.
"Just because someone posts a cute picture of their kid dressed neatly with a clean house in the background doesn't mean that five minutes later that same house isn't a mess, or the parents aren't frustrated or exhausted," Simpson says. "Social media is a snapshot in time. It is not an example of the whole picture."
As Simpson describes, if you’re losing sight of the whole picture, then it’s important to reassess the content you’re consuming on social media. Do you need to unfollow people who only share their highlight reel? Do you need to find people who make a point to share their highs and their lows? Do you need to take a break from social media altogether? Sometimes this act of checking in with yourself can make all the difference in building a healthy relationship with social media.
No Longer Being Entertained By Social Media
Sometimes using social media can be so mindless that it’s easy to forget it’s primarily supposed to be entertaining. If your personal social media use has stopped entertaining you, or you find yourself "hate following" someone, it’s time to make some changes.
"If you find you are regularly comparing yourself and it's causing you any anxiety or depression, then it's OK to unfollow someone. It's OK to stop looking," Simpson shares. "It's also ok to take a break from social media for a while. We don't need to be constantly informed about what other people are doing, especially if it negatively impacts us. We can walk away for a while and come back when we feel up to it."
If the idea of unfollowing accounts or taking a break from social media as a whole intimidates you, Burns suggests replacing your social media usage with something else. This way, you have a game plan.
"For example, if you find yourself scrolling on a fitness influencer’s Instagram for an hour after a long day, come up with a plan to read a book, do some yoga, or start a creative hobby instead," Burns says. "Long story short: being more mindful of why, how, and when you’re using social media can help decrease the harmful symptoms that often come with overuse of social media."