Make Social Media Work For (Rather Than Against) Your Mental Health
- David Israelian
- May 23, 2018
Concerns about the negative impacts of social media have dominated public debate. However recent studies show there are clear health benefits to being online and connected.
That’s right. Facebook isn’t all bad for your mental health.
Actively interacting with people — especially sharing messages, posts, and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions — is linked to improvements in well-being.
First Manage Those Pesky Notifications You Receive On Your Mobile Device
Over 60% of people see social media content on their smartphones. This can be a can of worms. Notifications from Facebook, for example, can create endless distractions, and if you’re already a Facebook junkie, it can disrupt the normal flow of your day. A good idea is to go into settings and turn off notifications for certain stretches of time requiring your full attention. Another is to only allow notifications to be sent at a specific time.
Another good idea is to move your social media app icons on your phone farther down to the right. That forces you to scroll over one or more times to open it. That will make you less likely to go to your app at inopportune moments.
Relieve social isolation and loneliness by opening up new communication pathways
Social media offers the chance to connect with others, and offers enough anonymity to allow people with mental illness to express themselves safely. The privacy anonymity that screen time offers means it’s safer to publicly express your thoughts or talk about personal experiences in ways that you otherwise may not do in person.
Take full control over your privacy and anonymity
Emotions expressed on Facebook can affect your mood. It can even provoke instances of elation or depression. In some ways, exposure to Facebook has been called “emotionally contagious”, and if can affect even your mental health. And now there’s research data to back it up, and there’s a term to describe it. Social psychologists call it emotional contagion. Keep this emotional contagion positive by preventing the negative kind, and you can do this with a few steps.
While it’s true that social media is far too often used as a playground for cyber-bullies and trolls, that doesn’t necessarily have to be. All social channels allow you to set privacy settings. You can decide just how much of yourself you’re comfortable to reveal and to whom. It requires that you be specific and intentional about who can see you or your content, and who allow interacting with you. Here are specific ways you can do this.
If you already have a personal Facebook or Twitter account, create another, separate account. If you’re not comfortable using your name, create an alias. If you don’t want to use your own photo, use one of your pet dog, cat, or an object. If you want to be creative, make a graphic or logo instead of a selfie.
If you want to vent, a perfect place is by an anonymous Twitter account.
If you want full privacy, set it to 100%, and this won’t stop you from taking part in discussions with full anonymity if you choose.
You have full freedom to decide only close friends or family can see or respond to your posts, and no one else. For more on how to do this on Facebook, try this article by Wired magazine.
For Twitter, go here.
For Instagram, go here.
Take full control over what you see
“The mind is a garden, and our wills; our gardeners” – Shakespeare
We hear much about algorithms these days. Algorithms look at the content, posts, and people you have been engaging with, to determine what to show you on your feed. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram will show you less of what you hide and more of what you engage with. Engage with care!
Curate your social media feed to benefit your mental health. We take in a lot from social media, and it’s important to protect our mental health by taking control of what we view! Unfollow social media accounts that have you feel bad about yourself. You can think of your news feed as a garden, where you must constantly be on the lookout for weeds and remove them on a regular basis to keep your garden flourishing. Only follow and friend accounts that provide encouragement, inspiration, genuine humor, and or useful information.
Don’t feel guilty about regularly uncluttering your feed by unfollowing or unfriending certain people. You can also block certain people from viewing or commenting on your posts. You can do all this in Settings.
Inspire healthy lifestyle changes
We’re kidding, right? Actually no. Social media can be used as a motivational tool to achieve healthy lifestyle goals such as quitting smoking or attending the gym on a regular basis. Announcing a goal via social media and regularly posting about it promotes accountability to others, creating positive reinforcement from friends and stimulating an online “social support system” which may lead the aspirant to form or join other communities dedicated to similar pursuits. This is a classic case of “positive emotional contagion.”
Research has proven that sharing a goal publicly not only promotes accountability but helps one to stay focused, and dramatically increases one’s chance of success, whether it be weight loss or sobriety for recovering addict/alcoholics. Provided you carefully select who to follow and interact with you, you can count on positive reinforcement when you announce a goal.
Ignite uncensored discussions on important issues
The media tends to shy away from discussing certain controversial topics. These include issues about mental health, prevention, and the need for change. Social media doesn’t have to be merely a cesspool of fake news and trolls. It provides the necessary opportunity and a forum where we can have uncensored discussions about issues that matter. As for the occasional haters, you know that you can block them. If you want to create your own discussion forum, many places let you do that for free. Reddit and Quora are just two examples of them.
If you’re feeling bold enough to host your own Twitter chat, here’s a twitter chat 101, an excellent article on how to get started.
Make social support and interventions possible
A common dilemma among people with mental illness (including depression) is the reluctance to talk to people closest to them about their problems. More and more young people are turning to the Internet for health advice, including topics such as contraception, acne treatments, etc. Far from being a singularly-destructive force in their development, social media can, in fact, do quite the opposite.
On Instagram alone, there is an abundance of places where you can receive a diet of motivational messages, healthy advice, online peer support, and information useful for recovery or seeking help.
Build community by Joining Local Meetups
Did you know that Meetup.com is a social media channel? Although one of the most widely used for things such as these, Meetup isn’t the only place to connect with local organizations, groups, and clubs, or to network with people having similar interests. Nowadays all social media provides the geo-location feature that allows you to filter for events that are only local. These may range from people who share a love of playing bridge to groups for recovering addicts. Try Facebook Groups, for example.
Find Online Support From Facebook Groups
A billion people now are regularly using Facebook groups. There are numerous support groups hosted on Facebook. There are plenty of support groups for addiction recovery, depression, bipolar disorder, and more.
You can also easily set up your own Facebook group, and all you need is a business page or personal profile. For more information, go here.
Strengthen existing relationships
Meetup.com is just one example of how social media can build new relationships. Social media (and not only Twitter) can also help manage relationships, especially with those who live far away, thus breaking down geographical barriers. It can also be helpful at maintaining relationships for those with disabilities, such as elderly individuals, and people with physical handicaps that limit mobility and prevent travel outside the home. Far from increasing isolation, social media can provide alternative means of finding support, even helping to lift depression, and as Meetups have shown, can provide a healthy excuse to go outside rather than stay cooped up indoors or hunched over a computer.
Now Addressing The Downsides To Social Media
Completely Avoid Screen Time 30 Minutes Before Bedtime
Insomnia is no joke, and recent studies show that the widespread use of smartphones is worsening it. The brain naturally creates the hormone, melatonin, that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Light from video screens at the usual bedtime will affect the melatonin production, which in turn gives the body the impression you aren’t ready for sleep.
To make matters worse, the screen emits a light that suggests to the brain that it is still daytime, which also disrupts the biological clock. Research shows that people who go to bed immediately after time spent on the screen are prone to insomnia and sleep deprivation.
Avoid screen devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime to give your brain a rest and the correct signal that it is time for sleep.
Keep That Phone Screen Away From Your Bedside
Keeping one’s smartphone close to the face is harmful in more than one way. In addition, it subconsciously creates the impression that if it’s not time to go to sleep yet, whether you’re aware of it or not, which can further disrupt the sleep-wake cycle.
All this is not to mention that all smartphones emit a low-level radiation similar to a microwave oven. Sleeping with a phone next to your bed is exposing you to this over 6, 7, 8, or longer hours, depending on your sleep. There’s a reason why we’re often advised to not stay to close to a microwave while it’s running.
Keep your phone on the opposite side of the room when you sleep. This will help you avoid the temptation to reach over and grab your phone.
Taken together, these are a starter list or tips and ideas that you can run with. In order to make your social media work for you, only requires a few proactive steps. Do these, first, and enjoy the benefits later. We will write more on this topic in a future article.
Neutral – good and bad
Upsides to Social Media
- Mental Health