I’m in a committed relationship, and have been now for a good few years. Don’t tell my boyfriend, but my mobile phone and I are getting very serious. It’s the last thing I look at before I go to sleep, and the first thing I look at in the morning. We never really spend much time apart, it’s either in my hand, in my bag or sitting beside me, patiently waiting for me to pick it up and use it. But the real reason I use my phone so much (read: too much) everyday, is because of social media.
My phone is home to all my social media accounts; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, WordPress, Twitter, Depop … the list goes on. When I’m not scrolling aimlessly through these apps, I’m waiting for a notification so I can pick my phone back up and re-join the online world. But it’s only recently that I noticed not only how much I use and rely on social media, but how much of an effect it has on my mental health.
Social media is great. We can use it to keep in contact with people, apply for jobs, find the perfect filter for a selfie and it can be a way to make us feel good about ourselves. The information that we upload is selective, we choose what we want to share with everyone. We pick the moments and the news that we want to put online, and crop, edit and filter it until we are happy with how it appears. It gives us control over our life and our appearance, allowing us to portray a persona that we may not be feeling when we upload the tweet or picture from our bed. And that’s completely understandable, I do it too. Why would you want to make a status or a tweet telling everybody the details of a bad passage in your life?
Yet it is easy to forget that everyone does this. Everyone picks and chooses what to crop, filter, upload and post for all to see. So what we see when we’re scrolling through Instagram, is an image that that person thought was good enough to share with everyone. A Facebook shows the highlights; graduation, first job, relationships. These profiles and pictures don’t mention the time when they were stressed about their exams, or when they didn’t feel like leaving their bed.
When you’re not feeling up to scratch, or having a hard time with your mental health, social media can be your enemy. Recently I was going through personal issues that I couldn’t escape from. It was all I could think about, and I found myself turning to social media for assurance and comparison. But instead, it only highlighted how badly I was feeling.
When a picture of one of my friends, looking happy and content, came up on my feed, I felt even worse that I wasn’t as happy as her, and that I couldn’t just switch off these feelings I was having. When I read articles that came up on my feed, I instantly linked it to my troubles, even though there was no correlation between the two. Social media can be used as an escape, yes, but it doesn’t lead you to safety.
It is important to understand the negative effect on our mental health, whether you’re struggling with it or not. When you’re going through mental health problems, anything and everything you see on your screen can be a reminder of what you’re not feeling, or what you haven’t achieved. It can be a reminder of what you’re going through, and how much further you have to go.
I learned the hard way to let social media go for a little while. What you see when you’re scrolling is what people choose to let you see. Very rarely is there a backstory given behind the pictures and the posts. Not only is it unfair on ourselves to expect us to constantly be as happy as the smiling picture that has over a hundred likes, it is unrealistic to expect this. Nobody is happy, or successful, or filtered all the time.
When you’re going through something, be it anxiety about a relationship or body troubles, put the phone down. Remember that what you see and what you read is not entirely true. It’s only one side of the story, just like what you’re going through. Stop scrolling and cursing yourself that you don’t feel the same as how these people appear to feel in their pictures. Social media has the power to warp our perceptions of each other, and ourselves. Next time you’re struggling, exit, log out and go offline for a while. You’ll feel the benefits, I swear.