A clinical psychologist explains how you can cleanse yourself of social media anxiety and improve your mental health.
Sourdough, wine and zoom meetings. Candles, smoothies and crystals. Stylish desks with chic stationery that has never been written on. Push-up challenges and streamed fitness videos and home gym setups, accompanied by running maps and fitspo pics. I don’t know about you, but my recent experience on Instagram seems as if my feed has been lifted straight out of a Goop shoot. And don’t get me started on the mothers whose children seem to be well-trained robots…
Even in a global pandemic, we feel pressure to live our best lives on the ‘gram.
And despite knowing full well we’re in a global pandemic, where the underemployment rate sits at 13.7 per cent and nobody looks as perfect and unaffected as they do on the ‘gram, we still look at these impossibly perfect images and eat them up. Worse, we allow them to affect us. Why aren’t we looking at all this content for what it has become? Boring!
Social media is bad for our mental health, we know this. Since removing likes and implementing things like the mute feature, Instagram has engaged a few different strategies to help navigate the app with mental health in mind, including partnering with mental health organisation headspace.
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High social media usage is problematic
The issue is, social media is a part of our daily life. It is, as Dr Eric Goodman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of the new book Your Anxiety Beast and You (Exisle 2020) says, “seamlessly integrated into the fabric of society.” But it doesn’t have to have so much control over your mental wellness.
So, while lockdown means the ‘gram content is the same thing on repeat and you can truly say “you’re not missing anything,” why not take this time to Marie Kondo your social media feeds and create a kinder relationship with your apps and fear of missing out (FOMO).
“The bottom line is that we are now more anxious than we were,” says Dr Goodman, who has a kinder, more compassionate approach to anxiety. “At the same time, we live in a culture that loves to demonize anxiety. It is the zen-calm pictures that make it to Instagram—not the worried-anxious ones. Books, blogs, and ‘gurus’ use the language of defeating your anxiety, curing your anxiety, overcoming your anxiety, fighting back against your anxiety! It’s no wonder that so many people view anxiety as a malevolent inner tormentor.”
This, he points out, is what makes us anxious about being anxious –and right now, with the impact of COVID-19, everyone is more anxious than ever. “It’s like trying to douse a fire with a tall bucket of gasoline.”
Use social media for a better purpose: to keep in touch
Instead, try to see it as a glitch that just happens in life, he offers. “Greet anxiety with gentleness and kindness rather than getting into a tug-of-war with it that is unwinnable,” he says. “Compassion has the power to bring soothing to the nervous system whereas emotional struggle creates more suffering.” This also means seeing social media for what it is: personal advertising!
“Social media is a convenient way to keep in touch with friends, family, and to connect with people and information throughout the world,” says Dr Goodman. For those separated, it’s a lifeline to other people–but that’s when it’s being used for good.
“How we use social media can have significant negative impacts on our mental health,” says Dr Goodman. “Research shows that different people are impacted by social media in different ways…From a practical standpoint, we need to ask ourselves how our social media use leads us to feel.”
Be wary of who and what you follow
Be mindful about what’s going in. Are you affected by an Influencer’s posts about her flash of freebies? What about a friend who has a photogenic job and posts amazing photos? The model who has the body you desire (and doesn’t’ seem to be stress eating her way through the pandemic)?
Remember, by looking at these kinds of business accounts on Instagram or YouTube, you’re visiting these people at work –this is a “professional” view. Our collective fatigue with this kind of content is also what’s led to the rise of the innocent and unfiltered format of TikTok, so you’re not alone in your dissolution!
There are ways to use social media without it leading to FOMO
“It is a matter of altering your social media habits in ways that improve, rather than detract from your quality of life,” says Dr Goodman. Take stock: “Is it a painful experience filled with anxiety, anger, sadness, jealousy, or FOMO? Or are you receiving support and compassion while connecting with family, friends, and like-minded individuals? Is your social media use values-based (eg. connecting with friends and family)? Or is it something you feel compelled to do that leaves you feeling worse, afterwards? Are you being treated with compassion? Or are you being abused by trolls?”
“Like it or not, FOMO is part of the human experience and is increased by using social media,” says Dr Goodman. He notes that the pandemic specifically, has created a unique FOMO experience, created by both celebrities and our connections, like those Goop types in our lives.
It “can lead people to feel like they aren’t “doing the pandemic” the right way.” A compassionate and grounded perspective can help. “First, it is crucial to keep in mind that COVID-19 as a utopian experience is fiction! No one is emotionally unscathed during this pandemic—no matter how much they pretend to be.”
FOMO is noise, meet it with diffusion, Dr Goodman suggests. “Rather than spinning with thoughts that someone else has it better, acknowledge ‘I’m aware that my brain is doing the FOMO-thing’ and gently refocus… Don’t follow it down the rabbit hole—that’s where increased suffering lives.”
The next time you log on to fall into the social media abyss, switch your actions to a cleansing one by unfollowing, hitting the mute button, limiting comments, blocking strangers, turning on your screen time or by simply logging out of the app for a bit. Hide your apps in the back of your home screen so it takes four mindful actions to get to it. Better yet, pick up the phone or switch to a different messaging app to stay in touch with the people you treasure and connect with IRL.
Dr Eric Goodman, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, and author of Your Anxiety Beast and You (Exisle 2020). He is a speaker who specializes in helping people face their social fears and anxiety disorders.