Self-help

Mindful Ways to Consume Social Media That Aren’t Harmful to Your Mental Health

Social media can be a great tool to connect with others and find a community you might not have in person – but on the other hand, social media can contribute to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Therein lies the problem. 

Grow Therapy therapist Gregorio (Greg) Lozano III LPC By Greg Lozano

Updated on Apr 30, 2024

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As social media continues to change the world, there’s growing concern about the effects of social media on mental health. According to a survey conducted by Grow Therapy, 100% of the 266 therapists who were polled said that social media use could have a negative impact on mental health in some capacity. 

But social media isn’t going anywhere. If anything, it’s going to keep expanding. There will always be new features and platforms keeping users engaged – and it’s unlikely that people will stop using social media altogether, even when they know it can be bad for their well-being.

That’s why it’s so important to inform yourself on the impacts of social media and how to use it in a safer way. 

The Impacts of Social Media on Mental Health

Social media can be a great tool to connect with others and find a community you might not have in person – but on the other hand, social media can contribute to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Therein lies the problem. 

Social Media is Only #HalftheStory

Larissa May, the founder of #HalfTheStory, hit rock bottom in college, finding herself in a major mental health crisis.

“I remember going to the psych center on campus and realizing that they asked me about drugs, sex, and alcohol, but not the drug that was in my pocket,” she says, likening social media to a drug. “That was when I realized that my own mental well-being would absolutely not improve if I didn’t address the role that technology played.”

Her crisis led her on a journey of personal healing and self-discovery, examining the complicated relationship between social media and mental health. “I had a lightbulb moment that social media was only #HalfTheStory, but there was an opportunity to create a more connected experience through authentic social storytelling,” she says. 

This led to the birth of her #HalfTheStory Project in 2015. May began to share her story with others, inspiring them to do the same. Today, the organization is a nonprofit focused on tackling the intersection of mental health and social media for young people. One of their major initiatives is Social Media U, an evidence-based digital wellness program that helps teens learn to develop healthy relationships with social media. Additionally, May and her team support national and statewide policies on mental health and technology.

The Positive Aspects of Social Media Use

Despite the fact that social media can have detrimental effects on mental well-being, there are certainly some positive aspects, including:

The Negative Aspects of Social Media Use

All of those positives must be taken with a grain of salt. When you don’t use social media in a mindful way, the following negatives can affect your well-being. 

All of this being said, other research, specifically amongst teenagers, suggested that there is not strong evidence that social media use is a risk factor for depression.

Although many studies have pointed to correlations between social media use and some negative mental health effects, further research is needed to truly determine the risks and impacts of social media use.

Research does not indicate that social media definitely and directly causes negative mental health impacts, but it does show links between the two. As researchers from the McKinsey Health Institute survey said, “But correlation is not causation, and our data indicates that the relationship between social media use and mental health is complex.” 

Healthier Ways to Consume Social Media

You don’t have to completely cut social media out of your life to experience mental health benefits. Here are eight tips from May and DeLullo for using social media in a more mindful, healthy way.

Notice How Social Media Makes You Feel

You may be mindlessly scrolling social media without truly understanding how it’s making you feel and affecting your mental health. May suggests taking a step back and keeping a journal of your screen time and how you feel. Take note if you feel bad about yourself, anxious, or depressed after a social media scroll session. 

Understand Active Versus Passive Social Media Use

Using our phones has become second nature. You may find yourself reaching for your phone and clicking on Instagram or TikTok just out of habit. You start to zone out and before you know it, an hour has passed. Sound familiar? This is an example of passive social media use.

May suggests being aware of active social media use versus passive social media use, and recommends having an intention before you log on – a specific goal that will benefit you rather than mindless scrolling. “Not all screen time is created equal,” she says.

Limit the Amount of Time You Spend on Social Media

On top of avoiding passive social media use, you should also make it a goal to spend less time on social media sites. “It’s not always realistic to completely unplug in the digital-first world we live in, so a great step is to limit what and when you consume on different platforms,” says May.

Take small steps and make little goals. Even if you decide to spend 10 minutes less a day social networking, this is still something. A bigger goal can be to go for a full period of time without checking social media. “Don’t be afraid to take a break once or twice a week and just live your life. It will do you much good,” DeLullo says.

If you’re having trouble sticking to your self-imposed rules, you can use social media blocker apps that lock you out of certain apps at times you tell them to. Examples of these are AppBlock and Freedom.

Know When to Step Away

When you’re on social media, make sure you stay mindful. Check in with your mind and your body. If you’re not feeling good mentally or physically, this is a sign to get off now.

“If you feel yourself getting jealous or too envious and your fingers want to start typing negative words, it’s time to take a break from social media,” DeLullo says. To re-center and de-stress after you’re worked up, try meditating, exercising, practicing gratitude, or having some good old-fashioned face-to-face social interaction with a friend.  

Designate Phone-Free Time

May suggests designating certain times or activities as phone-free. For example, if you’re sharing a meal with your friends, you can decide that you’re going to put your phones away. To gamify it, whoever uses their phone first is on dishwashing duty.

Additionally, she recommends making it a habit to start your day off with an hour of screen-free time. Instead of checking your social media feeds first thing in the morning, use this time to do something more productive for your mental health, like maybe some self-care.

Try to Avoid the Comparison Trap

Although it’s much easier said than done, try to avoid comparing yourself to others. What you see is only #HalfTheStory! Someone could seem like everything is perfect in their life based on their feed, but there is way more below the surface. Social media is a highlight reel of curated (and likely edited) photos and videos. People are far more likely to post about the good than they are about the bad. 

Unfollow Accounts That Make You Feel Bad

If there are accounts you follow that always make you feel worse about yourself in one way or another, May recommends unfollowing them. The goal is to limit the harm your screen time does to you. If unfollowing feels like a drastic step, you can mute the accounts instead so they just won’t appear on your feed. 

Do a Tech Tidy Up

“The art of tidying up applies to tech too,” May says. “If you free your tech space, you’ll free your brain space.” On top of tidying up who you follow, May suggests deleting apps you haven’t used in the last three days and turning off all of your notifications.

If your screen is tidy and isn’t constantly lighting up with notifications about likes or DMs, you’ll probably be less likely to reach for it.

Takeaways

Social media affects everyone differently. Your well-being could take a hit depending on how you use social media and what content you consume. Take note of how social media makes you feel, and follow these tips to use social media in a healthy, balanced way. It’s certainly possible to enjoy social media’s benefits while protecting your mental health. 

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
Grow Therapy therapist Gregorio (Greg) Lozano III LPC Greg Lozano

Greg Lozano is a Licensed Professional Counselor who specializes in working with individuals with severe mental illnesses such as depressive, bipolar, schizophrenia, and substance abuse conditions.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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