7 Ways To Protect Your Mental Health When You Use Social Media
By Cassie Shortsleeve
Social media can make us feel all sorts of conflicting ways, from anxious and isolated to connected and excited. Most research, however, suggests that social media can have an overall negative impact on mental health depending on who is using it and how.
There are, however, ways to make your experience online positive, including setting limits around your usage. In order to be mindful about social media use, you need to know when you’re getting overwhelmed or triggered, which is easier said than done.
Do you feel yourself getting agitated after a while on TikTok? Do you notice negative self-talk bubbling up after scrolling for a certain amount of time? Those are signs to take a break. Just be patient with yourself. It takes time to learn your cues and to practice taking breaks. Keeping tabs on how social media impacts your emotions is a learned skill that simply takes time.
Once you start to home in on those feelings, here are seven ways to make social media feel better.
Connect With Others
Instead of aimlessly scrolling, spend your time online DMing a family member you haven’t talked to in a while, leaving a positive comment on a post from someone who is struggling, or starting a thread with a group of friends. The “social” part of social media is one of the biggest mental health benefits out there. Research continually shows that people who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression and a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life.
Join an Online Group
Private Facebook groups, online communities, and safe forums—such as a group focused on a health issue you may be struggling with, a support group for a particular challenge you’re facing, a group dedicated to a niche hobby you have, or the your favorite band’s fandom—provide a place for connection, community, support, and resources. Just remember: There are all kinds of groups out there, so be sure the one you choose encourages healthy and positive behaviors that leave you feeling better, not worse
Set Some Boundaries
It’s important to know (and respond to) signs you’ve had enough time online, but boundaries can also help you keep a good online experience from morphing into a negative one. Here are some limit-setting strategies to try:
- Track your time on apps. Some apps have built-in timers that can help you track your time and set reminders to exit the app. You could also set a timer of your own to be mindful about usage. (Pro tip: If you tend to ignore the timer, set one in another part of the room or house. Getting up to turn it off can help break the social media spell.)
- Turn off push notifications. Notifications are designed to get us to check apps, which increases the likelihood that we’ll start scrolling. Turning them off can help you stay off apps.
- Moving social media apps off your home screen. That can make you less likely to use them.
- Set up “no phone zones” and “no phone times” where you don’t use your phone, such as your bedroom after a certain time, at the dinner table, or Sunday mornings.
Connect With People IRL
If your afternoons are spent at soccer practice or taking walks with a friend, you’ll have less time to overdo it scrolling. You’ll also be making in-real-life friendships and bonds, which are a key part of physical and mental health. Having people you can turn to helps you feel more connected and less alone, and it can decrease your stress.
Focus on Facts
Even though it can certainly feel like it, social media is not real life. Posts are designed to grab your attention, not be a reflection of life outside the app. Remind yourself of these facts if you start to feel down:
- Social media apps have strong algorithms that control what content makes it onto your feed.
- Influencers are paid to post, wear certain things, or look certain ways.
- Brands pay to target you with ads.
- Filters and apps that change people’s appearances are common, and they’re regularly used to make people look different than they do in real life.
- Friends post only their highlights and share when they’re feeling their best.
Clean Up Your Feed
How does scrolling your social media feed make you feel? Take note of how certain people you follow or specific posts leave you feeling. If it’s yucky, unfollow them and fill your feed with accounts that make you feel good. Consider following different kinds of accounts, such as:
- Photographers who post shots of nature
- Experts who post motivational quotes
- People who share both the ups and the downs
- People who reflect all different body types and sizes
- Silly accounts that make you laugh, such as animal videos or funny memes
- Accounts that share awe-inspiring imagery, such as waterfalls and mountains
- Educational content that helps you feel more informed
Know When You’re Struggling
If you try all of this and you still feel down in the dumps when you’re online or you can’t kick the habit, it’s OK. Social media is designed to keep you on the app. Sometimes, however, a mental health condition can color your experience—and the most important thing you can do is ask for help (or get a friend help if they’re struggling). Depression, anxiety, disordered eating, and suicidal thoughts should never go ignored. Contact a mental health provider, text HOME to 741-741 for a free, confidential conversation with a trained counselor any time of day.
If you—or someone you know—needs help right now:
- Text or call 988 or use the chat function at 988lifeline.org.
- If this is a medical emergency or there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.