Around 4.62bn people use social media across the globe. That figure is extraordinary in itself. Then consider the information being delivered by those people, and it feels almost, or as good as, infinite. Which is why online networks such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter can become difficult spaces to navigate, even just trying to identify what is real or fake. Attempting to find the positive amid the chaos is challenging to say the least.
We should be mindful of what we consume and how much, with studies continuing to link screen time directly with heightened chances of depression. Take, for example, a study by medical researcher Brian Primack who found that heavy users of social media (at least five hours per day) were three times more likely to suffer depression that the lightest users (two hours or less a day).
And yet, despite all of this, if you know how to use it and where to look, social media can genuinely have a positive influence on your life. From inspiration for better health and well-being (physical, mental and financial) to finding a community of like-minded people, it is possible to make social media work for you. Here’s our tips on making positive use of the social media platforms that dominate our world...
Be a mindful social media user
Social media can be a minefield of misinformation and trolls, and neither are conducive to positive mental health and well-being. However, a Harvard study by research scientist, Mesfin Bakalu, found that as long as you are mindful of how routine social media use is affecting you, its use can help to feed positivity into your daily life.
Bakalu also says that it is important that you avoid emotional attachment with the online world, which can manifest in negative habits such as excessively checking your apps, or feeling disconnected when you’re not logged in. And, what’s more, he suggests than when you think about how you are using social media, you can easily make it a positive part of our daily routine. In more general terms, these findings suggest that as long as you are a mindful user, routine use may not in itself be a problem. Indeed, it could be ‘beneficial’ he says.
If you routinely think about what you choose to view online, you can begin a process of elimination that lets you focus more on the things that make you feel good, as opposed to allowing social media to cause you feelings of jealousy, anger, or sadness.
Bakalu adds, ‘For those with unhealthy social media use, behavioural interventions may help. For example, programs that develop ‘effortful control’ skills – the ability to self-regulate behaviour – have been widely shown to be useful in dealing with problematic internet and social media use.’
So, in short, if you are mindful of your negative habits, you can make sure your social media routines are a benefit to your mental health and well-being. By being considerate about how something reflects on your day-to-day life, you can identify what needs removing from your online social spaces, and can replace it with more positive content or voices.
Make interaction the focus
Mindfulness when online also applies to who, or what you include in your social network. By staying focused on forming connections with like-minded individuals or overcoming barriers of distance and time to remain in contact with friends and loved ones, you can strengthen your in-person networks, which will reflect positively on your daily life.
It can often feel as if some of what you see and who you hear from online does not reflect the type of people you like to socialise with in real life. The algorithms that determine what you see on your timeline can sometimes discourage interactions with people you would otherwise enjoy hearing from. It’s something that, according to Derrick Wirtz, a Psychology Professor at British Columbia University, is an integral part of your social life.
In a study focused on how social media affects sense of happiness, Wirtz observed ‘passive use, scrolling through others’ posts and updates, involves little person-to-person reciprocal interaction while providing ample opportunity for upward comparison’.
In order to use social media as a positive tool, he argues you need to make efforts to have direct interactions with the people within your networks and avoid comparing ourselves to what you see on your timelines. Wirtz explains, ‘viewing images and updates that selectively portray others positively may lead social media users to underestimate how much others actually experience negative emotions, and lead people to conclude that their own life – with its mix of positive and negative feelings – is, by comparison, not as good.’
According to Wirtz, leaving a comment, or sending a message to someone who you relate to or empathise with, can boost our sense of connectedness, and in turn our happiness and well-being.
If you remain aware of how you interact with your networks, and consciously make an effort to have positive conversations with like-minded people, as you would in the real world, social media platforms can help us to improve our well-being and mental health, instead of hindering it.
Let positive content inspire you
The nature of what content you allow on to our timelines can have an impact on how you feel. The platforms you use have made ‘scrolling’ their main focus. When your timeline is flooded with negative content, or things you don’t really care about, it can feel like social media lacks positivity. However, if you are selective about what goes onto them, time spent viewing your feed can actually improve how you feel.
According to an article by Ross Franziska, an author at Mental Health First Aid, there are steps you can take to make platforms such as Instagram a positive influence on your life:
- Unfollow accounts that lead you to feel negative emotions.
- Follow more accounts that make you laugh, smile, or feel good.
- Be active - engage with people.
These steps might seem simple, but by cutting out online content and accounts that make you feel sad, or jealous, and replacing them with more uplifting, inspirational or motivational posts, you can help yourself become more motivated, and focus inwardly on your own well-being.
These platforms now have features that allow you to hide content from certain accounts, remove suggested posts so that you only see content from accounts you have chosen to follow, or simply block them altogether so you don’t ever have to see or hear from them again.
How your social media makes you feel is dependent on the type of content and people that you choose to follow. A strong network of like-minded voices can lead to interesting conversations, new ideas and inspirations. By being selective of the content you choose to see, time spent online can lead to positive feelings.
But it’s down to you to make these choices, and keep up a level of attentiveness that will allow your social media to improve your mental health and well-being for the better.
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