Ask Bodyposipanda: How Can I Use Social Media Without Damaging My Mental Health?
This isn't your usual topic but I thought you would be a good person to ask. Lately I'm struggling with how social media affects my mental health. The comparison, the news cycle, the pressure of what to post myself, all feels like too much sometimes and makes me really anxious. I don't want to quit altogether, but I'm not sure how to build a healthier relationship with it, so my question is: how do you survive on social media without sacrificing your mental health?
I'm going to start this by being completely honest with you: I ask myself this same question nearly every day, and I do not always practice the things I'm about to suggest to you. Sometimes I feel like logging out, uninstalling and never looking back. So for the record: if your mental health is being negatively impacted by social media (and you're not required to be on it for your livelihood), you are allowed to leave. You do not have to be online if it's bad for you. And if following any of the tips I'm about to write below mean unfollowing me, that is 100% okay as well. I would much rather you take care of yourself.
For anyone who hasn't entirely given up hope on the internet and would just like to make it a little more mental health friendly, here's what I've learned over the years from existing online:
1. Curate your feeds. Over and over and over.
You've probably seen me talking before about how important it is to unfollow anyone who makes you feel like your body is wrong, and to make sure you're being exposed to a diverse range of body types instead. But this goes beyond bodies.
I read online once that you should only follow people who make you feel empowered, informed, or inspired. Whether that's about your body, your mind, or your life. And that doesn't necessarily mean every single thing has to be 100% 'feel good' – my feed is filled with a lot of activists who keep me informed and also remind me to be aware of my privileges and reflect on how to do better in my work. Those people are important. But what it's not filled with are photoshopped images of celebrities, lifestyle blogger highlight reels that make me doubt my own every day life, or anyone who sends me into a spiral of negative comparison.
Detox your feed often. Be honest with yourself about the impact following that person has on you. Remember that you are in charge of what you see.
2. Aeroplane mode. Use it.
No matter how curated our feeds are, I don't think that our brains are equipped to process as much information, imagery or ideas as they do when we're logged on 24/7. And I think a lot of what we're feeling right now is information overload. Take a day, a week, or even a month if you're able. We do not need to be up to date with absolutely everything online, nor does the whole world need access to us day-in, day-out. Set your boundaries and stick to them, the world will not stop spinning if you miss your fave's instastories for a few days.
3. Post what you need to see. At the start of the year my online anxiety was at an all time high, I was so terrified of people's opinions that I could barely bring myself to post anything. I decided to write down what I personally wanted to see more of online, and it came down to 3 things: creativity, authenticity, vulnerability. I realised that if those were the things I needed to see, then they were good enough driving forces for what I should be posting.
I decided to try and be more honest about my mental health when I was struggling. To show more creativity in my content, whether that was posting pictures I'd painted or videos that showed more of who I am. And to be more unapologetically myself. Don't get me wrong – I still get it wrong a lot. I am not always my most authentic, vulnerable or creative. But I'm working on giving myself more permission to post what I need to see, or what I needed to see 5 years ago, or what childhood me needed to see. That will always make social media feel more authentic than trying to post what you think other people want you to post.
4. Scroll less, engage more.
What I've noticed the most after 4 years of being Bodyposipanda, is that social media makes it disturbingly easy to dehumanise people. To turn people into accounts. To craft a one-dimensional idea of who someone is that fits neatly into the little square boxes that they post. We don't recognise the full human behind the screen because before we have any chance to connect to that person we've scrolled onto the next little square box.
Social media feels the most hollow to me when I'm frantically scrolling through days of posts because I have to catch up with every single thing on my feed. And it felt the most full, the most human to me when I followed less than 100 people and I spoke to nearly all of them in their comments whenever they posted. These apps are supposed to be tools for communication, they become something else the second we stop engaging with the human being on the other side and reduce them to an account. I would much rather follow less and invest in actual connections more. I would much rather we see each other online as people first, and accounts second.
If you ask me this question again in a year I might give a completely different answer. Or I might have lost faith in the internet, cut off my WiFi and moved to a remote island that's overrun by stray dogs who have no idea what a meme is. Who knows. For now I'm just trying to do better at those four things, and if they feel right to you, let's do them together.
Love & bopo,
P.S. If you like this column and want more advice like this, I wrote a whole book of it! You can find Body Positive Power here.