Everybody’s Talking At Me: Social media and your mental health

Everybody’s Talking At Me: Social media and your mental health

Another day another bloody awareness day, penguins, vegans, sugar.  However this one is worth paying attention to (as are all the others, obviously), it’s Mental Health Awareness Week (#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek).

Social media has come under a lot of scrutiny recently, around the effects on our mental health.  Is Instagram making us all depressed? Is Twitter making us all snarling balls of rage? Is LinkedIn causing us all to become parodies of ourselves.

As far as running a business is concerned, I’m all too well aware that social media, rather than lightening the load, is often just another thing to add in to a busy to do list.  Added to that, time spent on our phones is eating into family time, our relationships and an ability to hold a conversation without checking the latest Brexit tweets.

Whether you are a business owner, marketing a business, expected to use social media as part of your role, or simply scanning Instagram in your spare time, you can suddenly realise that it’s making life difficult.

So here’s the Armadillo Handy Guide to keeping your social media life as healthy as possible.

1. Look for the helpers

Social Media gets a bad rap for its effects on mental health, bullying culture and trolling habits.  But it’s also a wonderful place, full of supportive people who will be more than happy to provide some support or light relief.  On of the great victories of Social Media is that it has shone a spotlight on mental health issues (Mental Health Awareness Week being a case in point) and provided a place where people can share, discover or just hang out.  It has allowed people to talk about their mental health without having to look anyone in the eye. It can be a lifeline to those people who have found social interaction, or leaving the house difficult at one time or another.

Make sure you have identified your tribe to turn to when needed.  I have a list called The Biscuit List, of people on Twitter that I like to read that are guaranteed to make me feel better.

Authors such as @matthaig and @technicallyron are glorious examples of this, and the world is a better place because of them.

2.  Listen out for the echo chamber

I can see how social media can be held responsible for making people’s mental health worse.  Certainly news reports around suicide and self-harm, particularly amongst young people, can be terrifying.  However recent studies have found that it’s not as damaging as first thought, specifically to teens.   What I think it does do, is amplify feelings that already exist.  So if we feel low, social media could make that worse.  If we are fine and dandy, it’s probably going to be OK.

The main reason for this is that we follow accounts that resonate with us, and then we are suggested similar accounts.  Before you know it, you have a feed filled with similar messages and similar world views.  Great in some cases, but potentially damaging in others.

Take a few moments to look at your feeds and pay attention to how they make you feel.  Is it full of unrealistic body images or lifestyles that make you miserable?  Are you constantly finding new things to be angry about?

Try to mix it up a little.  Personally I think the world is significantly improved with dogs in jumpers and @inotternews, but that’s just me.

3.  Watch your screen time

Do you know how much time you spend on your mobile phone?  Honestly?

It’s something that I’m very conscious of.  I am well aware that screen  time and my mental health are related.  I don’t think that too much screen time causes mental health issues, as much is a symptom of them.  I know that if I’m particularly anxious, I will check my phone more often. It’s almost like a nervous tick.

The latest iPhone update has introduced Screentime.  This will tell you how much time you spend on each app on your phone.  You can also set limits for yourself for individual apps, and your phone as a whole.  What’s more, you can also do this for your children!  I still secretly delight at my son’s fury when his phone shuts itself down each night at 8:30.

We have all now heard of social media’s addictive qualities.  Those likes and shares can have the same dopamine hit just as a cigarette, so it’s important to have boundaries.  Try to check your social media at certain times of the day.  It might be over breakfast, with your mid-morning coffee, in front of The Apprentice, but having set times of the day will really help keep it all contained.  More importantly, try not to check your social media while you are also doing something else (if you learn how to do this, let me know how).  Multitasking is a fool’s errand, so if you need to focus on something TURN IT OFF.

4. Enjoy the silence

This is a major one for me.  Social media is my living, so it’s difficult to put it down. However sometimes, the noise can be deafening.  Trying to keep that many clients in my head, answering endless Whatsapp updates and thinking of something witty to say about Line Of Duty can be overwhelming.  There are days when I want to scream into a pillow.  Quite a lot of them actually.

So I try to be extra vigilant about turning if off (I did say ‘try’) and finding plenty of things to do where phones are not required.  Yoga, running, reading.  I’ve tried to replace my phone with my kindle on my bedside table.  As an aside, may I also recommend Box Sets with subtitles, as you haven’t got time to check your phone as you instantly miss what’s going on.

The work life balance is even more important than ever, and even harder to maintain.  Don’t be on 24 hour call, and don’t expect those around you to be on 24 hour call either.  Remember when “I’m sorry, I was out” was enough!

You might also consider turning off your notifications.  That way you can use it when you want to, not when the world is calling.

5.  Keep some perspective

We all know this, but you need to remember that not everything on social media is true.  You may be stressed about work, home, money, family and it can often look like everyone else has got it all figured out – but we really haven’t. Not everyone is making as much money as they say, or living their best lives, and those #makingmemories usually ended in a row in the car on the way home.

Get some social media perspective

6. Prioritise

You can’t do it all.  Don’t feel you have to be an expert on every social media platform.  Pick one that suits you, and what you’re trying to achieve, and do that one well rather than spread yourself too thinly.  Similarly, don’t feel that you have to accept every request or follow every person who follows you.  Your newsfeeds and timelines will end up overrun with rubbish and you’ll be in a permanent panic.  Streamline your Twitter feed with lists, putting certain accounts into categories which will make things easier to keep track of.  You can also get mobile notifications for people who you really don’t want to miss – meaning that you don’t have to keep checking every 5 minutes or worry that you have let something slip by.  Have a look here for more details

7. Haters gonna hate

There are undoubtedly, some wronguns on social media.  They may be people who annoy you, or are more actively aggressive.  Feel free to block.  There’s no law against it and you don’t need to justify it.  If that feels too severe a sanction, there are also more subtle things you can do.  Muting people on Twitter allows you to still follow people but not see their tweets. On Facebook, you can change your newsfeed preferences to hide certain people and pages and prioritise others.

But there is absolutely no need to put up with abuse.  I’ve reported several people for abusive comments on Twitter (these generally followed me saying something about Jeremy Clarkson) and complaints are dealt with swiftly.  Also harassment on social media is taken seriously by the police, if you feel things are getting out of hand and you feel threatened.

And finally ….

8. Use your powers for good

Your phone can also be your friend.  These a huge range of handy apps to help take the stress out of life.  Here are my favourites

Headspace. The lovely Andy will take you through a variety of guided meditations for every woe you may have in your life from sleeplessness, anxiety, grief, or just general life grinding you down.

Runkeeper. Running is great stress reliever and Runkeeper is the best app I’ve found to help you along.  Mainly because I like the amusing voice settings that call out your progress.  ‘Conscience’ is my default setting of choice

Podcasts. I love a podcast and they are a favourite way to relax these days.  There is another blogpost in here somewhere about my Top 10 podcasts but if you’re not listening to David Tennant chat to Olivia Colman, you really should be.

So all in all, social media doesn’t have to be hazardous to your mental health, and it could do some good as long as you, in the words of Jerry Springer,

“take care of yourself, and each other”

To find a list of good mental health people to follow, take a look at my Twitter List

To find out more about Mental Health Awareness Week, visit the Mental Health Organisation website. If you or someone you know is struggling, then call The Samaritans free at any time on 116 123.

What do you think?  Do you think social media has a positive effect on your mental health, or make everything worse?