Social Media has irrevocably changed our lives. Since the dawn of its invention, everybody has had their own opinions on how to use these platforms. I grew up with the scrutinization from older relatives for “always being on my phone,” and often resented my father for taking my phone away when it was past 10 pm. People were convinced—and still are, that the younger generation spends way too much time on social media, and as a result, suffer from its effects on self-esteem and overall mental health.
As a college student, I use social media all the time—and I’ll admit—probably more than I should. At my lowest of times, I tried taking breaks from using Instagram, Facebook, and other social media as a means to improve my self-esteem. Yet, regardless of how my mental state improved, I consistently felt like I was “out of the loop.” I even once missed my friend’s birthday party, because my friends assumed I saw the invitation on Facebook.
After every week-long break I’d attempt, I found myself re-downloading the app, this time determined to achieve the happy balance I’ve been striving for: staying connected with friends without letting the effects of comparison, photoshopped images, and unrealistic lifestyles that flood my feed deteriorate my self-esteem and mental health.
However, according to a recent study from The University of Delaware, there may be a step in the right direction to achieving this balance without having to remove oneself completely from all of social media. Researchers found that the content and context of our online interactions are what truly determine our overall well-being outside of social media, more than how much actual time we spend on these apps.
The study surveyed more than 100 college students and found that those experiencing positive interactions online are more likely to have positive social interactions outside of social media, and those experiencing negative interactions suffered a greater amount of negative effects in overall mood, mental health/well-being, and self-esteem.
These findings contradict what I believed my whole adolescent life: my lack of self-esteem is from spending too much time on social media. Although there is a line between using social media often and spending an unhealthy amount of time on an app, the true determining factor in the effects on self-esteem lie in the type of content we immerse ourselves in.
So, before I rush to delete all my social media apps in attempt to improve my mental health again (which still serves as one solution, albeit a challenging one), I can start by simply changing the online environment that I participate and interact in. Here are some steps I’ve been practicing to cultivate a more positive online experience, in hopes to project this positivity into my real-life interactions as well:
1. Stop following people on social media who make you feel bad about yourself.
By removing posts from your feed that spark self-comparison, promote diet culture, and present photoshopped pictures, your social interactions online can become less self-critical and resemble more of what real people look like.
2. (follow up step to #1) Follow people who promote a positive message.
The body-positivity and self-care communities are one of the benefits to social media. Replacing self-esteem reducing content with that of an uplifting and supportive online community can be empowering.
3. Go a step further and block accounts that make you feel bad about yourself.
Hate seeing unrealistic appearance ideals? Or certain celebrities promoting “detox” teas? By blocking them, you can be sure their content is free from your feed and create a more positive environment without having to actively avoid their content.
4. At the end of the day, remind yourself that social media is the highlight reel of everyone’s life.
Even unedited photos can be misleading. Good lighting, angles, and posing misconstrue reality without digital editing. The ways to represent one’s life in a simple square image can greatly distort the reality of the life they truly live.
We can take back control from the effects of social media a lot more than we think we can, based off who we follow, what pictures we like, and what accounts we interact with. The more steps we take to create a more positive online social life, the better our real lives can be in terms of self-esteem, mental health, and overall well-being.
There can be great benefits to social media, such as keeping in contact with loved ones and finding other like-minded people who care about supporting mental health. However, these pros can only be reaped if we use social media in a mindful way.