Recently, I've been thinking long and hard about the impact of social media on my mental health, and on wider society. Recent research by the Mental Health Foundation with YouGov found that from a sample of UK adults and GB teenagers (aged 13-19) one in five adults felt shame, just over one third felt down or low, and 19% felt disgusted because of their body image in the last year. Among teenagers, 37% felt upset, and 31% felt ashamed in relation to their body image. Contributing factors including bullying, social media and advertising, mean that as a society we are prone to constantly questioning our self-worth and how we view ourselves, with the temptation to compare ourselves to others’ posts and photos online.
According to mental health charity Young Minds, ‘negative body image can affect us in a number of ways, and in severe cases can lead to mental health conditions such as eating disorders.’ This is because there is a strong, visual pressure to look a certain way or be a certain body weight to feel good about ourselves. In response to this, there has been a hashtag campaign by #NoFilterNeeded to discourage us from using filters to improve our social media posts.
Earlier this year I decided to take a weeklong social media fast. It was a relief to be away from the pressures of being constantly plugged in, so much so that I decided to stay off a little longer.
However, FOMO (fear of missing out) kicked in and, as a writer, I worried about losing my online presence whilst off social media. I’d also read about Dr Bex Lewis’ experiences of social media, which reminded me of how supportive an online community can be. Dr Lewis is an academic researching people’s views on this topic, she says ‘[as someone] at home with cancer treatment, social media is my lifeline, connecting with others in similar situation, getting advice, managing the dark feelings of treatment.’
So, slightly reluctantly, I started posting again. I wrote a new blog post based on my experiences and re-joined my social networks. Worryingly, I soon started experiencing disrupted sleep. It took longer than usual to get to sleep and I'd wake a few hours later and woke too early with an overactive mind. My brain was adjusting to being stimulated more by blue screens and I felt more tired from processing more information.
It’s taken me a few months, but I’m starting to find the right balance. I’m now regularly posting again, but I’m trying to stick to healthy boundaries. Instead of allowing them to constantly interrupt my day, I chunk my time, checking and posting once a day to Facebook and Instagram, so that the dopamine hit doesn’t become an overwhelming force which takes over my life. By engaging with social media on my own terms and paying attention to my online interactions, hopefully I can find a balance that allows me to experience the benefits of being part of a community without worrying about matching up to the unrealistic ideals promoted online.
Find out more about King's mental health here: kcl.ac.uk/ioppn/research/index
Mind UK runs the mental health forums elefriends.org.uk offering online peer support for adults.
If you or someone you know is in need of help, mental health charity MQ has a list of helpful organisations.
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