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How Constantly Using Social Media Negatively Affects My Mental Health

I’ve never been popular. Throughout my life — elementary school, middle school, high school, college and beyond — I’ve been considered a “shy” girl, and sometimes a “sweet” girl, but I’ve never had more than a couple of friends at a time. I’ve always wondered why this is. What is it about me that makes it so hard for others to like me? And honestly, nothing makes me feel the pain of rejection stronger than social media.

Social media is, for me, a sickening drug. It constantly makes me feel bad about myself, and it even triggers compulsive behaviors — yet I’m addicted to it. I check and check and check again, only to feel down about myself afterwards. I don’t even know what I’m hoping to find. I just keep thinking that this next time I check, there will be something that makes me feel better (which hardly ever happens, or if it does, it’s incredibly fleeting).

The ways I feel bad from social media are countless. The biggest thing is how it affects my self-esteem, how I measure my self-worth based on how many “likes” I get. When it undoubtedly comes up shorter than others, I always wonder why I’m so unpopular, and from there, I go down that self-doubt and self-shame rabbit hole again. Not to mention comparing myself to others. She’s so much prettier than me! Look at how fit she is! He has so many more friends than me!  These comparisons are absolute murderers of my self-esteem.

The other main way it makes me feel bad is how it triggers my anxiety and compulsive behaviors. For some reason, whenever I do my routine checks on social media, my mind starts to feel cluttered and unsettled, but in my head, the way to relieve it is to check over and over again until it feels “right.” I also notice I repetitively check my activity log on Facebook to make sure I haven’t done something embarrassing online, even though I didn’t do anything — I just have to repetitively make sure to reassure myself. Even if these compulsive behaviors have calmed down, I notice being on social media spikes my anxiety for a while afterwards.

Of course, social media isn’t always negative. It can be a great way to reduce feelings of loneliness sometimes, or to distract yourself, or to stay in touch with loved ones who feel far away. I bet it can even build self-confidence sometimes, too! But for my mental makeup, it becomes this toxic and addicting thing.

So lately, I’ve been trying to practice self-care in terms of social media. I’ve tried so many different things to help this addiction including journaling how I feel before and afterwards, keeping track of how often I go online. But the best thing I’ve started doing is just leaving my damn smartphone at home. If I have it with me, I just don’t have the willpower to resist looking. It’s become so freeing and liberating to be without it! When I’m at home, I’ve noticed myself even throwing my phone across the room, just to get myself to stop obsessively checking. Unfortunately, it’s not always reasonable to leave it at home, like when at work, when I need to make sure I’m safe, or when I need to be able to get in touch with others. But I’ve been trying to stretch my comfort zone recently, like going on hikes or grocery shopping without it.

Some other things that have helped are having an accountability buddy (my partner will help remind me when it’s obvious I’m getting sucked in), and trying to make my life more full of other activities so I have less of an urge to look (especially since I often look when feeling bored). I also keep reminding myself of this quote by Wendell Berry:

“You mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this:

Rejoice evermore.
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks.
I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.”

I still have a long way to go with my social media obsession, but it’s something I hope to keep working on. The days when I keep my social media usage to a minimum make me feel better and healthier, than even exercising or meditating ever do!

How does social media affect your mental health? What are some strategies you use to keep time spent online from spiraling out of control?

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Thinkstock photo via Anikei.