A social media detox isn’t going to fix you
Content Warning: This article discusses topics of mental health which could be distressing to some readers.
It’s easier to shift the blame to social media when we’re feeling down rather than working on ourselves, but no one is going to progress by using social media as a scapegoat to avoid their personal issues. It’s time to ask ourselves, did social media really create these insecurities or were they already within?
Why we think social media is toxic
In recent years, social media has been in the limelight for the negative impact it has on mental health, with growing concerns due to studies showing links to loneliness, depression and anxiety. This has lead to popular platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and Facebook being labelled as toxic and harmful.
There are a variety of reasons why someone might think social media is toxic:
Comparison: the feelings of inadequacy that arise after being inundated with enhanced images of unachievable beauty standards as you scroll, or the growing concern as you watch others hit milestones you’ve yet to achieve.
FOMO: the fear of missing out you experience after seeing highlight reels of friends and family enjoying flashy events and experiences.
Overexposure of negative news: bad news spreads quicker than good news according to recent research, and it only takes less than five minutes of bad news to lower your mood.
While statistics show a correlation between social media usage and mental health conditions, it's important to recognise that social media is not necessarily the cause - it simply facilitates access to content that triggers these emotions. In many cases the struggles we have with our mental health predate our use of social media and by placing the blame solely on these platforms we're letting ourselves fall victim to feeling a sense of helplessness, instead of looking at the deeper, underlying issues that may be the root cause of our problems. After all, we are the only ones responsible for our own wellbeing.
If you're noticing yourself getting upset at specific content as you scroll it's time to ask yourself why this is bothering you, before hitting the all-too-familiar "deactivate account" button focus on why you feel that way. A good way of doing this is journaling, return to the present moment to reflect on your feelings. There are many benefits to journaling, numerous studies have shown that writing in a journal can reduce anxiety and keep us mindful, and by doing this you can understand why certain content you consume triggers negative emotions which allows you to take the necessary action to avoid feeling that way.
Social media isn't the problem, the problem is low self-esteem. If you go to a new city full of beautiful people are you going to blame the city for making you depressed because you feel insecure? Issues with self-esteem usually stem from childhood, meaning the foundations of your insecurity were probably already there before you created your Instagram account, so taking a break isn't going to undo those beliefs in a click of a button.
"Low self-esteem often begins in childhood. Our teachers, friends, siblings, parents, and even the media send us positive and negative messages about ourselves. For some reason, the message that you are not good enough is the one that stays with you."
Being online all the time isn’t healthy, of course. Putting your phone down and having regular breaks to focus your energy on hobbies, meditation and the real world is important. However, taking a week long break where you deactivate your account isn’t the “detox” you think it is, what use is ridding yourself of negativity for a short period of time if you decide to return to the same feeds that made you feel like you needed to leave after you’ve perked up?
Rather than blaming social media for being unwell, it's important to take responsibility for our own mental health and wellbeing. Social media is what you make of it and while low self-esteem can cause depression, social media only makes it easier to access the content that makes you feel this way if you let it. This means being mindful and taking steps to manage our usage in a way that supports our mental wellbeing. Luckily there are plenty of ways we can fight the algorithm and turn social media into a tool to uplift us:
Be selective with who you follow: The most important thing you can do is stop following and interacting with accounts that upset you. Is keeping up with the lives of celebrities and influencers really worth sacrificing your mental-wellbeing if it’s almost impossible not to compare yourself? Follow accounts that make you feel good, and interact with them! All it takes is sharing a few videos of raccoons to your friends until your feeds are made up entirely of cute animals. Make sure to follow a mixture of feel-good accounts, this can include pages that make you laugh, share good news, educate and inspire you.
Mute people: If you're worried about drama that may be caused from unfollowing a friend whose posts have a recurring theme of getting you down the mute button can be a godsend.
Turn off likes: Instagram introduced the ability to hide likes in 2021, a simple yet effective step to reduce how obsessive we can become over seeking validation from that little heart. Alternatively, turn off notifications for socials altogether and login on your own terms.
Use social media for social support: There are tonnes of communities at your fingertips, join the groups that align with your interests or experiences and engage with members in a way that feels uplifting and supportive.
Seek help if you need it: @headspace, @drjuliesmith and @michellcclark are good accounts to follow centred around mental health support but if you're really struggling with mental health issues consider seeking support from a professional.
Remember to practice self care offline! Make time for activities that promote mental wellbeing, for more methods on how you can improve your mental wellbeing follow this link.