Social media and mental health are becoming more difficult to see as separate phenomenons. Whether from a celebrity or a close friend, everyone’s seen it: the announcement that someone is taking a break from social media for their mental health. Some people even go so far as deleting their social media altogether, refusing to be contacted even on Facebook messenger. Why does social media inspire such fervent declarations? And what decisions are people making that lead to them needing to take a break in the first place?

The hard, cold truth of the matter is that as much as we love social media, it’s not always productive to our mental health. There are too many opportunities to compare ourselves and to criticize others. It’s also highly addictive, so even if it makes us feel bad, we may not be able to truly set it down. Fortunately, there are strategies you can enact to ensure you keep your sanity in the age of social media. If you feel like social media is bringing down your mental health, read on to learn some strategies for using social media in a healthy way.

Take Stock of What You Like About Social Media

There’s a reason so many people get truly addicted to social media. It answers a craving in us that we may not have even known was there. For many, that craving is human connection. Others love discovering new things using social media. Personally, as someone who immigrated to a new country and lives far away from my friends and family, social media is a great way to keep up with them without hounding them every single day.  But not too long ago, I realized that the way I was using social media was having a more adverse effect on me than social media itself. When I decided to revolutionize my social media, I decided I would only focus on what I liked about it.

I find social media a great way to find out about things I care about: new books I want to read or movies I want to see. I really like following artists on Instagram and finding out about things that way. So when it came time for me to do my social-media re-vamp, I looked at what brought me anxiety and what brought me joy. Anxiety: anything pressuring me to buy something or achieve a capitalist dream. I unfollowed almost every beauty and fashion blogger, who had previously dominated feed. Also anxiety: people from past jobs or school that I no longer talked to or cared about. Yet I was taking time to watch their stories every day, and often leaving in a worse mood than I’d been in when I opened Instagram.

The things that brought me joy were books, cute animals, art, and interior design accounts. I went into those hashtags and found plenty of #bookstagram accounts to follow. I filled the rest in with interior design aggregators and a LOT of cats. After cleansing my Instagram from the things and people I didn’t actually care about, I can honestly say it’s a 200% more enjoyable experience. You have the freedom to unfollow people.

Look At Your Social Media Habits

When it was time for me to think about Instagram, I also had to think about how my social media habits were affecting my mental health. And as much as I love Instagram, it isn’t even my biggest love-hate relationship. No, that title belongs to Twitter.

I often found that in moments where I had more than one minute of spare time, I would open Twitter and see what was going on. This was almost never productive, and created a need in me to see MORE content all day long. Twitter was also the very first thing I looked at in the morning. Often times before even eating breakfast.

Does this sound like you? Then there’s a good chance social media is definitely affecting your mental health. Here’s how you can fix it:

  1. Use a Timer

Spending hours on any social media isn’t productive for anyone. Not only is it distracting, it’s impossible to enjoy the experience. Social media is no longer a part of your day to catch up, but interwoven throughout your entire life. If you’re addicted to social media, consider using a timer. I personally use Stayfocusd for Twitter and Facebook, and Strict Workflow for shorter spurts. If you’re on your phone, check out Offtime. The timer can enforce what you cannot.

2. Sleep with your phone or laptop in a different room

This is something that will make a HUGE difference. If you’re using your phone as your alarm, it’s so much easier to reach for social media first thing in the morning. If you can’t control the problem, just remove it. Not only does sleeping with your phone in your room have adverse health effects, it also increases the temptation to post and consume first thing in the morning. I’ve adopted a policy of not looking at my phone or social media until after I eat breakfast, and my life is much more peaceful because of it.

Consider Why You’re Following Who You’re Following

I touched on this previously. But if you’re just following people because you have always followed them, don’t. You should only follow people you actually want to see content from. Now, you probably shouldn’t unfollow your mom, but that kid who lent you a pencil in 9th-grade geometry who only posts pictures of his truck now? Unfollow him. If someone’s content is causing you more stress than enjoyment, it’s absolutely not worth the headache.

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In fact, being more careful with who you follow might be a better way to add more meaning to your social media interactions overall. What many people are missing from their social media mental health journey is intent. What do the things you consume nurture in you? Following random people in hopes they’ll follow you back isn’t a healthy strategy. Be discerning with what you choose to consume. Not only will it help you have a healthier relationship with social media, it will help you build better relationships

Realize That Social Media Might Not Be the Problem

For some of us, social media isn’t what’s actually causing our problems. It’s that social media is exacerbating other problems that already exist. If you, like many people today, have an anxiety disorder or clinical depression, Instagram posts highlighting someone else’s vacation or professional achievement can feel like a personal slight. But that’s never what it is. Remember that looking at someone’s social media is like watching a highlights reel of their life. It is always, in some way, performed.

Part of being able to handle social media is having the strategies in place to handle life in general. Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are bombarding us with new information every single day of our lives. It’s totally normal that some might not be able to handle it. But having pre-existing mental health problems can certainly make that worse. Take care of yourself first and foremost.

Consider Deleting It Altogether

Some people know that good social media mental health for them means not having any at all. And that’s fine. There’s no law that says you have to have an Instagram. If you find it too difficult to walk the line between “fully addicted” and “healthily using”, then you have full permission to delete it. They do still write newspapers, after all. Social media is not a requirement for living. If you can’t have a healthy life with it, you don’t have to.

Taking Control of Your Social Media and Mental Health

When I talk to my friends who are also struggling with their social media and mental health, most of them report feeling the same way: out of control. They feel like the content they consume is controlling their emotions, but they can’t stop looking at it. For many of them, the answer to taking back control of their own emotions was reduced consumption time and making more of an effort to spend time with real people.

If you’re addicted to social media, that’s definitely a good place to start. I also recommend reconsidering who you’re following and swapping out content that makes you anxious for content that nurtures something in you. There is so much content out there. It’s possible to have social media in your life that improves the experience overall. All it takes is a little breathing room.

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