Research shows that Instagram is having a detrimental effect on our mental health. In light of Mental Health Awareness week, we share the ways you counteract the problem with our top tips to staying Insta-happy
Words Joy Montgomery
MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK
Mental Health Awareness Week is an initiative from the Mental Health Foundation aimed at raising awareness of mental health issues and providing support to anyone that needs it. Taking place between 13-19 May, this year’s event is centred around the theme of body image, looking at how we think and feel about our bodies. Nowhere is aesthetic and the way we look more scrutinised than on Instagram. Focused almost entirely on imagery, the platform can have a particularly negative impact on body image. Here we share our tips on combatting the effect of social media on our self esteem.
HOW IS INSTAGRAM AFFECTING YOUR MENTAL HEALTH?
FOMO – fear of missing out – is the common affliction of millennials. We’re constantly bombarded by images of other people’s edited lives, making us feel inferior. Yet, the reality is that we’re only presented with the fun, sociable and attractive parts of someone’s week. In comparison, our real unedited lives can feel flat and lonely. The irony is that those people are probably looking at our feeds and thinking the same thing – it’s a vicious circle.
Another illusion of Instagram is the abundance of beautiful people. The social media app is filled with seemingly perfectly proportioned bodies, symmetrical faces and smooth, tanned skin. When exposed to these images hour-by-hour, day after day, our perception of what is ‘normal’ becomes skewed. There is a generation of teenage girls growing up believing they are ugly and fat because of the unrealistic expectations they set themselves. The reality is that many bloggers take hundreds of pics until they find one which is deemed Instagram-worthy. These images are then filtered and edited until they bear little resemblance to reality.
CULT OF COMPARISON
This is something that affects everything from body image and careers, to relationships and holidays. Before social media we had little access to people’s lives, aside from word of mouth and the odd Google search. Now we have a full, shining spectrum of thousands of lives presented to us on one feed. It’s all too easy to get sucked down a hole of comparison, feeling like everyone is more successful, beautiful and happy than we are.
MISSING THE MOMENT
It’s as simple as this: when we’re lost in the world of social media we can miss moments in real life. Ever found yourself filming a band at a concert? Checking your feed at dinner or ‘gramming your food at a restaurant? Even though in themselves, these things aren’t necessarily bad, it can become a bad habit. Focussing on how something will look or be perceived in a post can detract from your enjoyment of the moment itself. It also shuts you off from other people – you spend so much time gazing at other people’s lives that you miss your own in the process.
HOW CAN YOU COMBAT IT?
KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE
It’s worth saying that, of course, Instagram in itself isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a case of changing your mindset. One of the most important things is to keep things in perspective. If you ever find yourself trawling through someone’s feed and feeling rubbish, then remind yourself that it’s not an accurate representation of reality. The important thing is to keep yourself in check. Often doing a different activity – such as ringing a friend or reading a book – will pull you out of the slump.
DO A DIGITAL DETOX
If you’re really struggling with Insta-binging then it might be worth going cold turkey. Decide not to look at your feed for a certain amount of time (this will vary from person to person). But it has to be a dramatic departure from your usual habits. You’ll find that once you cut off exposure you’ll start to crave it less and less. Then when you re-introduce it, try restricting exposure i.e. only looking once a day.
FILL YOUR FEED WITH POSITIVITY
If you always find yourself feeling anxious or inadequate when looking at one particular Instagram feed, then simply unfollow. Instead, fill your feeds with people that inspire you, build you up and act as positive role models. It’s simple: fill your brain with good messages and healthy images then that’s what you’ll aspire to.
PRIORITISE RL RELATIONSHIPS + INTERESTS
Last, and by no means least, make sure you cultivate your real relationships and hobbies. Don’t let your online life become more important than reality. Building and sustaining real and meaningful relationships is an essential part of leading a happy and fulfilling life. Go for drinks with your best mate instead of just commenting on their pic. Book that life drawing class you’ve been daydreaming about rather than feeling envious of other people’s activity-packed Insta lives. Make ‘IRL’ a reality!