Social Media, Mental Health and Living Your Best Life

Social Media isn’t reality, did you know that?

It feels like recently there has been a lot of acknowledgement that people tend to post a ‘best of’ of their lives of Instagram and Facebook- nights out, impressive meals, pretty hotels etc. and that can sometimes make us feel bad about our own lives; that we are perhaps not exciting enough, successful enough, interesting enough.

More people now, possibly in response to this, post more mundane / normal things on Social Media (if you want to know what I’ve eaten at any given time check my Instagram stories and there will be a not very attractive meal that may or may not have some nutritional value to it but to be honest is likely to involve cake, because I’m a fitness instructor and like to fuel my body with foods that provide it with value but I also really really like cake).  That’s good right- fewer perfect lives and more normality will make people feel less disheartened?

But actually does it?  Is my account any different from someone living their best life?  I would say my social media is reasonably warts and all, I post the days I eat the food I planned but I equally post the unplanned cake and chocolate.  I post pictures on nights or days out but my Twitter account, which is basically a tool for complaining to Northern Rail about their ever worsening service, demonstrates that my daily commute is far from glamorous and my days are simply long most of the time.  Yet even I unwittingly self ‘airbrush’ my own life.  In what ways?  Well, obviously not everything I do or eat gets posted, so I might not specifically hold back certain things and post others, but what I do post can’t totally reflect my day or who I’ve seen / spoken to or how I feel (I’m a historian by degree and we will tell you that all historical accounts are subjective so this isn’t something new with the advent of Facebook).  If I’m feeling a bit anxious or down for whatever reason I’m a lot less likely to post anything, so it’s not that I always feel OK and sarcastic as my accounts may suggest, just that my response to not feeling on top form is to withdraw a little rather than tell the world.  So even if you follow people who are pretty open and honest you still don’t see everything.

This make me sound like I’m not keen on Social Media but that isn’t the case at all.  I use many forms frequently and find the positives outweigh the negatives for me personally most days.  But nothing is cut and dry.

Social Media allows fitness professionals to talk to people openly beyond the clients in their gym and there are many excellent fitness professionals, both well known on Social Media and those only known more locally, who provide great insights to people for free.  This can potentially then encourage someone to go and seek out more advice and make huge strides in their fitness journey.  Equally, advice and posts could be misunderstood or someone could take advice that was meant for a different demographic to them and not get the results they want.  So positives yes, but we also need to be careful about what we say and promote.

Social Media can connect people who would otherwise not have met and provide opportunities to get advice and mentorship from such people and allows businesses to connect with clients on a more human level.  Equally it can cause debates and misunderstandings as people don’t know each other to understand why they have those opinions or view points because their situations are different. It often appears easier to argue with someone you never have to see and that can create an environment where people feel more able to say things they wouldn’t in person.

Social Media has opened up conversations around mental health.  Now I’m still a little dubious about this.  I like how people feel more comfortable talking about it.  I am less keen on how sometimes when people do post things about their own mental health they can be met with well meaning but not necessarily helpful reactions.  It’s tough to know whats really going on behind even the most honest of status.  I think being aware of the emotions of the people we talk to daily is a better way to show support to others.  Watching out for the signs that suggest that someone is maybe a bit stressed or anxious is possibly going to be more helpful on a realistic level.  However well meaning, we aren’t doctors or health care professionals and whilst listening to people express their feelings on Social Media can help both break down barriers and make the person in question feel heard / better understood, it also encourages us to offer advice – which might end up being helpful but equally could not be. Our feedback could end up being harmful to the person posting. Nonetheless the reduction in stigma surrounding mental health issues is a positive thing.

Social Media can help keep you motivated.  I know of many social media accounts which responsibly promote building a healthy mindset and teach hacks and systems which allow you to approach life’s challenges and which don’t try and fix whether you are ‘happy’ or not (if you are interested I can direct you to some people). Equally however there are well meaning posts that show a happy picture and a quote about only wanting to deal with positive vibes.  Those posts are probably normally quite personal to that individual and reflect what they are feeling at that moment and are not a dig at others.  Yet I sometimes feel they could have a negative effect on people who maybe at that point do not feel positive.  Because let’s acknowledge that depression means you don’t always feel positive but that this doesn’t mean you are a ‘negative’ person.  In reality we all have days when we don’t feel 100% positive and that doesn’t make us negative people.  Sometimes we don’t need to be told to be more positive we just need to be able to vent or have a rant and clear out our mind / work though our thoughts. When we post on social media we don’t always think how our words could be interpreted by others, nor can we be held responsible for how someone else takes our words of course – this is just another one of the double edged swords of the medium.

Like real life, Social Media isn’t all great and isn’t all bad – it’s messy and can be viewed differently day by day.  So in reality how we respond to anything whether it be something showing someone’s ‘best life’ or someone posting something real and honest is going to depend on how we feel ourselves that day and on any given day the same post could be viewed as inspirational and motivational or equally something which makes you feel a bit shit. That’s our internal reflection of what we see more than what is actually posted.

So yes, sometimes accounts may only show the best bits, but I think all accounts however honest and real can affect people in different ways regardless iof intention.

How do we deal with that, because for a lot of us, Social Media is a part of life and just dropping out isn’t necessarily an option we want?

Well in part I think just acknowledging that Social Media is always a life through a filter or a censored opinion – even when we think it’s totally real- it’s just not possible to be 100% real via a computer / phone or photo, even when you try. I go back to history as my example, as a historian all sources are tainted by subjectiveness – be they propaganda materials or diaries and personal testimony.  

Some people are more honest and open in how they use Social Media though so you could look to pick people to follow who match with your values and make you feel better / empowered rather than crap – people who will talk to you, respond to questions with honest answers.  If there are people on your feed on any site who make you feel rubbish you can remove them or mute them (because you may not be able to remove your mums neighbour three doors down without causing awkwardness in the supermarket).

If we choose to use Social Media for positive it can be a great addition to our life, it just needs to be something that we are aware of how it affects us and react accordingly to that. That means breaks when needed and setting boundaries that work for us (because everyone’s limit will be different).

Beyond that, I believe working on our own emotions and head space is a really important thing. How we train, eat, feel can be impacted by Social Media only so much when we are in the best place we can be at the time. How often does a post trigger you into a mood on a bad day but on a good day you’d find the same thing funny? That is why when I don’t feel so great I spend less time talking on Social Media. It is also why I haven’t just invested time and money into my physical well being but I also work with a trainer on my mindset as well – our wellness is a much more rounded package than just our bodies.

For me systems and creating habits in the real world, which help me respond differently to triggers than I used to is the key to then feeling healthy towards what I see on Social Media (and beyond).

This blog started as one thing and then sort of meandered elsewhere so apologies for the random nature of what has essentially been a mind dump on how I feel about Social Media and mental health, but as I said I have systems in place that help me process my own thoughts and sometimes this blog ends up being one of them … so here it is a very public social media style way of considering social media.

Also – sometimes we just do nice things and want to post them for people to see. So as reflective as I have been sometimes we really just had a nice holiday and want to share!

Would love to hear your thoughts – whether you agree of disagree!

2 thoughts on “Social Media, Mental Health and Living Your Best Life

  1. I remember during toward the end of grad school (around ‘2010), I seriously thought something was wrong with me (more than normal). I had this feeling because everyone constantly was posting how well life was going, especially with writing their dissertations and preparing for their thesis defenses. I was only until I chatted with one of my classmates that I learned she more or less had several mental breakdowns. You know not have known that if you followed her FB page. My take is that you should never compare yourself to what folks are doing on social media because they rarely talk about the bad things. That’s totally fine because some people only want to keep their pages filled with positive things.

    Liked by 1 person

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