I’ve read a fair few things this week (blog posts, articles and tweets) which talk about the impact of social media on our mental health. Not in the sense of how it often leads to us comparing our underwhelmingly average lives with the jet set who live a life of luxury, but in the sense of how having an online audience (big or small) can open us up to harsh criticism on every aspect of our lives.
Oh, you forgot your reuseable cup and got a Starbucks on the way to work? How dare you contribute to the destruction of our planet! You haven’t featured your friends on your stories as much as you used to? I bet you’re a terrible friend and they’ve had enough of you. You’ve re-stocking your wardrobe for autumn? How irresponsible is that, you should buy less!
There’s no denying that there’s currently a huge pressure on social media to perform as perfect zero waste, woke machines who only post content that fits with what the audience demands. Of course, it’s kind of impossible to do this because often our audience are conflicted. While some will want to see what’s new in shops (and get frustrated when you feature the same item multiple times), others will HATE seeing new outfits all the time and complain that they never see you rewearing items.
Being critiqued on every single thing we post can have a huge impact on our mental health. It forces you to question who you are, and what you stand for. And when everyone is shouting at you to change, it can be easy to get swept up in the comments and lose sight of what really matters to you and what you’re happy to let slide.
Social media can be paralysing, in a way. When you get caught up in the criticism and trolling, you can begin to question everything about your content. Does this image look to posey? Is that dress really something I would wear IRL? Will my followers think I’m fake or pretentious? Why can’t I write an engaging bloody caption? Am I sharing too much, or not enough of my life? Do these people really know me? Why do I care about their opinions so much?
Whenever I get swept up in an overwhelming feeling of doing everything wrong on social media, I take a break and I think about those last two questions. Do these people really know me? Why do I care about their opinions so much?
The answer to the first question is, obviously, no. Most of the people who follow me on Instagram have never, and will never, meet me. Sure, it’s good to know when you do something wrong or make a faux pas but if I feel my anxiety building around social media I remind myself that it’s just images on a screen. It’s a snapshot of my life, a fleeting moment that I’ve captured to share and it’s not all that I am.
The second question is one I ask myself regularly, and you should too! Why do we care so much what strangers on the internet think of us? When I’m feeling rattled, I click through to people’s profiles and when I see little to no information on themselves I remind myself that I shouldn’t place any value in their opinion. If they’re keeping their lives so under wraps, why should I care about their opinions about what I choose to share online?
While I would never say that the responsibility is with content creators to take charge of their space, we don’t live in an ideal world where everyone is respectful and polite so it’s good to have some measures in place to ensure social media doesn’t have too negative of an impact on our mental health.
Personally, I like to have very strong and easily defined boundaries when it comes to what I share online. My boyfriend very rarely features, he’s not a part of my content and so I will only share snapshots when we are at press events or on holiday together.
When it comes to friends, I have some who are content creators and some who are not. I tend to not share much of the time I spend with friends, I like to have it as down time away from social media. If I’m at a press event or brunch with social media friends, I may share it but it’s not a focus of my content and I like being able to switch off and spend some real present time with people.
Having a strong sense of what I will and won’t share helps me to have a grip on what people can (and can’t) have opinions on about me. It also helps me to see social media and blogging as separate from who I am as a person. It’s a hobby that I love and enjoy, but it’s not the full picture of who I am. When I then get the (very rare) criticism I feel able to remove the emotion from it and decide whether or not it’s an opinion I care about. It feels like less of a personal attack and more of a critique of my ‘online persona’. Maybe it means I share less of that type of content, maybe it means I change my behaviour and make it means I say F them and continue on as I have been.
At some point when Instagram, YouTube and Twitter became popular I think a lot of us were duped into thinking we needed to be our whole selves online. That we wouldn’t have an impact, or be authentic, unless everything was shared. Every friendship was shown, every relationship celebrated (and mourned if it ended), every purchase laid out to be analysed – with everything adding up to whether or not we were worthy of the stamp of being ‘real’.
It’s important that we are true to ourselves online, but it’s equally important to have strong boundaries and to feel confident and secure in who you are. As tempting as it can be to seek validation in social media comments, audiences can be so fickle and some people just won’t like you. So whether you have 10 followers (including that account you set up for your cat) or 10,000 remember that your mental health is important and setting boundaries can be the perfect way to bring joy back to using social media.