By: Corinne Santiago, writer & Professor of English at SUNY Purchase
If you’re like me, you turn to your phone when your hands aren’t doing anything else. Maybe you’ve been trying to beat a level of Candy Crush for a week; maybe you’re attempting to learn a new language or find a new Podcast for your commute. Maybe, however, you’re in the company of the 3.2 billion others who open some form of social media to pass the time.
Social media has taken over chunks of our daily lives – nearly 2.5 hours of them to be exact, according to the GlobalWebIndex. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter have been steadily growing in users since their respective conceptions, but what effect do these websites have on our health both mental and physical?
When it comes to things like social media’s impact on body image and well being, a lot more research needs to be done before we can come up with anything resembling a “conclusive” answer. It has been proven, however, that things like depression, anxiety, stress, and sleep deprivation are all found in higher rates in people who frequent higher numbers of social media sites. More often than not, it all comes back to self-esteem.
For decades, we’ve had to deal with magazines, television, and movies telling us what we need to buy, do, or eat in order to achieve some unrealistic standard of beauty. Most of these standards are actually impossible considering the rise of Photoshop techniques. Now, all of these unattainable shapes and sizes are in the palms of our hands 24/7.
Ultimately, I see social media the way I see most other things in life: in moderation, you can get out of it what you put into it. Every month, I do a social media “cleanse” so to speak. I un-follow and unlike anything that makes me feel less-than or unworthy. As I scroll through Facebook and Instagram, I remind myself that I’m probably only seeing the highlight reel of these people’s lives. Some accounts are designed to bully and poke fun. I don’t have to look at them. I follow hashtags like #MentalHealth and #BodyPositive that provide me with nuggets of wisdom, comfort, and encouragement after I see an impossibly smooth skinned celebrity.
I purposefully seek out accounts and pages that show me stretch marks and cellulite, people struggling with anxiety or depression and being open and honest about it. Supportive places do exist on social media; one just has to put in the work to find them. If while scrolling, you find your mood taking a nosedive or you start seeing yourself in a negative light, reroute yourself. There are other more positive things to look at and it’s possible that you may need a break entirely. The most important thing to remember is that only you know what you need and when you need it.
Focus on the things you scroll by that light a fire within you – the things that make you feel good about yourself and encourage you to do and be the best version of yourself. Those posts should have more weight in your life than all the photoshopped images in the world.