By Tiffanie Brown, LCSW
Social media has gotten a bad rap. Studies have linked it to teen depression, anxiety, and even increased suicide attempts. But that doesn’t mean that social media is inherently bad. At its best, social media helps you connect with others, express yourself and share information. It just means that it’s important to figure out how to use it in a way that makes you feel healthy and happy.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Here are 7 questions to ask yourself to help you practice self-care on social media.
1. How do you feel after using social media?
The next time you use social media, take a moment to check in with yourself. If you’re feeling motivated, energetic , warm or happy, that’s great! But if you’re feeling tired and less motivated, starting to isolate yourself more, thinking about yourself differently, or concentrating more on your physical appearance, then it might be time to reevaluate how you use social media.
Don’t forget to check in with your body. Being on your phone for a long time can make your wrists, shoulders or eyes sore. Roll your shoulders, shake out your limbs, and give your eyes a rest by looking at something far away for at least 20 seconds. If you’ve gone down a YouTube rabbit hole, take a 10 minute walk and think about when you last ate—it can be easy to miss your body’s hunger cues when you’re absorbed in your screen.
2. What time of day do you use social?
It’s common to look at social media immediately after waking up or just before going to bed. This means that you may be starting and/or ending your day in a negative mindset. In addition, using social media at night when you’re alone can reinforce feelings of loneliness or depression—especially if you’re looking at content related to self-harm or suicide.
Consider avoiding looking at your phone for the first hour after you wake up and for an hour before you go to bed. Bonus: this can also help you sleep better!
3. When do you pick up your phone?
When you’re out with friends and there’s a lag in conversation, or you’re at a party and not sure what to do with yourself, do you reach for your phone? It can be tempting to smooth over awkward moments by checking out or distracting yourself. But staying in the moment with the people around you and giving them the attention they deserve shows them respect and will help you connect with them. Plus, being in those moments will help you develop important communication skills. The next time you have an urge to pick up your phone, take a moment and choose to be in the moment with the people around you—even if it feels odd at first.
4. Are you living in reality?
Everyone struggles sometimes. But more often than not, people don’t post about those times on social media. Remember that other people are not their social media presence. We are all human, which means we all face challenges and sometimes feel alone, anxious or down. That is normal and healthy. If you find yourself comparing your real life to someone else’s curated and filtered Instagram feed, take a step back to remind yourself that what you are seeing is not their whole life.
5. How much of your time is spent on social media?
Think about how many hours you spend on your phone versus sports, hobbies, time with friends and family, school work, and other activities. Are you happy with how you’re spending your time?
If you’re not, it’s probably time to set some limits. When you go on social media, set an alarm. Add a note or description to it with a quote or reminder about why you want to limit the time you spend on social media. If you still have a hard time getting off your phone when you’re supposed to, consider using one of these apps.
6. Do you follow things that help or hurt your mental health?
If there’s a specific person or account that makes you feel angry, upset or down, unfollow or block them! Instead of looking at feeds that bring you to a place of self-doubt or darkness, find accounts that lift you up and make you feel good about yourself. I like Make Daisy Chains’ fun, colorful illustrations of “boring self care” on Instagram, but there are loads more out there just waiting for you to find them.
7. Are you being yourself online?
I always emphasize to patients that they should stay true to themselves. No matter what you put out on social media (or, for that matter, how you act in person), someone will make assumptions about you. And that’s ok. What matters is that YOU like yourself. Think about how you present yourself on social media. Highlight things you like about yourself are true to who you are instead of pretending to be something others want you to be.
Of course, you can’t take care of yourself online if you’re not staying safe. Never share your passwords or give personal information to someone you haven’t met in real life. See more tips for staying safe online here and here.
We talk more about self-care on social media here. Remember that changing habits is hard and takes time. If you want some extra support and are 10-22 years old, make an appointment at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in NYC to talk to a counselor. No judgment, no charge.
Tiffanie Brown, LCSW is a clinical social worker at Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. She has been working with marginalized and underserved adolescents for 6 years. Ms. Brown has received intensive training in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and specializes in work with individuals who are emotionally dysregulated and engage in self-harm and high risk behaviors. Ms. Brown provides ongoing individual, group, and family therapy to the adolescent population, using a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic approach.
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.