I have tried to write this article several times now. I keep going back and forth on what angle I want to take.

The irony of it is that the reason I’m so paralyzed is because I keep getting stuck on social media as I go into a research wormhole. This feeds my anxiety and paralyzes me so that I end up staying on social media even longer. It’s self-sabotaging and monstrous. It’s what so many of us go through these days.

Does this sound familiar to you? I bet it does to a good number of you. That’s okay. You’re not alone. In this article, we’re going to go there. We’re going to talk about how your social media depression is real and more importantly, how to deal with it.

So what is going on? Why do you and I get stuck?

Here’s the scenario: I’m on social media, looking for research about social media depression and while I’m there, I’m dealing with trolls, debates, tweets from friends and celebrities seeming like they’re living perfect lives. The one that feeds my anxiety the most is reading about successful peoples’ habits. It just reminds me of how bad my own still are.

Nothing paralyzes me with anxiety more than feeling like everybody else is doing better than I am. I know some of you feel that way too.

A study in 2018 showed a causal link between the degree of social media use with the degree of depression and anxiety. Basically, the less the participants used social media, the less depressed they were and the exact opposite also held true with a higher use of social media being linked to higher levels of depression.

social media and depression study

We Need to Talk About Your Social Media Habits

Let’s be clear. Social media in and of itself is not the problem. It’s merely a tool. It’s a tool that can be useful and has become necessary in some people’s lives and careers.

The problem is that it offers the potential for bad habits that lead to us feeling our worst. Our self-esteem plummets as we watch everybody else doing what we wish we were doing.

We feel horrible about ourselves as we pretend to be somebody we’re not. And we cocoon ourselves further into an isolated world we build for ourselves as we get pulled deeper and deeper into the vortex of the newsfeed.

Filtering Real Life

No matter how bad things are, we can edit our lives to make them seem amazing. You could be depressed in real life and feel like nothing will ever be okay, but on social media, you only show awesome things.

You create a new life for yourself that doesn’t even exist. It only takes good lighting and a cool looking background.

Those Instagram models who look like they are living an amazing life? Yeah, not necessarily all of them are.

They will spend hours taking and retaking photos for one post, posing in strategic ways. They will put their friends and family on the backburner to maintain their Instagram presence. They lose the sense of who they really are.

Sound familiar?

That’s the kind of thing your depression and anxiety clings onto. Living our lives through Instagram, Twitter or Facebook often makes us feel worse about ourselves as they impact our relationships and social connections in the real world.

FOMO and Jealousy

How often do we look at other people’s social media and feel left out or jealous because they didn’t invite us to do whatever activity they’re posting about?

We make ourselves feel bad and let the FOMO (fear of missing out) get to us. This makes us feel worthless and there goes our self-esteem, plummeting even further.

We never stop to think that maybe, just maybe, it’s not as fun and cool as it seems. Just like we like to make things look better than they are, it’s very likely that the same thing is happening with the people who are making us feel left out.

Nothing is ever as it seems on social media, but we take it in and we internalize it, letting it affect our mental health and self-worth. This increases our anxiety and keeps us in that depression vortex.

Affects Concentration and Motivation

Speaking of productivity. Social media can be a productivity killer if we don’t use it right. How often do you put your phone down? Do you look at Twitter or Facebook while you watch Netflix?

It turns out that not only are our social media habits affecting our mental health but they also affect our actual attention span. The more we use social media, the smaller it becomes.

So, what does this have to do with depression?

Oh, my friends, a short attention span affects our concentration, which in turn affects our focus and this causes us to procrastinate. It’s more difficult to focus on the things we have to do so we turn to social media, which supplies us with shots of dopamine.

We become more drawn to chasing that addictive feeling of getting a notification. It helps us numb our problems. Any project that’s due or test that needs to be studied for can be put off just a little longer. I’ll just post one more tweet. I’ll just leave a witty comment on a friend’s Instagram post real quick.

Before you know it, it’s an hour or two later and we’ve been stuck in the social media addiction blitz as we get notifications, fret about how much worse our lives are than everybody else’s and maybe even play a few games, which deepens our addiction.

So now, we’re not only depressed and anxious about our lives but we are behind on all the things that could help us.

We haven’t meditated or worked on building better habits.

We haven’t worked out, we haven’t made a healthy meal plan.

We haven’t done any of the things we need to do to feel better.

It can feel hopeless, right? Trust me, I know. That hopelessness makes it even more tempting to keep going back to social media to get our fix. Thus the world goes round and round.

It doesn’t have to be that way. There is hope.

How to Deal With Social Media Depression

Like I said before, social media is only a tool. We shouldn’t put the blame solely on the machine. We are the ones who run the machine. We have more power than we allow ourselves.

Social media itself is still useful in so many ways. It can improve our lives if we use it in better ways. We can stay in touch with friends and family around the world. We can use it to promote charities and non-profit organizations. It can be a great networking tool.

Let’s not throw the baby out with that bathwater, shall we? We can have our InstaCake and eat it too. If we moderate our use of it and practice better habits, it can be a force for good in our lives.

So how do we do that?

1. Social Media in Moderation

Moderating your time on social media can be done! Get on a schedule. Buy a planner or print out a free daily schedule you can find online.

Try to only schedule one or two hours a day for social media use. If it is part of your job or business, keep track of how much time is needed for professional use and keep it to that amount of time in your schedule.

Don’t schedule it all at once if you can help it. It might be harder to switch to something else if you‘ve spent more than an hour on social media as opposed to something like half an hour at a time. This is a psychological hack that really works.

2. Turn Off the Newsfeed

I can attest to this one. The newsfeed will pull you in. It can suck your soul dry. Not only does it make it easier to compare yourself with others but that is where most of the controversial content is. That’s where debates start. That’s where troll encounters happen the most.

It’s also a good idea to make your content private so that you don’t show up in any public newsfeeds. Trolls find a lot of people that way. If you are using social media for work or exposure, then you must use the ignore, block and mute button liberally. Do not hesitate.

I recently found out that you can mute keywords on Twitter. Do you have any idea what a game changer this is?

I just started using it in the last couple of days but it has already made a drastic difference. Not having that temptation to debate or to go through a wormhole has significantly decreased the time I spend on Twitter.

3. Turn off Notifications

This is what feeds that dopamine hit. Turn those little things off. It’s amazing how much this little feature sucks us in. Dopamine is a powerful drug.

When you don’t see every single like or comment or mention, you can go about your business and get things done. The notification can split our attention and is one of the biggest reasons it affects our attention span so dramatically.

Ask any tech person who works in the social media field. They want you to be addicted to those notifications. It’s what keeps you on there longer. They work hard to make them addictive. Knowing that is the first step to taking our power back.

4. Productivity Apps

We have done a few reviews of these here at Mellowed and I want to reiterate how helpful they can be. If you find it difficult to block yourself from Twitter or Facebook, these apps will do it for you and take that choice away. It’s absolutely liberating.

I’m on a Mac and the one that works best for me is SelfControl. It blocks out every domain I put on the blacklist and it doesn’t back down.

I can restart, I can log out and log back in, I can shut down, I can beg, plead, borrow and steal. It holds strong and doesn’t grant me any access at all while the timer is going. It helps me stay away when I need to.

PCs have a lot more options. Freedom seems to be the most popular with ColdTurkey being a close second. Most of them also have apps for your phone.

freedom mobile app

The main feature to look for is full site blocking. For example, if I type in twitter.com, I want the blocking app to block any and all URLs that feature twitter.com. If I can get around the block with a technicality, it’s useless.

They should also offer to block apps and offer a strict, no-getting-through block where you can’t just restart or get around it in some way. Believe me, you will try. You need this thing to be iron tight. I often test mine and it always passes the test, thank goodness.

5. Social Media Fast

Every once in a while, go on a two to five-day social media fast. This reminds you of life outside the social media landscape and strengthens your self-discipline habits.

When I shut everything down for a few days, I find that I’m more mindful and more interested in fulfilling things that are good for my soul like interacting with people, face to face. Being in person with people can be pretty cool.

Make it more difficult to access your social media profiles for an easier fast. Log out, erase the password from the password keychains in your computer and/or phone and it becomes cumbersome to use.

It’s surprising how easy it is to lose interest when you have to look the password up every time you want to log in. The blocking apps discussed earlier also help. It’s a double-locked door if you use both the password hack and the blocking software.

This Ted Talk by Bailey Parnell is a useful resource for further research and help with moderating your social media habits, implementing social media fasts and bringing balance back into your life.

Are You Suffering From Social Media Depression?

There’s a lot to process here. I know. I can’t tell you how difficult this was for me to write. I had to take a long, hard look at myself, my social media habits and my mental health.

I had to admit some hard facts to myself. I feel better having done it, though and I have already made my life better by putting better social media habits into practice.

We are more than these screens that are constantly in our faces. If we aren’t careful, it’s very easy for these screens to become our world but that’s not reality. The world is not what we see on social media.

Social media depression is a real thing but so is a cure. You and me, we can do this. Let’s give it a try.

(If you are contemplating suicide or self-harm, please reach out. You can chat with somebody who can help or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Don’t feel like reaching out? Please, at least read this https://www.metanoia.org/suicide/. Your brain is tricking you. You have value. Please stay.)

Author

Rachel Rumbelow is a freelance writer who specializes in personal development, grief and depression management. She is a widow who lives for yoga and coffee. Laughter is her favorite medicine as she strolls through the streets of Toronto ever searching and learning new ways of finding fulfillment in a world where loss, joy and wonder somehow exist together.

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