Maintaining Mental Health on Social Media
By: L. Sahara McGirt
As some of you may know, I'm the Social Media Manager of Stack Up, and I've been using various social media platforms since the days of Myspace and early Facebook. Much of what I do I learned from nearly half a lifetime online. I've been on most platforms and have been within online fandom spaces and even had my fill of trolls. I spend hours online interacting with people on the Stack Up socials and my personal socials, especially my Twitter.
Today is Safer Internet Day, and while this day is usually targeted towards youth on social media, I thought our community could use some tips on maintaining your mental health on social media. Internet safety and mental health maintenance are just as important for the rest of us as it is for anyone else.
Whether you primarily use Facebook, Twitter, Tiktok, Instagram, or various other options out there, I came up with some tips that generally work well on every platform.
Touch Grass - Get Offline Once in a While
So many people hate when anyone says this but get offline, especially when bad news is at its peak. Social Media traffic is most often driven by catastrophe and sensationalism. People don't realize that most platforms count on their users doomscrolling. What is doomscrolling? If you ever find yourself reading bad news and then looking for more bad news to read, you are doomscrolling.
Continuously filling your free time with bad news is bad for your mental health. If all you see is how much the world is falling apart, you're eventually going to have a hard time seeing the parts going well. If all you focus on is how horrible people are online, eventually, that will embed itself within your mind and belief systems, and your mental health will take a toll.
It's never as bad as trends make it seem. Are there bad things happening in the world? Absolutely. Can we do more? Sure. But do what is within your power to do. We're all people online and can only do and handle so much. Take on what you can handle and let go of what you can't. I'm not advising people to ignore the bad things happening out there, but we as people only have so much we can take. If you're throwing your energy into every bad thing happening, you're going to exhaust yourself until you can't handle it anymore.
Spend time with family, snuggle with your pets, play some games, watch some movies, take time away now and then, especially if you are doomscrolling. Try to remember the world offline doesn't care as much about the world online. If your life offline is worse than your online life, or maybe your online life is that much better because that's where you've made more friends and found communities that you enjoy, then the following tips will help you as you navigate and make a place for yourself that's comfortable to stay in.
Curate Your Timeline
Plenty of social media users seem to forget that your experience online is what you make it. Yes, that's what I said. It is what you make it. You have a lot more control over what you see and interact with than you realize. All it requires is making conscious choices over who you follow & unfollow, what you interact with, and how you put yourself out there online.
As much as you like threads and posts about serious topics and bad news, you should also like things that make you happy. As much as you debate other people online, reply to other people who talk about topics you enjoy. Balance out retweeting serious issues with topics you enjoy. Follow people you had good interactions with. Avoid hate following anyone.
Think of following people as choosing people to hang out with at a party. If everyone you follow is constantly arguing and negative or are people you dislike, the party will not be very fun. Balance it out. I'm not saying you shouldn't follow people who have bad days or who have different opinions; I'm saying that you should try to make sure you're interacting with what you can handle.
Everything we see on our timelines leaves an impression. Ask yourself whether your timeline and everything you're interacting with leave a positive or negative impression. Curate accordingly.
Use Your Safety Tools
Learn your reporting, content moderation, and blocking options and use them liberally. Most social media platforms have tools that allow you to mute, block, and even hide comments that you don't want to see. Use them. Go through your settings and check out what you're able to do. Twitter allows you to mute words you don't want to see. Facebook allows you to hide comments. Instagram gives options on allowing comments at all.
Some platforms even have the option to have private accounts. This means you approve your followers, and people can't see what you post publicly. If you're not comfortable with everyone seeing what you post online, this is the option for you.
Some people will argue that you should not put yourself into echo chambers using such tools. But your online experience is what you make it. You have the tools to decide how your online experience is going. Use them.
Think of blocking, muting, and even going private as setting up your boundaries. If you have an interaction with someone that goes negatively, you can block them from interacting with you. If those people get excited about being blocked or muted, or they dislike being blocked and try to get around it, that means they're not great about following peoples' boundaries in the first place. So there's already no loss happening by blocking and even reporting them.
Don't Feed the Trolls
Online trolls have been a strange but sometimes terrifying phenomenon online. As you navigate online spaces, you may discover that some people seem to get joy out of bullying, harassing, and wasting other peoples' time. You may find yourself in an argument with a troll or even a whole group of them. I know it's often difficult to walk away, but sometimes you really should just walk away. Use your safety tools. Block, mute, go private, report, and even stay offline for a bit.
Trolls enjoy causing problems for other people. There is often no reasoning with them. So don't. Trolls are easily bored. They can't bother you if you don't feed them. If things are getting out of hand, report and walk away. It will be hard to do so, especially if they're saying things that aren't true about you. Walk away and get offline. It will only get worse.
Don't be a troll, either. If you're in a debate with someone and they mute, block, or stop interacting with you, understand that means that they don't want to see you and that you should just accept that. It's only a problem if you make it weird and try to get around their blocks and mutes. A major problem online is that people do not respect each other's boundaries, which brings me to my next point.
Respect Other Users' Boundaries
A major problem with being online is that we all have easy access to one another. There are millions upon millions of people online at any given time, and we can all, for the most part, see what one another posts. The problem with this is that the ease of access to other people has caused some people to think they are entitled to that ease of access from one another. Even you may at times believe that without knowing.
You are not entitled to other peoples' online presence, and they are not entitled to yours. It's very easy to end up in the position of becoming a troll without realizing it. If you're in an argument with someone online and find that you're not letting up, especially after someone else has said they no longer wish to interact, whether stated outright or done through blocking, muting, or ignoring you, then it's time to let it go.
Don't become the troll. This will really impact your mental health as every interaction thereafter will be filled with vitriol. I will admit I have been there. I've trolled people online at a time when I was not doing well because I was very angry about life. This is something you also have to understand about trolls. Sometimes they're not happy people. That doesn't excuse them, me, or you from being one. If you find yourself becoming the troll, it's time to examine your interactions and get some help or do the work to figure out why this is happening.
Curate Your Own Social Media Presence
Social media is a constantly moving and changing cycles with millions of people inputting and outputting stuff about themselves. If every single one of us is out there making it a negative experience, it's only going to get worse.
You choose what you post. Post about your dogs, your day, talk about politics, video games, all day, you get to decide what you're posting. Ask yourself if your presence is the one you want millions of other people interacting with. I'm not saying you should be fake or put on a persona, but that as we put ourselves out there, what parts are we putting out?
As you go out there and post and interact today, be mindful of that. Do we want to contribute to making social media a worse place to be, or do we want to put something better out in the world?
Thanks for reading. Go out there and be awesome.