How to look after your mental health in the social media age

Take care of yourself online and avoid the traps

Social media is a powerful tool and used correctly is a great way to stay connected both in and outside university; however, as more and more people are overusing it, the negative impacts on mental health are starting to become all too apparent. So how can you as a student protect yourself against any pitfalls?

The majority of students enjoy a positive university experience but it is important to be aware that loneliness and feelings of vulnerability can affect you or one of your classmates. At worst these problems can spiral into depression or self-harm.

A growing source of anxiety and unhappiness among younger people has been linked to social media. Social media has significantly altered how we communicate and how we view ourselves and others. In 2017, NHS figures highlighted that 91% of 16-24 year olds in the UK used the internet and social networking sites regularly. There are pressures these platforms can place on you to look or act in a certain way, without you even realising it.

Mental health issues can be magnified by social media use. For example, in recent years we have seen a rise of cyber bulling and trolling which are having a spiralling effect on young people’s mental health, leading to depression and in more serious cases suicide. Many social media sites such as Instagram are also putting increased pressure on young people to achieve perfection, fuelling eating disorders and self-harm.

Comparisons are for car insurance quotes, not for life experiences

Most of us will have insecurities and fears. Social media provides an easy and tempting opportunity to look at other people’s picture-perfect images and experiences. This can erode self-esteem by providing you with the opportunity to compare yourself to others through often glamourised lens.

This can cause additional pressures as you may feel that your university experience falls below that of your peers. This can increase feelings of loneliness, anxiety and exclusion. So what can you do not to get envy blues? Although it can be tough not to fall in the trap of just wishing you were like someone else or leading their life, it is important to put this into perspective. After all, how can you prove that a beautiful looking picture has not been retouched or photoshopped?

We all know how filters on Instagram can make anything look like a million dollars. And even what can appear as the most fun event or holiday can be a well-crafted illusion. So, don’t take what is posted on social media as the ‘real deal’ or real life. 

It’s good to talk. In person

Try and limit your social media use when you are new at university. Spend time with your new housemates and also find out what your university and town can offer. Real-world experiences and friendships will be much more rewarding than a WhatsApp group chat or a comment on Instagram. When you are out with people, don’t become overly preoccupied with checking your phone. This can give the impression that you are more interested in what is on your screen than speaking to them. Instead, put the phone away and be in the moment, enjoy the conversation and dedicate all your attention to them – after all, you might be making friends for life.

Watching videos, commenting on statuses and viewing pics can feel like small bite-sized moments but it is all too easy to do this for several hours. The addictive nature of this entertainment has a knack of sucking us in. You could well spend a whole evening without talking to another person. If you do this regularly it will start to affect your mental health as feelings of isolation and detachment will very likely occur. So once again, the best thing to do is put the phone down, notice what is around you, speak to a fellow student, or just simply relax away from a screen.

Some handy tips to reduce social media use

Most of us don’t realise just how much social media we digest. Why not review how much time you spend checking a device or particular apps by installing a checker app? There are many around and most are free. It might come as a shock to see how much you actually use it; if you’re concerned by the results, then look to reduce this. You can set time limits so that you’re alerted when you overuse your social media apps and devices.  

Regular social media use has a negative impact on people’s well being as it can increase anxiety and the fear of missing out. Bear this in mind when online and you will give yourself a better chance of noticing how your usage impacts on you.  

The most important lesson is to listen to your body and your feelings and realise when you need help

Your university will have support services, so check what they offer; it’s not just for people in crisis. If you are concerned about your mental health, you feel overwhelmed, or if you want to improve your well being, contact your university. The support staff are there to help so don’t leave it until you are feeling desperate. 

Most of all, remember that the majority of your peers are in the same position as you, navigating how to balance universities and studies with a social life, both in and out of a phone screen. And next time you feel like picking up your phone, maybe think twice before doing it.

 

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