I’ve actually considered hiring a personal social media manager as a strategy to help me feel less blue after scrolling into the void. Because no matter what’s going on in my life, when I log on to any platform, I fall victim to either the comparison trap or my anxieties about the state of the world. Watching old classmates live their fun lives after clocking out from their fancy jobs bums me out, just as watching other old classmates overshare about their less-than-enviable situations also bums me out. Happy or sad or voyeuristic (like, say, photos of my co-worker’s vacation), the feelings I have as a result of seeing the content are always the same: negative because it seems social media is negative in effect regardless of whether what I’m viewing is positive or negative itself.
Research backs me up here: A recent small study notes smartphone dependence (guilty) is predictive of loneliness and depressive symptoms, and past research has connected social media with similar mental-health issues. Be that as it may, we live in a world where unplugging is more likely to be a facet of a restorative vacation than a permanent choice. Meaning, I’m almost certainly not going to stop using my phone and/or social media. So what gives? Who, if anyone, should I follow on social media to gas myself up and also avoid feeling triggered?
It turns out this exercise starts with who not to follow rather than who to follow. “Unfollowing friends can be integral to maintaining our well-being and, honestly, can be thought of as a form of self care,” says Goali Saedi Bocci, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of The Social Media Workbook for Teens: Skills to Help You Balance Screen Time, Manage Stress, and Take Charge of Your Life. Doing this whenever you come across a friend (or any account) that makes you feel off or bad can be a healthy means of striking boundaries to preserve your own mental health and relationship with the person running the account.
While there are great reasons to commit to streamlining your feeds for optimum happiness, knowing who, when, and how, is a little tricky. To take out the guesswork, here’s the rundown of whom to unfollow.
Too often, social media is negative in effect—here are 4 situations when you can feel great about hitting “unfollow.”
1. When your friend is thriving and you’re envious
This is particularly true when the person is absolutely killing it in the same arena you’ve set your sights on—career, personal, or otherwise. When you feel unsatisfied in some aspect of your life, it’s natural to not really want to see someone else crushing it. Mute, unfollow, or block—all of these choices can be reversed.
2. When your friend’s account becomes a cause of mental duress
This can take effect in a number of shapes: Perhaps, for example, someone is dramatic in their use of social media, reserving it as a space for unpacking the details of their breakup. In this case, maybe you’ve rolled your eyes so many times, you literally just can’t anymore. Or, perhaps, someone is using social media as a form of personal therapy, airing all their deep (and often dark) feelings, and it’s too much for you to deal with between the astrology memes in your feed.
“I once actually removed an acquaintance who was in a deep state of grieving who then started expressing suicidal ideation on social media,” Dr. Bocci says. “It’s one thing for me to be a mental-health professional in my professional domain, but I can’t wear that hat 24/7.” It goes without saying that if you’ll do whatever you can to help ensure the people in your life are safe in all senses, but the bottom line is you must prioritize your mental health over someone else’s, which might mean harnessing control of what you see shared on social media.
[Editor’s note: If someone you know expresses suicidal thoughts, please refer them to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255. The hotline is an available resource 24/7.]
3. When someone is being guacamole-level extra
When someone is clogging up your feed and grossly #hashtagging #absolutely #everything #they #do, you’re allowed to Kondo them out of your social media life. Dr. Bocci notes that sometimes a person’s social media persona is nothing but exhausting, which can be taxing on you and your relationship with them.
“The self-promotion, narcissism, and so on can be so pronounced, I can hardly recognize people I know anymore,” she says. “I really don’t think they always realize what they are doing. They are caught up in the social media rat race of ‘look at me, look at me.’ And at the end of the day, aren’t mysterious people more interesting anyway?”
4. When you’re going through an especially hard time
In this case, you may consider simply deactivating, because if you’re navigating a breakup, a job loss, a family illness or something just generally shitty, the best course of action is to unplug from the noise because social media is negative too often and you don’t need more negative influences. Reconnect to the in-the-moment goodness of the outside world, and leave performative posting behind.
“We can be particularly tender and sensitive when it comes to certain vulnerable buttons being pressed, and protecting yourself can be important for your daily functioning,” Dr. Bocci says. “If we are really going through a tough time, everything and anything can be triggering. ”
Okay, so who can I follow?
Still want to maintain a social media presence even though you’re done with the majority of accounts you follow? Focus on following those who inspire you positively…especially those you don’t know in real life.
“Often I have found the least triggering people to follow on social media are complete strangers,” Dr. Bocci says. “I know this may sound extreme, but it’s true. Do you ever really compare your life directly to Amal Clooney or the Duchess of Cambridge? Probably not. But that girl you went to middle school with, who you always beat at sports or academics? Now she’s a rising mogul. Not exactly the stuff of inspiration.”
You probably don’t need more evidence that social media is negative a lot of the time. But, to make it a little better, here’s how to deal if your partner hates that photos of your ex are on your Instagram. And here’s why you’re so grossed out by PDA on social media (but LOVE Nora Ephron movies).
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