How (and Why) To Protect Your Mental Health While Using LinkedIn
But for all its utility as a job board and networking tool, LinkedIn is fundamentally a social media platform, which we know can be tough on your mental health, if you use it without guardrails. The ill effects of social media use on self-esteem are well-documented. And while we may associate a correlation between use and lower self-esteem with platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, they extend to LinkedIn, too.
A study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking evaluated 1,780 people in the U.S. between ages 19 and 32 who used professional networking sites and found a correlation between increased LinkedIn use and feelings of depression and anxiety (however, the study couldn’t determine directionality).
Why it can feel stressful to use LinkedIn
It can fuel a compare-and-despair mindset
Part of why going on LinkedIn can feel like an emotional minefield is because of social comparison, a natural instinct to see how you stack up against the people around you. This can be positive and motivating, but it can also negatively impact self-esteem.
“In some cases, we upwardly compare [ourselves] to others," Anjali Gowda Ferguson, PhD, LCP, a licensed clinical psychologist and trauma expert, previously told Well+Good, while in other cases “we might [downwardly] compare ourselves—that is, we compare to others worse-off than ourselves.”
A propensity to compare and despair is largely why Kristin Lee, a 26 year-old tutor and travel blogger, doesn’t use LinkedIn anymore. After graduating in June 2021, she used LinkedIn to apply for several positions but found the algorithmically generated information about how many other applicants applied—and the feature that tells you how you measure up to them—messed with her confidence, she says.
Lee stopped actively using the site last January. And while she briefly considered updating her page to reflect that she’s been tutoring and building her travel blog, she says she hasn’t had the courage, adding that there is something intimidating about sharing her success—or perceived lack thereof—on LinkedIn because it looks different than what she expected.
“We all know that on Instagram and Facebook people are posting the best versions of themselves, but it’s just a very brief moment and it’s more whimsical and not as serious,” she says. “But what you’re talking about [on LinkedIn] are things [like my career and school] that I’ve put a lot of time and effort into. It’s associated with your identity and who you are. You’re putting yourself out there to be judged, and it’s like, ‘Did I live up to your expectations?’’’
"It’s associated with your identity and who you are. You’re putting yourself out there to be judged, and it’s like, ‘Did I live up to your expectations?’"—Kristin Lee, 26, travel blogger
The highs and lows of your LinkedIn feed can create a rollercoaster of emotions
Going on LinkedIn can be jarring because it feels like a collection of high-highs and low-lows. For many (I received numerous responses to my inquiry about peoples’ experiences on LinkedIn for this story) the economic uncertainty of the past several years has meant their feeds are filled with posts from workers who’ve lost their jobs, interspersed with people who have new jobs or promotions, which creates this anxiety-producing experience where it seems like you should be able to thrive at work, even though you know the market is against you at the moment.
“Right now LinkedIn feels much more like a platform for being in your feelings, and it’s just tiring to filter through that.” —Natalie Cantave, 29, hiring manager
Among those affected by recent layoffs is Natalie Cantave, 29, who was let go from her startup job in December. She’d previously used LinkedIn both as an applicant and as a hiring manager, and didn’t find it stressful to use before. Although she just accepted a new role at the end of February, Cantave noticed a change in how using the platform felt when she was job-searching.
“Everything has just felt so heavy and I know it's a social media platform, but especially for people who have experienced layoffs like myself and really want to be able to use it for finding opportunities, right now LinkedIn feels much more like a platform for being in your feelings, and it’s just tiring to filter through that,” she says.
Lee echoes this sentiment, saying that while LinkedIn users post about their career wins and losses, it feels like "it's only the extreme ends of the spectrum like 'I just got fired today,' or you get, 'Oh my god, I'm so excited to announce [a new job], and this is the greatest honor of my life.'" Both Lee and Cantave said seeing these posts so close together was stressful and made them anxious.
As widespread as some of this sentiment can be, it’s important to note that while layoffs are happening in white-collar sectors, like tech and media, they aren’t happening in large numbers to other workers. The unemployment rate for college graduates, for example, has hovered at around two percent over the last year.
But what we see influences our perception of reality, which is why setting boundaries around your social media consumption is so important.
How to protect your mental health while using LinkedIn
First off, try to remember that like many other social media platforms, LinkedIn profiles are curated and don’t show the full picture of someone’s life. Career coach Ashley Stahl cautions that everyone’s professional path has highs and lows, and you can’t be sure of where they are based on what they post for everyone to see.
So while LinkedIn can be a useful tool to network and search for jobs, Stahl advises using the platform in a targeted way and avoiding scrolling the feed. Instead, she recommends users looking to make connections join targeted professional groups and use the search bar to find contacts in specific industries and companies rather than wading through all the available information.
Here are a couple of other things you can do to make using LinkedIn better for your mental health.
Tailor your experience
Catherine Fisher, LinkedIn’s career expert, says you can fine tune your feed to be more relevant to you and hide posts or notifications that aren’t useful. You can also unfollow or mute people, companies, and hashtags.
Set parameters for your personal use
If you decide to keep using LinkedIn, create some guardrails for how you use it. Rather than doomscrolling the feed, make a plan for what you’re going to do on the site before you use it, do it, and sign off.
“If it’s really becoming a problem and you’re not waiting for some news [or a message], you can honestly take it off your phone and just check it on your computer when you feel up for it,” says Tracy Livecchi, LCSW, who also recommends emoving yourself from email lists and turning off or minimizing notifications.
Because LinkedIn is an important networking tool in her industry, Cantave still uses it, but mostly to reach out to others—she deleted the app off her phone, set usage time limits for herself (for example, she doesn’t use it on Fridays), and has been using other job boards like Pallet and ones specific to startups.
Stahl also recommends taking note of which features on the platform make you feel bad, naming the feeling, and making adjustments to your behaviors. Finally, if you feel like your LinkedIn mental health toll is still too high, don’t be afraid to disengage.
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