On World Mental Health Day, here are 7 ways you can have a more mindful relationship with Instagram
An expert reveals how you can use the app without feeling overwhelmed, depressed or anxious.
However much we try to deny it, there’s no getting around the fact that spending too much time on Instagram has the potential to negatively affect our mental health.
Whether it’s the influencer who owns an endless array of designer handbags, the personal trainer who’s fitted in a gym session before you’ve even woken up or the travel blogger that’s constantly hopping from continent to continent, regularly checking in with the platform’s millions of ‘inspirational’ posts can quickly make you feel pretty #unblessed about your own life.
Even your own friends can play on your insecurities – especially when it seems like everyone else is having a better time than you.
While anyone can fall victim to the illusion of perfectly filtered images, experts say that these pertinent effects are amplified in the youth.
Last year, a study from Royal Society for Public Health revealed that Instagram was the worst social media platform for young people’s mental health and wellbeing, thanks to its association with anxiety and depression, as well as bullying and negative body image.
As this year’s World Mental Heath Day is focused around young people and mental health in a changing world, what better time to think about how you or your children can approach your Instagram use a bit more mindfully?
Here, we asked Tanya Goodin, author of Stop Staring at Screens (tanyagoodin.com), to explain a few golden rules for making your time online more positive, without having to delete your Instagram account entirely.
1. Set limits
One of the hardest things about Instagram is curbing the urge to keep scrolling – which is why it’s a good idea to set limits.
“It really doesn’t matter what your personal limits around Instagram are, as long as you have some – as constantly scrolling on your feed just isn’t healthy,” says Goodin.
“Think about setting rules such as, ‘no Instagram after 8pm’, ‘no scrolling on the toilet’ or ‘no scrolling when I’m hungry, angry, lonely or tired’. Experiment with different types of limits that work for you, but most importantly – get them in place.”
2. Engage, don’t scroll
“Studies have shown that when we actively engage in online communities, rally around hashtags, support campaigns and communicate with friends, it’s the healthiest way to use social media,” notes Goodin.
“Passive scrolling through our Instagram feed, for hours at a time, is what does harm to our mental health, so make a rule that when you look at your feed, you’ll either engage with it or put it down.”
3. Bust out of the echo chamber
Don’t limit yourself to following people who are just like you on Instagram. Goodin explains that it isolates us in an echo chamber amongst people who reflect back our own thoughts and views.
“If the posts that we follow are unhealthy and harmful, they can reinforce our own destructive thoughts,” she says. “Broaden your perspective and actively seek out people from different communities, interests and viewpoints. Getting a different view on issues that interest or trouble you is much healthier.”
4. Unfollow accounts that make you feel anxious or upset
We all love to snoop on other people’s lives, and Instagram plays into our need to curtain twitch, but if you’re following accounts that make you feel unhappy, it might be time to have a digital spring clean.
“You probably have people contributing to your feed that just don’t make you feel good about yourself – and this can be for many different reasons,” says Goodin.
“It’s OK to unfollow people so you don’t have to keep seeing their posts. And don’t forget to use the ‘block’ feature either, on people and feeds that you think might actively harm your mental health.”
6. Post your real life, not your best life
“Don’t be part of the filtered posse,” says Goodin. “Post your real life, warts and all, and not just the best version of yourself.”
Goodin believes that being honest will make you feel better in the long run – and you may just help someone else by doing so.
7. Check in with yourself
Ever noticed you have sore eyes, an aching neck and a headache coming on after spending too much time on social media?
“Check in with yourself before and after your time on Instagram and ask yourself how you feel,” advises Goodin. “Really take notice of your physical reaction as well as your emotional and mental one.
“In the same way that you’ve learned how to read your body telling you that you’ve had enough to eat, learn how to recognise your own signals that you’ve scrolled enough for the day.”