Social Media, Mental Health, Body Image and You

Having only been around for about fifteen years, it didn’t take long at all for social media to become an integral part of our daily lives, ranging from a means of connecting with friends and strangers, to sharing views and opinions, following political and social trends, selling products and services, and generally keeping on top of the world around us. However, whilst social media has multiple positive applications, studies show that it can take a toll on our mental health and overall wellbeing.

Recent research found that teenagers in particular now spend an average of 2.6 hours a day on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and other platforms, which has been linked by some academics to an increase in depression and anxiety within this age group. Whilst this doesn’t apply to everyone, especially when you take into account that social media helps many people to discover new things, express themselves and actually improve their social skills, it’s definitely food for thought.

The link between social media and reduced mental wellbeing in adults and children alike is primarily due to cyberbullying, reduced sleep, a lack of exercise and the habit of spending time online rather than outdoors or in social environments. Still, two other major factors that affect many people of all ages are body image and lifestyle envy, which aren’t new problems but have swelled significantly over the last few years.

Before social media, there was always a lot of chatter about celebrities and models being Photoshopped to look flawless, whether that was cleaning up their skin tone or tucking in their waistlines using digital editing. Sadly, through social media the impact of body image has leaked into everyday images of friends and family, with snaps taken in clubs, gyms and even everyday locations such as in the street or at home often being given a large dose of artistic licence by the people posting them.

For instance, the ability to easily crop a photo in Instagram means that you can remove any unwanted surroundings and focus entirely on the aesthetic corner in which you’ve positioned yourself. Meanwhile, filters and editing features allow the poster to instantly give themselves a makeover, sometimes to the extent that they’ve practically tweaked their DNA to achieve perfection. Add to this the opportunity of taking a quick snap whilst passing by an attractive or high-profile location, despite only being there for a few moments, and a user’s social media profiles can make them appear to live a far more luxurious lifestyle than they actually do.

Again, social media isn’t necessarily a bad thing for many users, yet for those who mindlessly scroll through feeds on a daily basis and compare their own experiences to other people’s, it can soon result in a lack of self-worth and a habit of listing what’s suddenly missing in their lives, rather than the things they should be thankful for. Add to this the body image element, with social media users seeing selfies of people looking incredible after a workout or apparently being the best looking person on the beach, and this bad tendency can intensify without the individual even realising.

Something to always bear in mind is that even celebs, bloggers and socialites will usually have more humdrum, stressful and unglamorous events in their average day than they do noteworthy moments. However, as their social media channels are very one-sided, only sharing the best bits, it can be easy to assume that their lives are one big rollercoaster, or a party that you haven’t been invited to. This can even apply to people that you know in real life who post pics of delicious food, happy families and awesome holidays, yet neglect to give glimpses of them shopping at the supermarket, filling out a tax return or simply having a bad hair day whilst slobbing around the house in a mismatched hoodie and tracksuit bottoms.  

The conversation around the relationship between social media and body image is getting bigger and louder with each year that passes, which is crucial to people worrying less about what others look like in comparison to themselves. The Roaring Girls, for instance, are a theatre company who took their show Beach Body Ready to the Edinburgh Fringe and are now planning a UK tour, with the aim to help women and men of all ages to “stick two fingers up to what the media says you should look like”. Meanwhile, plus-size model and Instagram sensation Tess Holliday regularly shares a combination of catwalk images and informal snaps, pushing a message of body positivity alongside her #EffYourBeautyStandards mantra.

If you’ve found that social media has transformed from an enjoyable experience into a source of depression, anxiety or self-doubt, here are some tips that will help you to set the balance right again:

  • Limit your sessions in terms of both regularity and individual length. For instance, you could decide to not access social media before the evening or to refrain from going online whilst spending time with loved ones, as well as only checking it for a maximum of ten minutes.
  • Take note of how you feel when you see certain types of posts, or images shared by particular users. If there’s a clear pattern of negativity, it might be worth considering unfollowing the accounts in question.
  • Acknowledge that online connections are never a replacement for real-life interactions. Even if you regularly comment on a friend’s posts, chances are you can free up time to see them more often in person.
  • Remember that nobody is perfect, and no body is perfect. The vast majority of images by both professionals and amateurs have been taken in a way to engage followers and gain likes. Don’t think of them as a genuine reflection of that person’s lifestyle or around-the-clock appearance and instead realise that they’re merely an enjoyable moment from a day that could have also involved boredom, arguments, heartbreak and stress.
  • Switch off as soon as it stops being fun. Similar to gambling and alcohol consumption, once a social media session becomes anything other than enjoyable, put it aside for a while.

Social media is an incredible gift that should be used responsibly as a method of connecting, not alienating. If you’re interested in how we use it to full effect for customers from across all sectors, get in touch today on 01482 363005, send an email to design@drunkanimal.com or message us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.