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  • Sharon Cole

Social Media and Depression



Spending time on social media sites, especially Facebook can dramatically affect our mood without us really paying attention. Most of us think spending 20 minutes scrolling through our feed will make us feel better, when in reality it can actually negatively affect our emotional wellbeing.

You can see this quite easily, a funny post from a friend makes you smile, then a post from an ex-colleague makes you feel sad, and an ex-partner on his summer holidays sets off a feeling of envy. It’s an emotional roller coaster that changes our attitude with just a few clicks.

Wasting time on Facebook can also make you feel sad. According to a 2014 study in “Computers and Human Behaviour”, only 9% of people use Facebook for it’s original intended purpose of connecting with other people. Most just consume random content and information, which is neither fulfilling or satisfying.

In the June 2016 issue of “Current Opinion in Psychology”, it was found that envying your friends on Facebook can lead to depression. Research followed 1 billion Facebook posts and rated each as positive or negative. The results were fascinating. In cities where rainfall increased, so did the negative posts, and this led to negative posts in cities where it was not raining!

Negative posts were found to increase negative posts in social circles, and positive posts increased the number of positive ones. Positive updates were also found to be more powerful. Happy posts spurred friends to write two happy posts, whereas each negative post spurred another negative post among friends. When these types of posts start to fill your feed, it’s easy to leave Facebook sad, and often depressed.

Life is what we create; when we are depressed or feeling low, everything becomes an effort. It’s easy to stay in bed all day, or start drinking heavily, then feel worse when we realised we wasted the day or the answer was not at the bottom of the bottle. However, being aware of your emotional state is the first step. Tell yourself “The day isn’t over yet” and resolve to do something to make it feel better, not matter how small or however late in the day it is.

Once you are aware, you can tweak your habits to stop social media affecting your emotional wellbeing.

Here are 7 ideas to get you started:

Stop comparing yourself to others

This is the fastest route to envy, depression and low self-esteem. We look at other peoples lives and feel they are so much more exciting or more perfect than our own, but in in reality, people only post what they want you to see! Carefully engineered photos have been through 100’s of retakes and filters before the “Perfect Pic” is posted.

Your friend that is always dressed perfectly never shows you the pictures of her in her PJ’s. The Mum looking happy with her kids didn’t show you the sink of dirty dishes, how many nappies she has changed today, or the two tantrums and a lost shoe before she left the house this morning.

Compare yourself only with the person you were yesterday. Grow and become mentally stronger without being envious.

Review your friends list

Unfriend your former partners. As tempting as it is to snoop on their life, curiosity can do more harm than good. A study from Lancaster University found a correlation between ex partners friends requests and Facebook envy and we’ve already seen what envy can do to your mood and emotional wellbeing.

Also, ditch the downer friends. Unfriend those in your feed that are routinely posting bad stuff. An occasional post is ok, but the consistent negativity will wear you down. If it feels to rude to unfriend them completely, or you can't because it’s your Auntie Jill and you don’t want to offend her, then just hide their posts from your feed. You’ll feel better for it next time you are mindlessly scrolling.

Be Positive

This may be an obvious one, but if your friend’s negative posts are making you sad, your negative posts are making them sad in return. Keep posts light, share happy things and fun announcements.

Your feed might just inspire others to post happy thoughts too! I love the 100 days of Happy challenge, when you focus on good things to share with your friends. This will break the negative habit and get you in the right mind-set for happy thoughts.

Focus on the positive with gratitude which can help to fight off depression and increase positive emotions, develop stronger relationships and improved physical health.

Don’t judge others

Everyone has their own story, so always be kind. You never know what the other person is going through right now, and remember, they only post what they want you to see.

Think before you post – “Is this hurtful?”, “Is it positive?” and “Is it kind?”.

You may not always share the opinion of someone, but as my Nan used to say, if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all – learn to bite your lip and just “Let it Go”.

Use the ‘Like’ Button

If you like a post your friends shared, then like it! Share the love around Facebook and let your friends know you like what they posted. Facebook was designed to connect with friends and family, especially those who live long distances away and we don’t get to see as often as we’d like. These days we follow our favourite celebs, magazines we like, businesses and communities as well, so like that post and let your friends know they are not lost in your feed.

Also, a note of caution here; your worth is not based on how many likes you get for your posts, and it’s not a competition. Don’t compare the number of likes of your holidays snaps with that of your friends. Just remember, it’s nice to be important, but it’s also important to be nice.

Find your support and let your freak flag fly

Social Media can offer great opportunities to connect with like minded people and build communities that support and nurture each other. Find groups that share the same hobbies or interests. Follow people who inspire you and bring inspiration into your life and remind yourself there are good people out there.

Share what you passionately believe in including thoughts, feelings and beliefs. No matter how weird, big or small, seek to find the truth and support which is out there. Plus, you never know who else you might be able to help during your journey.

Create a balance

Limit your social media time. Don’t let it stop you being productive on most days. If you need to go cold turkey for a while to break the habit that’s fine, but I get this is not always realistic.

Set a frequency you are happy with, limit the time and try to look at your phone at specific time of the day rather than checking it constantly. For example, just allow yourself 30 minutes scrolling time at teatime, then put your phone away.

There’s a time and place to enjoy social media, but don’t forget to enjoy life right in front of you too. Connect with friends in real life. How great is with chatting a friend over a cup of coffee rather than through a screen? Real life connections are more enduring, bonding, and positive for the psyche.

The best moments of my life don't make it to Social Media

Sharon Cole

Free download bonus - 10 ways to widen your circle of friends offline.

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