Now, let’s set one thing straight right off the bat: social media is not inherently bad, and can have an uplifting effect when we use it in a positive way. The negative side effects of social media emerge when we forget that all anyone ever shares are the highlights — rationally, we know that everyone isn’t on holiday 24/7, no one’s hair is always that perfect, and no one posts photos from unflattering angles. Platforms like Instagram and Snapchat quite literally only show a snapshot of someone’s life, and it’s important to remember that those few “picture-perfect” moments are just that: moments. Everyone has flaws, insecurities, scars, and no one’s breakfast is ever that aesthetic — so when we constantly compare ourselves to those little moments of near-perfection on our screen, we are setting unattainably high expectations for ourselves.
Social media can make feelings of inadequacy ten times stronger as we compare ourselves not only to everyone else, but also to ourselves. We can’t forget that we, too, only share the best bits of our lives, and looking back on past trips and friendships can make us feel like we’re not living up to whoever we used to be. However, social media can also be a tool to keep us positive, and reminding ourselves of good times can be a useful coping technique. We just have to walk that fine line between looking back and smiling at old memories, and comparing our current situation — which can sometimes feel like the blooper clips — to our own personal highlight reel.
Beyond using your own happy memories to keep you positive, choosing to follow accounts that reinforce realistic expectations can also help you not be so hard on yourself, and can help you develop a more positive view of yourself (and everyone else). Try shifting your social media focus away from people you maybe wish you saw yourself in, and more towards people you feel a kinship towards, or can relate to their experiences. Some of the accounts we love for body posi and LGBTQ+ positive content are @bodyposipanda, @i_weigh, and @bopo.boy — and, of course, @HeadsAboveTheWaves!
Regardless of how you use it, it’s always important to take regular breaks from your scrolling, and to keep in mind the good and bad that comes with using these platforms. If you’re like us and struggle to tear yourself away from the memes, you could try using an app to reduce your screen time — Flipd is a productivity app with a focus on mindfulness to reduce screen time, and DinnerMode is an app specifically designed to limit phone-time during meals, but we’ve used it during study sessions and online lectures, as it makes you keep your phone face down on a stable surface for a set amount of time. On most smartphones, you can schedule down-time in your phone’s settings, set time limits on certain apps, and even set communication limits for certain contacts in your phone.
Something to try: When you scroll past a post that makes you think negatively about yourself, check the account — are they a friend, an influencer, or a rando? For either of the latter, you can probably click that ‘unfollow’ button without much of a second thought, effectively removing a negative influence from your life.
However, if they’re a friend, ask yourself why that post made you feel so negatively — was it FOMO, envy, or were they being negative on purpose? This can help you determine if it’s more important to follow that person, or to build a positive online environment for yourself.
Remember, you have complete control over what you see on your feed, and it’s your job to do what’s best for you.