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We are currently half way through Mental Health Awareness week and it has got me thinking about the affects that social media can have on your mental health. Nowadays mindlessly scrolling through different social media platforms is quite the ‘norm’ but post lock down my usage has definitely increased. Boredom, wanting to take a break or just to momentarily switch off are the biggest motivators. Being housebound makes me crave for a little window into what other people are up to. I am aware of the wasted time spent on my phone and part of my reasoning for re-starting my blog was to actively step back from this habitual scrolling and pick up my almost forgotten hobby of writing. Luckily my 1 year old has decided that my phone is trés interesting and keeps hiding it so that definitely helps my cause!
One thing that is apparent, I am certainly not the only one spending increasing amounts of time on these platforms. I am by no means part of any ‘anti’ social media club as I think it can and is used for so many positives, it helps people stay connected, which is so important given that we are all currently separated from so many loved ones. Social media, for the most part, can be really fun, but what happens when it starts to bring out the worst in people?
The phrase keyboard warrior is not new and the anonymity of being behind a screen with an avatar of your own creation can really bring out the worst in people. It gives people a sense of empowerment to voice their opinions, which when used for good can be terrific, but what happens when it gets nasty? What happens when to all intents and purposes you become a virtual bully.
The dawn of social media has brought the ‘material’ to the forefront – what you got and how you got it are your weapon arsenal. There is a total shit show of ‘stuff’ and we all want to project our best selves. I follow a lot of celebrities on Instagram, however I try to only follow ones that celebrate the positives, the ones that empower others with kindness. I love creatives and comics are especially good accounts to follow, when I immerse myself on Instagram I want light relief, I want to be distracted from my own chaotic, somewhat difficult life.
Not everyone is drawn to social media for the positives. I do get lost sometimes in the comments that people leave and am amazed at the sheer level of hatred that can be expressed by some. I have always been brought up with the mentality that if you have not got anything nice to say then you really shouldn’t say anything at all. I am not someone who seeks out confrontation neither am I a shrinking wall flower I speak my mind and have strong beliefs, however I do think sometimes things are best left unsaid. I take umbrage with the kinds of people that say really mean things coupled with the phrase ‘oh it doesn’t matter, I would say it to their face’ This kind of behaviour is just an excuse to be mean under the pretence of being honest alongside a warped notion of integrity.
There is one particular woman that I have followed on instagram for a while now. She is big on fitness and getting strong, both mentally and physically. She trains really hard for her own physical and mental well being. She is ripped and it’s amazing, she shares tips to those who want it and her posts are both uplifting and inspiring. One comment that flagged up to me was from a lady, who when seeing a picture that she had posted after a work out in her gym attire – looking fit as fuck and sweaty read simply “YUK” nothing else, no context, just YUK. It’s so flippant yet so degrading and such a personal attack on how someone looks. Her response was measured and cool, and in no way retaliatory. It could have been, she could so easily respond with something just as nasty but she chose not to. The things that are not said, I believe truly show the measure of someone, especially when you could so easily respond by being equally as mean.
The focus on mental health awareness week is kindness and there has been a huge movement recently to encourage kindness. May 2020, with the added worry of covid-19 makes this idea so relevant. I think people for the most part are being kinder day to day however it doesn’t seem to translate on social media. So many people will post quotes about mental health and the act of kindness, but how many truly live by this day to day, beyond an ‘awareness week’. Most users are a little reserved in what they post about themselves online, there is a choice we can make about the person that we want to project. I certainly do not air my whole life on any platform, the person you see on social media is the happy, fun, somewhat silly version of myself.
The more you reveal yourself on social media, the more you open yourself up to critiques it is an invitation to view your life where the voyeur is invited to like, love or dislike. A single comment left can be very disarming and easily affect an individuals mental health deeply. I read some comments and discussions and question why the commentators would leave such a negative thought. Why would they allow themselves to be swept up in that negative and in turn inflict that negativity upon someone else. Expelling such negativity must take them to dark and lonely places. Or perhaps they are already in a dark and lonely place and this lashing out distracts them from their own pain momentarily.
A lot of mental health issues are exacerbated in this age of social media and users must be aware of the consequences. I am forever monitoring my children’s screen time and limiting their use, however I too must be complicate in this and make myself accountable for any of my own excess screen time too. If it can affect a child then it can sure as shit affect an adult, with perhaps even more serious consequences.
While this blog in no way consciously relates to any one person or post, if you read this and feel a little hot under the collar, if your response is to feel like this could be about you personally, then perhaps it is time to question that person you are on social media, behind the keyboard. Would your treatment of others sit well if someone close to you experienced that same treatment? We can all get carried away, no one is ever nice all of the time but now with the added fear and stresses of Covid-19 I think it can bring out the worst in some.
One of my favourite quotes comes from Roald Dahl’s The Twits (a literary masterpiece in my opinion!): ‘If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely’ I think this is so relevant for today, let’s celebrate social media as the wonderful tool it can be in bringing people closer together, lets not engage in the ridiculing or demoralisation of someone. We need to stamp out the online virtual bully and show that by being kind to one another it is not only nice for the receiver, but also gives your own mental health a boost.
Below are some of the reasons that mentalhealth.org have chosen Kindness as their focus this week perhaps you can share some of your own tales with them of kindness and how it has affected you. Kindness is most definitely catching we should spread it far and wide!
“We have chosen kindness because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity.”
“The research shows that kindness is an antidote to isolation and creates a sense of belonging. It helps reduce stress, brings a fresh perspective and deepens friendships. Kindness to ourselves can prevent shame from corroding our sense of identity and help boost our self-esteem. Kindness can even improve feelings of confidence and optimism.”