Managing your relationship with Instagram

This week marks #WorldMentalHealthDay and I want to talk to you specifically about Instagram and mental health. Social media and its impact on mental health has been discussed widely, particularly Instagram. What was once a place to edit and post random pictures and videos,  has become a platform for personalities to earn large amounts of money by curating a desirable lifestyle through images and videos.

Currently there are three core types of people when it comes to Social Media:

  1. Those who have lived without it before it arrived, have never used it and never will, but their children and grandchildren use it.

  2. Those who have lived without it before it arrived and became part of the community as it grew.

  3. Those who have only lived with it because it arrived before they were born (the younger generation)

Because I have lived both with and without social media, and my experiences with it, I can see both sides of the coin. I like it and use it, but I can see the potential problems with it. I read an interesting opinion yesterday that said social media should be treated the same as a relationship with alcohol. Basically, use it if you want to, but be aware of the risks and manage your relationship with it. I actually agree with this.  I want to share some tips, specifically for Instagram that may help you manage your relationship with it, and also help educate our younger generations.

Remember that Instagram is a highlight reel and not the whole picture

Every piece of content from a blogger/ Instagram personality is a carefully constructed piece of media to fit with their personal brand. Unless you spend 24 hours with a person in real life, It is impossible for you to know what their life is like based on their Instagram. It’s important to recognise that Instagram pictures and videos are snippets of peoples lives and not the whole picture. Everyone has their good and bad moments, but sometimes you only see the good on their feed.

Most pictures are filtered

Photo editing and filtering has become a norm in the instagram world. It’s been widely debated whether filtering provides unrealistic and unachievable goals, particularly within health and fitness profiles. In the case of fitness, I think it’s important to recognise that most pictures will be edited or filtered in some way (I say most, there are some pretty authentic and transparent fitness accounts out there). Filtering is not a new concept, it’s been around since magazines and print media, but filtering has become so advanced, accessible and around us the majority of the day through our devices that its hard to tell what is and what isn’t edited.

Try not to draw comparisons between your life and someone else

I can totally see its easy to think that your life isn’t as good as the mega rich supercar dealer, or the ripped muscle guy or skinny fitness girl. I’ve been there. But taking into consideration my first two points, it’s important that you don’t compare yourself to someone you don’t know, probably won’t meet and isn’t a realistic representation of them as a person.  Comparing yourself with yourself and seeing how far you’ve come is so much better for your mental health than constantly drawing comparisons to people. It’s also important to not judge or have expectations of someone in real life based on their social media, because they are probably different to your expectation.

If things are getting to you, evaluate the content on your feed, unfollow/mute if necessary and use tools to help reduce usage

If you do find your Instagram isn’t making you feel great, there’s a couple of things you can do. Firstly, evaluate the type of content in your feed. In my case, I followed quite a high number of fitness accounts for “motivation”. But over time, I came to realise that these weren’t motivating me at all, they were just making me feel bad. So, I evaluated the content, unfollowed people that made me feel this way and kept the ones that would provide me with useful and factual information around fitness.  The discovery feed, the page filled with content Instagram ’s algorithm thinks you may like can also be cleared out, by tapping the three dots on the picture and selecting “see fewer posts like this”.

There’s also tools you can use to manage your Instagram (and overall social media) usage and cut down. Android and iOS devices now have features to allow you to view how long you spend on each app and block the app after a certain amount of time if you want. Use them if you feel this is necessary.  

You may be reading this, fully aware of these things. But, the important point I want to make is that we often find it uncomfortable to discuss mental health with others, particularly younger people. We need to educate people who have never interacted with social media to be able to have discussions with their children, and also directly educate people that haven’t lived in a world without social media. I feel that it is my generations duty to educate these groups on how social media works and how it can affect people’s mental health.