6 tips to protect mental health from social media

Scrolling through photos on Instagram or reading updates on Facebook can be draining. It can seem as if everyone else is having more fun or achieving greater success or getting more likes for their photos and status updates.

Yet social media is also how many people stay connected with long-distance friends or family.

So, how can people reap the benefits of social media without letting it harm their mental health?

Researchers have come up with a few easy-to-follow tips. But first, what are the dangers that social media users might face?

Several studies have linked social media use with depression, envy, lower self- esteem and social anxiety. A paper reported that 1 in 3 young adults who see images of cutting on Instagram will also engage in cutting in a similar manner.

Yet this body of research often faces the criticism that people who have mental health challenges are likely to spend more time on social media, rather than social media being the cause of their illness.

One study that followed British teenagers over eight years found social media has limited effects on the typical adolescent’s well-being. It was mostly harmful for vulnerable groups, such as teens predisposed to depression and anxiety.

Because most studies focus on specific populations — teens or young girls, for instance — it’s hard to know for sure how social media affects mental health for the overall population.

Jelena Kecmanovic, an adjunct professor of psychology at Georgetown University, recently wrote an article for The Conversation about how to avoid the dangers of social media. Here are some of her tips:

>> Limit when and where you use social media.

>> Consider scheduling regular multiday breaks from social media.

>> When checking your social media, think about why you’re doing it, how it makes you feel and whether that’s what you want.

>> Narrow your online networks and pay more attention to real-life relationships. Unfollow, mute or hide the online friends and organizations that are no longer relevant.

>> One study found that people whose social media included inspirational stories experienced gratitude, vitality and awe, so consider adding a few motivational or funny sites to your feed.

>> Online connections cannot replace real-life interactions. Spending time with friends in person and building networks offline can be protective for your mental health.

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