I Hate You on Social but Not IRL

Tired of screaming into the internet abyss with rage, jealousy, or some combination thereof? It’s time to set some healthy social media boundaries so you can find a (somewhat) happy place for yourself online.

By Mara Santilli
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Unfollow vs. Unfriend: Detach from the Worst People on Social Media

As you’re mindlessly scrolling through your feed, half-watching everyone’s daily updates, your finger hovers over a “friend’s” thumbs-up button. Hmmm, I don’t actually *like* anything about this person’s post you think. You know the person I’m talking about…the one who posts five times in a row during one dinner; the one who has to voice their opinion with the casting decisions of The Little Mermaid, or the Facebook show off who won’t stop rubbing her lavish vacation posts all over your feed. (We get it—there’s no better pairing with a Chanel bag than an Aperol spritz.) 

Here’s the thing, you have the power to cancel that noise.          

There are all types of people on Facebook and social media, and some of them just aren’t worth engaging with. To combat social media menaces — or the little green monster you might face after seeing the evidence of someone’s five-star vacation — there are a few immediate fixes: You can always defriend people. But why cause turmoil with a childhood friend, or make things worse with an estranged aunt? (No one wants to be on the receiving end of that angry phone call).  On Facebook, there’s the perfect “unfollow” without unfriending option, which comes in handy for unnecessary drawn-out political rants and the crowd-sourcers who can’t even buy a toilet brush without gathering opinions from 800 virtual friends. On Instagram or Twitter, go with the ever-convenient “mute” button, best suited for ex-husbands, ex-friends, ex-bosses—you get the gist. “Muting someone’s posts allows you to stay connected with them, without having to see their posts on your newsfeed. It can help you take care of your own mental health without hurting the people in your life,” says Erin Vogel, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Francisco. Preach.

The effects of social media on mental health

If you just can’t stop creeping on your social frenemies, you’re not alone — but you've still got to stop. Research has actually proven that social comparison among women on social media can be detrimental to their body image and self-esteem, fueling mental health issues like body dysmorphia, depression, and eating disorders.  

In women who are slightly past the millennial age category, the research typically goes one of two ways, explains Jennifer Mills, PhD, Professor in the Department of Psychology at York University and registered psychologist. “Social comparison can actually start to work in our favor. We look around and notice that most women our age are also experiencing changes to their weight and shape,” Dr. Mills says. But for women with lower self-esteem to start with, their self-confidence can just deteriorate further.  

Body image isn’t always what suffers from social comparison. In those cases where being on social media after a job loss or divorce, for example, is weighing on you, it may be healthiest to take a hiatus, for however long you need. “If you are aware that being on Instagram is making you feel inadequate or bad about yourself, take a break. Or at least get off sites or pages that you find triggering,” Dr. Mills suggest. 

Take a social media break

If using social media in general is feeling forced, there’s nothing wrong with going dark altogether. Countless celebrities can’t be bothered with the public scrutiny of using Instagram or Twitter, and they seem to be doing just fine living a life without social networking! “Either get off social media and free yourself from the trap of comparison, or stay on social media and take into consideration that most of what people share is not a true reflection of their physique, their happiness, or their success,” says Sherrie Campbell, PhD, licensed counselor, psychologist, and marriage and family therapist. “Follow this rule: If it makes you happy, keep it; if it makes you unhappy, delete it,” Dr. Campbell adds.  

Remember what social media is for in the first place

Though it may feel otherwise, social media was not designed to make us feel alone. It was intended to help make meaningful connections easier to keep. “When you are on social media, I suggest focusing on connecting with others rather than just browsing. Social media can be healthy and fulfilling when it enables us to keep in touch with people we care about,” Dr. Vogel says. 

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