Managing your self-esteem on social media

As part of World Mental Health Week, Meghan Markle’s been sharing her thoughts on social media. Specifically, how to make it, “Safer, better and more positive.” And it certainly sounds a worthy ambition. Because although social media can be fun, the facts remain that it’s frequently harmful to mental health and self-esteem.

Recent research, carried out by Gary Goldfield, Ph.D., revealed that teens who halved their social media use were rewarded just a few weeks later with a, “significant improvement in how they felt about both their weight and their overall appearance compared with peers who maintained consistent levels of social media use.” 

But even if you’re well beyond your teens, there are still ways to manage your self-esteem while online.

1. Be responsible for curating the content you consume

You may have a friend who is perfectly lovely, but her on line life makes you feel lousy. We’ve all been there. Whether it’s pictures of wonderful holidays in exotic locations, relentless posts about her forthcoming wedding in Ravello, or just a simple humble brag that gets your teeth grinding. It all results in low-level feelings of irritation, jealousy and despair. But the onus here is ultimately on you. It’s up to you to decide who you want to follow and what you’d like to see. Not to just accept what the algorithms serve up, with no thought for how it impacts your self-esteem and happiness.

Nowadays, unfollowing or exiting a group can be done discreetly. It doesn’t need to be a big drama, played out in the public forum featuring the 🐍🐍🐍 emoji. Once your contents cleaned up, and you’re only following those you care about, then you should start to feel better. And if you’re feeling guilty about unfollowing a friend then, quite simply, don’t. The careful curation of your social media channels is a sign of good self care. And genuine friends would understand when you need to take some time out from the socials.

2. Be honest with yourself about why you’re on social media

It’s a fact seldom admitted, but universally acknowledged, that Facebook is rarely about friendship. Nearly all social media is designed in some way to draw us into profile peeking. Wondering how your ex-boyfriend is doing? Or the old work colleague who always made it abundantly clear she disliked you? Check it out on Insta. Hopefully you’ll find neither are fairing as well as you, my lovely.

And it’s addictive. Every new photo uploaded, every caption posted is rewarded in our brain circuitry with a little dose of dopamine. It may feel good, in a bad sort of way, but following people with no intention of connecting isn’t the path to a contented life.

Speaking to Healthista, Dr Tim Bono, author of When Likes Aren’t Enough, said “When we derive a sense of worth based on how we are doing relative to others, we place our happiness in a variable that is completely beyond our control.”

Blonde woman, in white vest top and sunglasses taking a selfie.

But while acknowledging your behaviour’s not helpful, it can also be good to show some self-compassion. I would wager that almost every person you know has profile peeked. If only because the social networks make it so easy to do so. In fact it’s like we’re all walking a path that’s already been paved, laid and cleared for us. The decision to stop, take a better route and improve our relationship with social media has to be a conscious one.

3. Be prepared to make behaviour changes to protect your self-esteem

And here comes the hardest part… I would guess most people know a lot of this stuff already. We’ve all been told, numerous times, that FB and Insta are bad for our self-esteem. More than that, we know it because we feel it in our bodies. The clenching stomach as we compare our career to someone else’s, the tightening of the chest after a scroll through our exes wedding photos. All familiar, albeit unpleasant sensations. But these feelings only come, because at some level we made a conscious decision to log in and take a look.

You’ve no doubt heard all the advice before; set a timer, don’t go online after 9pm, just log out and never log back in. However you do it, there will need to be a behaviour change. It’s non negotiable and it seldom easy. But it will pay dividends.

I would love to hear your experience of enjoying social media while looking after your self-esteem. So. please just leave a comment below.

Next week it’s half term and I’ll be taking a short break, visiting Istanbul and drinking a lot of Turkish coffee with my family. But I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with another blog. Take care of yourselves.

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