Ways to have a healthy relationship with social media

Health and Lifestyle Editor at Bupa UK
12 March 2020

It’s hard to imagine a world without Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. Interacting with social media has become an integral part of life for billions of people around the world. It allows us to share information, engage with others and access news in seconds.

man on a sofa with a mobile in hand and a laptop on his lap

But, with social media playing such a big role in our lives, are we in danger of putting our mental health and wellbeing at risk? In this article, I explore the different ways social media can impact upon the way we feel. Experts and social media users also share some helpful tips for creating and maintaining a healthy relationship with it.

What the evidence says

Some researchers argue that social media is damaging to our health. For example, some studies have found that having a negative interaction on social media can leave you feeling low. Other research links social media usage to an overall rise in mental health conditions, including sleep and stress issues.

Social media can negatively impact on people in other ways too, says James Shepherd, Cognitive Behavioural Therapist (CBT) for Bupa UK health clinics. “Social media can take people away from engaging in what they’re doing in the present moment. And if you’re only getting validation through using social media channels, you might be less inclined to seek social activities happening organically around you.”

“The question you have to ask yourself is: Am I closing off relationships, and reducing my drive to seek and develop connections in the real world?”

There’s also growing concern around the amount of time that people are spending on social media. This has been referred to in some studies as ‘social media addiction’, where people have a constant ‘urge’ to check their social media. This intense relationship with social media, researchers argue, can result in lower levels of satisfaction in life.

Small business owner, Hannah, who relies on social media to run her business, agrees. “I do find it difficult to switch off – it’s addictive and that’s not a good thing. I have to use it for work as the majority of our advertising is done through Facebook and Instagram. But if I didn’t have to use them, I’d like to delete the apps from my phone as I do find I waste a lot of time on them.”

It’s not all bad news

While lots of research focuses on the negative side of using social media, there’s also plenty of evidence to show it can benefit our health and wellbeing. For example, more recent research focusing on social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram has found that users of all ages felt an increased sense of social and community support, and improved wellbeing.

“Social media can be a really great way to build connections and networks with people, as long as you use it the right way,” explains James. “To have a healthy relationship with social media, you need to get a balance with real life connections and not let it absorb you.”

Tips for having a healthy relationship with social media

So, if used in the right way social media can have a positive impact on our health and wellbeing. Here, four social media users, in their twenties and thirties, share their tips on having a healthy relationship with social media, so it continues to have a healthy influence on our everyday lives.

Be selective about who you follow

Alice: “My overarching message is that it’s your feed, so tailor it to you. Unfollow any accounts that make you feel negative in any form – whether it’s jealousy, upset, shock or simply disinterest. You don’t have to follow anyone.”

“Select accounts and people to follow that lift and inspire you. Create healthy spaces to interact with social media. Try not to forget the present moment and the joy you get from ‘real’ interaction.”

“If you have a compliment or nice comment in mind when you see a post, write it. You’ll boost the person who receives it and also feel good that you’re interacting in a positive way on social.”

Natalie: “I do a few things to maintain a healthy relationship with social media. I’ve left Facebook – I left about four years ago and I don’t miss it at all. It was actually easy to leave it and a relief that it wasn’t another ‘thing’ I had access to!”

“I’ve very carefully curated my Twitter feed so I only follow handles that make me feel good – mostly book-related and animals doing daft things. It’s often good to have a social media ‘cull’ once in a while to unfollow feeds that I no longer like. I think we often forget that we have the power – we can choose to follow who we want to.”

Lewis: “One thing I did was unfollow everyone that wasn’t a friend or an account that I genuinely like to follow. I also have a folder with all social media apps stored on the very last page of my home screen. I think this helps as the apps are no longer easily accessible, and I find myself less likely to use them.”

Hannah: “Social media can definitely make me happy, sad, low or anxious depending on what I have read. I try to stay away from negative feeds and only follow those that I have an actual interest in or are relatable.”

Don’t compare yourself to others on social media

Research has found that the more time people spend comparing themselves to others on social media, the more depressed they can feel.

James Shepherd, CBT therapist: “Social media can give a distorted picture of what people’s lives are, and if they’re reliant on social media for all their social engagement there’s nothing to counter the narrative that you’re seeing on social media. But if you’re seeing those people in person, you’re seeing more of their lives as they actually are and hearing the good and bad.”

Lewis: “There was a time when I was following a lot of ‘influencer’ accounts who would post pictures of themselves doing amazing things and it would often get to me. I’m not one to post a lot of selfies, but a few years ago there was a period where I would spend a fair amount of time deciding what filter would make me look the most attractive (or what I perceived to be).”

“But, I had a sudden realisation that it was having a negative impact on my self-confidence. So, I decided to stop caring and post whenever I wanted to, without worrying about what others would think.”

“I now use social media as a way of keeping in touch with friends and scrolling through countless entertaining memes.”

Limit your time on social media and be a role model

Natalie: “I turn my phone off at night and leave it in the living room – this has been a big change for me. It’s really nice to wake up and not be tempted to look at my phone.”

Alice (parent): “Set your standards and be a role model for your children. If they see you scrolling on social media constantly, they’ll think it’s how it should be. We set boundaries for children’s screen time, so set your own and respect that it shouldn’t be any different for adults.”

Hannah (parent): “I try to limit my phone use in front of my children as I’m fairly strict with screen time for them. I do also try to put my phone away later in the evening but that’s not always a success. Due to the nature of my business I do need to reply to enquiries quickly or I tend to lose bookings. It’s a difficult balance.”

“Try to have an allocated time in the day when you use social media. If you really find it hard to stop scrolling, set a timer and you’ll be surprised how it works. I think half the time I don’t realise how long I’ve been scrolling.” Lewis: “Be mindful of the time you’re spending on social media. Most phones now track your time spent on individual apps so I would definitely check this. It might surprise you!”


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Marcella McEvoy
Health and Lifestyle Editor at Bupa UK

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