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When Scrolling Through Social, Keep Your Mental Health in Mind

Instagram is now the second most popular social media platform, but it was ranked the worst for young people’s mental health last year. Whether you just joined or are a long-time user, slight changes in how you use the app could improve your mental health (This is The Healthiest Way To Browse Instagram, Huffpost, December 8, 2017).

Why does Instagram often make people feel worse? A University of Pittsburgh study that found a link between social media use and depression says increased exposure to highly idealized representations of peers is one likely reason. And because Instagram is so curated and image-centric, users are particularly vulnerable to feelings of anxiety and inadequacy. The app also provides a platform for content that triggers or promotes existing mental health conditions.

For example, Instagram can be a minefield for people with mental health conditions related to body image and eating disorders, from fitspiration (fitspo) posts to the less socially acceptable pro-anorexia (pro-ana) content.

This isn’t to say you should delete the app immediately. There are steps you can take to lessen Instagram’s negative effects and potentially make it a positive influence. Here are a few ways you can start:

  1. Unfollow accounts that leave you feeling bad or even neutral.

Does an old summer camp friend post incredible travel pictures that always make you feel a bit jealous? Think about unfollowing their account. You can always re-follow!

  1. Follow more accounts that make you smile, laugh or feel good.

You may have just unfollowed someone who posts daily from the gym with tips on how to get the “perfect” body – why not follow a body positive account that encourages exercising for joy and self-care, or one of these mental health awareness bloggers? While you’re at it, check out this otter fan page.

  1. Keep in mind, Instagram feeds are highlight reels, not real life.

Remember: everyone – including your friends – curates their images and has access to fancy filters and editing software. If you find yourself forgetting this, set a weekly reminder on your phone: Instagram is not real life!

  1. Be active, not passive ­­– engage with people.

Just scrolling, or “passively viewing,” leads to feelings of envy, but posting and commenting can help build feelings of connectedness and friendship. If you like someone’s post, go ahead and leave a supportive comment!

Social media has become an increasingly important part of our lives, which is critical to keep in mind when working to improve your mental health. Know someone who may be living with a mental health challenge that’s exacerbated by social media? Sharing these simple, concrete tips could help. If you’re having trouble approaching a friend or family member about their mental health, consider taking a Mental Health First Aid course!

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