I open up a blank word document to start typing this piece and before I’ve even written a line, I’ve picked up my phone and in the space of two clicks, I’ve entered the Instagram vortex. I scroll for a minute or two (which feels like a second or two) and every time I put my phone back down, it’s not long before it creeps its way back into my hands.
Sometimes it can feel like I’ve completely lost the plot. But our addiction to apps like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram isn’t just all in our heads. Thanks to two (at times very unhelpful) chemicals in our brain – oxytocin and dopamine – it’s physically inevitable for us to end up getting sucked in. Our brains fuel up on pretty pictures, messages from friends and reassurance that everyone we know just loves the look of this morning’s café latte. A simple click has the power to make our brains buzz.
So if our brain gets high off the dopamine hit off your grandma’s neighbour liking your selfie, why is it that after a social media binge we can be left feeling so down right crap? It's especially true if that binge involved everyone’s favourite picture-based-platform...
A recent survey by the Royal Society for Public Health found that Instagram really is the worst social network for mental health and wellbeing. While the platform gained points for self-expression and self-identity, the survey also discovered that it’s associated with high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying, body image and just plain old FOMO. And to top it off, previous studies have found that young people who spend more than two hours a day on social networking sites are more likely to report psychological distress.
But we don’t need studies or surveys to tell us that social media posts can have a negative impact - if you’ve never been left feeling a little shitty after a scrolling sesh, lucky you. But for most of us, it’s easy to be left feeling deflated after scrolling past booty after booty, ab after ab snap. Even when we know pictures are heavily filtered and digitally manipulated, looking at everybody else’s highlight reel can make us feel inadequate – and there it is, the start of the problem. It all gets tricky when we start to use social media as a tool of comparison.
Because, let’s face it, when you’re messaging a friend or uploading highlights of your own, social media is an easy-breezy walk in the park. Trade that for a stalking sesh of your boyfriend’s ex (who is the double of Megan Fox by the way), and that my friend, is when the misery rolls in. Social media makes our sadistic obsession with comparing ourselves to others that much easier.
But social media ain’t going anywhere. And neither is Megan Fox’s double (although unlike Megan, one day she may age). And while I admire the determination of the people that do, I’m not about to digital detox anytime soon. So I’ve got to get to work. I’ve got to make an active change to make my social media experience uplifting. I’ve got to trade in my daily comparisons with creating myself a positive digital space. Would I fill my bedroom with pictures and objects that made me feel shit? Obviously not. So if I’m having one of those days where I’m lying comatose with a belly full of Thai food and Coco Pops, then that fitness blogger's ab pics can do one.
It takes one click to unfollow (and that doesn’t mean I can’t follow them again if I need a little boot up the bum next week). And whilst it’s hard not to morph into my Agatha Christie alter ego for a mega-stalk on the tube home, I am in complete control of whose name I punch into that little box. Rather than moon over the images that make me feel insecure, I can follow accounts that post beautiful images with beautiful messages or I can keep tabs on my close friends and what they’re doing with their lives.
People love to fear-monger when it comes to the force of social media. But it really doesn’t have to be the kind of force that Luke Skywalker’s daddy was into. Choosing what and when we consume things and making conscious choices rather than mind numbingly scrolling and stalking away is the first step.