Maybe it’s a happy couple, toes in the sand, on a Greek beach vacation. Or that family that always seems to be hiking together, with no one complaining about the hot sun and the time it will take to get back to the car. Maybe it’s even that perfect meal, expertly prepared on a busy weeknight.
These images of contentment and positivity can make those who see them on Instagram, TikTok or Facebook feel like everyone else is enjoying life more fully.
US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy warned this week that while social media may be beneficial for some people, evidence suggests it may pose a “profound risk of harm” to mental health and the well-being of children and adolescents. .
Mental health experts say there are strategies everyone can use — some practical, some more philosophical — to engage with social media in a healthier way and limit the harm.
Notice what makes you feel bad.
Dawn Bounds, a psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner who was a member of an advisory board of the American Psychological Association on social media and teen mental health, she said she was intentional about the accounts she follows and the videos she watches.
She likes following the stories of people promoting mental health and social justice, who “fill me up and inspire me,” said Dr. Bounds, an assistant professor at the Sue and Bill Gross School of Nursing at the University of California, Irvine. . . Dr. Bounds, who is black, also likes content that makes her laugh, like her account. blacks and pets On Instagram.
At the same time, avoid videos circulating online when police shoot unarmed people, which can be traumatizing, he said. And with all the trolls and bad actors online, he said, “I have no problem unfollowing, muting, and blocking people I don’t want on my threads.”
“It’s really about curating the experience for yourself and not leaving it completely up to these algorithms, because these algorithms don’t necessarily have your best interests in mind,” Dr. Bounds said. “You are your best protector.”
Think about why and if it is taking anything away from the rest of your life.
Your use of social media could be excessive if it gets in the way of other activities like going out, exercising, talking with family and friends and, perhaps most importantly, sleeping, said Jacqueline Nesi, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown. University.
Dr. Nesi recommended a more “mindful” approach, which involves “taking a step back and thinking about what I’m seeing.” If the content makes you feel bad, he said, just unfollow or block the account.
Being mindful of how we use social media is challenging, Dr. Nesi said, because some apps are designed to be used mindlessly, to keep people scrolling through an endless stream of videos and specific content (selling clothes, makeup and wellness products) that seems to feed our desires.
When people pick up their phones, it can help to be “curious” and ask “what made me do that?” said Nina Vasan, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University.
“Am I looking for connection because I feel lonely?” said Dr. Vasan in an email. “Or am I looking to distract myself from a difficult feeling?”
He suggested asking yourself, “What do I need right now? Could I meet this need without resorting to social media?”
Try a spring clean of social media.
After people take stock of why they answer their phones, they should unfollow accounts that make them feel anxious and depressed or lower their self-esteem, Dr. Vasan said.
At the same time, they should follow more accounts that make them feel good, improve their mood, and make them laugh. Maybe they include cooking videos with simple ingredients and steps or relaxing pool cleaning videos, which have racked up millions of views on TikTok.
“Think of these actions like spring cleaning,” Dr. Vasan said. “You can do it today, and then you should repeat these behaviors periodically as new things emerge in the news or in your life that are triggering you,” or as your passions change.
Consider time limits and limit notifications.
Dr. Nesi recommended that people charge their phone outside the bedroom at night, leave it off for an hour before bedtime, and generally set technology-free times of the day when putting their phones out of reach. Dr. Murthy suggested that family meals be device-free.
The experts also recommended that people turn off notifications that ping them when an account they follow is updated. They can also remove social media apps from their phones and use them only on their desktop or laptop computers. That could reduce the chances of getting a bad case of FOMO.
Dr Bounds said she deleted Facebook and Instagram on her phone after her 20-year-old son deleted Instagram on his phone. She helped her reduce the amount of time she was wasting online. “I did it when I was writing grants,” she said. “It was a tactic I needed to focus on.”