Most of us are guilty of using social media on a semi-regular basis. It can be a very useful tool to stay connected to family and friends, but at what point does it change from an innocent look in an attempt to remain current on the lives of friends and family to an unhealthy need and potentially self-esteem damaging obsession?
The results of studies related to social media have had mixed results, but there is a common theme - self-esteem is impacted by the use of social media. A survey of active social media users (both male and female) between the ages of 28-73 report that using social media has impacted their self-esteem in a negative way (1). Another study of teenagers aged 13-17 showed that 24% said social media had a negative effect on their lives with instances of bullying, unrealistic views of others’ lives in comparison to their own, conflict, unrealistic expectations and dissatisfaction within their own relationships (2). A third study showed that social media platforms such as Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram led to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image and loneliness (3)
So how can we eliminate the risk of becoming subject to damaged self-esteem via social media? Here are a few tips:
1- Limit time spent on social platforms:
This may sound simple- but it’s so easy to lose track of time when you’re scrolling through countless pictures and status updates. Try setting a timer to track your social media time. Once the timer goes off, the apps have to be closed for the night. In addition to setting the timer, make it a point to stay off social media close to bedtime. Proper sleep hygiene includes not using screens close to falling asleep to help your brain prepare for sleep.
2- Turn off the notifications:
It’s hard to ignore a list of notifications on your phone. For some, the little red bubble next to the app is impossible to ignore. Turning off notifications will help to eliminate the impulse to check your social platforms.
3- Stick to friends and family:
Many of us are guilty of trying to keep track of what celebrities are doing on social media, but let’s face it - we all know that celebrities have an entourage of individuals who assist with their daily tasks such as professional makeup artists, hairdressers, stylists, photographers and photo editors all to make their photos look as “perfect” as possible. These unrealistic images do nothing but harm to our self-esteem. Try stick to following only your friends and family on social media for a more realistic, natural looking feed.
4- Limit Social Media Platforms:
A study published by Computers in Human Behavior showed that people who use more than 7 social media platforms had more than three times the risk of depression than those who used two or fewer platforms (4). If you are someone who uses many different social media platforms, monitor which ones bring you joy and which ones do not. Try to choose your top 2 apps and stick with only the ones which bring you a sense of happiness. Don’t be afraid to delete the platforms that do not bring you joy.
Like most things in life, social media is good in moderation. It’s a fantastic tool that allows us to easily stay connected with individuals that we otherwise would have trouble communicating with. Knowing ways to protect your self-esteem is very important for anyone who chooses to download an app of this sort. Feel free to share in the comments ways that you protect yourself from damaged self-esteem.
More and more, people are becoming subject to unrealistic expectations of what a body “should” look like. Not only is it becoming a bigger problem for adolescents and adults, but for children as well. A recent study showed that more than half of girls (55-59%) and one third of boys (33-35%) age 6-8 said that their ideal bodies are thinner than their actual ones. (1) So what can we do to protect ourselves from the self-doubt and anxiety that are caused by a negative body image?
1- Be Mindful When Choosing Who to “Follow”
It’s so easy to get caught up in the appeal of “keeping up” with the biggest Hollywood stars, but the fact is, the majority of what they post is digitally altered- giving the audience an unreal expectation of how they should look. Instead of giving in to the pressure of knowing what is going on in the lives of celebrities, instead try following social media accounts that encourage body positivity and healthy lifestyles.
2- Surround Yourself with Positive People
If you are constantly spending your time with people who put themselves and others down, it’s almost unavoidable that you are going to begin feeling and thinking negatively about yourself too. Make an effort to spend your time with people who make you feel good about yourself, and who don’t spend their time spreading negativity.
3- Take Care of Yourself
Not only does this include eating healthy and exercising, but also treating yourself to self-care days. Take some time to relax and unwind to keep your mind free of unwanted thoughts regarding your body image. Spend 2-3 minutes in the morning to repeat positive affirmations to yourself to get your mind ready for the day ahead.
4- Clothing Choices Matter
Fashion choices are often influenced by the media, friends, or family, not all bodies are the same- and trying to dress like someone with a complete opposite body shape as you can lead to frustration and poor self-esteem. It’s important to take your body shape into account when purchasing new clothing, as well as your taste in clothing to ensure you are wearing what YOU want to wear. Feeling confident and comfortable in your clothing choices are important in creating a better relationship with your body image.
5- P.A.C.E Yourself
Thomas F. Cash Ph.D. put together a strategy for overcoming your body issues. P.A.C.E stands for Prepare, Act, Cope, Enjoy.
Prepare- Write down your strategy for overcoming your body image issues in advance; include your ultimate goal (ex. Overcome your fear of working out in front of other people), the actions you plan to complete to get to your goal (ex. Start going to the gym at off-peak times to avoid most people at first), and the reward that you will allow yourself to have once you complete your goal, or milestones along the way (ex. Get a smoothie on the way home from the gym, or enjoy the hot tub for 15 minutes after each session).
Act- Now that you have your plan together, it’s time to act on your ideas. If you need a friend to go with you to the gym, ask; do whatever you need to do to set yourself up for success.
Cope- The journey is not going to be easy all the time. You need to expect and accept that there will be some hard times. Prepare yourself for these times with breathing techniques or coping mechanisms that work for you when anxiety tries to prevent you from accomplishing your goals.
Enjoy- Once you get through the hard times, allow yourself to enjoy the rewards, and ultimately the success of accomplishing your goal. Don’t criticize yourself if things didn’t go exactly as you had planned- just enjoy the fact that you were able to overcome your insecurities. (2)
Preparing ourselves for the almost unavoidable parts of life that are body image issues is important for many reasons, including avoiding depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. There are resources available to help overcome negative body image thoughts such as The Body Positive, Teen Talk, Body Confidence Canada , and The Dove Self-Esteem Project to name a few. If we prepare ourselves in advance with coping mechanisms to deal with the negative thoughts we have regarding our bodies, we are far more likely to overcome the issues.
If you feel as though you cannot handle the problems on your own, speak with a friend, family member, or mental health professional. If you feel as though your thoughts are getting darker and you feel as though you may harm yourself, go directly to the nearest hospital emergency room for treatment.
Dr. Diana Garcia
Dr. Diana Garcia has over 20 years of experience in the field of psychology. She has provided psychological and counseling services in Ontario, and the states of Pennsylvania, and Florida