According to the Global Digital Report 2019, the number of social media users worldwide has climbed to a huge 3,484 billion, rising by 9% year-on-year. Social media is now considered a necessity for any organisation that wants to grow, with many adopting the influencer strategy to promote and review products. Scrolling through social media is the last thing many people do at night before they go to bed, and the first thing they check when they wake up in the morning. We are rarely that far away from our phones - storing them in or next to our beds, on our desks at work or in our pockets or bags on a day out, rarely switching them off entirely.
There has been a large amount of coverage around the use of social media and the effect it can have on our mental health. Social media sites such as Facebook can be used to stay in contact with old friends from your past, check in with distant relatives or find out about upcoming events near you. Instagram can now be used to make money, share interests and comment on anything from dogs to politics. Dating apps such as Tinder or Bumble and Bumble can help you to meet your new love or boost your confidence by testing out some questionable one-liners.
Is sharing caring?
In my experience, social media made me start to question how great my life really was. It's hard not to think about how unproductive you have been when you are sitting on the sofa watching your favourite fitness guru's Instagram story of them hitting the gym for their second session of the day. People can like your photos on Instagram but barely acknowledge you in real life, seeing stories of friends together making you wonder whether they really do prefer going out without you, and 'likes' can make you wonder if that quote your friend just shared really is a sly dig at you. Videos of my favourite YouTubers made me question how I had got so unlucky with my jobhunt, sat scrolling through graduate jobs 4 months on, and one bad picture can make you dislike your appearance or feel like you should lose weight.
Acknowledging and mitigating the negative effects
In an ideal world we could just switch our brain off from the negative comparisons and 'I should be' thoughts but we are now living in an age where your online presence can be used to your advantage with shows such as Love Island casting people based on their huge following. The pressures to look, dress and act a certain way can make you question all the things that make you, you. Whilst we can still enjoy the peacefulness of coming away from our phones for a day or so, it isn't realistic to get rid of it completely, so here are a number of things you can do to mitigate the negative effects of social media on your mental health:
1. Use the 'timer' setting on your iPhone to limit the amount of social media you consume
If you have the latest Apple iOS settings, you’ll see that you can now set a timer that limits how much you can use social media during the day. Once you have reached this limit, you receive a pop-up when you try to access a social media app that reminds you that you have reached your limit today. I like to set mine for 2 hours a day, and then I will allow myself to use social media more (its both part of my job and part of this blog) once I have assessed whether it is negatively affecting the way I feel today or not. This is a great way of preventing you from sitting and scrolling through Instagram and reminding you to do something else away from your phone. You can also set a limit for bedtime to prevent yourself from scrolling through your phone late at night, which can lead to restless sleep.
2. Listen to podcasts or motivating videos/people
My go to podcast choice is ‘The Daily Boost’, a daily 10-minute recording filled with unquestionable advice from Scott Smith. In this, he talks about the importance of reviewing how you feel about each area of your life on a weekly basis, maximising your goals and overcoming challenges. I also like more light-hearted podcasts like 'The Receipts' or 'The Girls Bathroom' to listen to people discuss how they cope with certain situations and take advice from it to apply to my own experiences.
3. Follow positive social media accounts that encourage self love
Review your Instagram feed often, unfollow accounts that cause you to compare yourself, spend money you don't have or make you feel like your life is boring. Follow people who inspire you to be a better version of yourself, quote accounts for daily inspiration and photography accounts that share images of nature and art that stimulate your mind.
There is nothing wrong with removing people from your social media accounts if you no longer want to see what they're up to, or if they post things just to spite you. Block your ex, remove that account that irritates you because they brag about their life and mute stories and posts from people you don't want to see every day. At the end of the day, they are your social media platforms and you are entitled to fill them with whatever you like.
At the beginning of my final year at university, I experienced a very quick decline in my mental health. I was suffering from panic attacks and anxiety which made it hard for me to leave the house, and even harder to concentrate or get any uni work done. I somehow managed to get myself through the year (with a lot of help from my parents, friends, boyfriend and the uni wellbeing hub) and come out of the other side with a 2:1, but once I had graduated I decided that it was time to seek help to enable me to manage my anxiety and panic attacks better so I felt more confident and in control in preparation for my graduate job hunt, which can be a triggering situation.
(I would like to put a disclaimer here, that although hypnosis worked for me, every person reacts differently. I just thought it would be helpful for me to share my experience in case anyone has considered it or is looking for something different to try).
My dad did some research and found some local counsellors, one of which was Absolute Mind, a practice based in Milton Keynes run by Paula and her husband. This was unlike anything I had ever tried before as it was centred around hypnosis, which scared me a little.
I went to a consultation with Paula and we discussed how I was feeling, and she pointed out some of the areas that she thought hypnosis could help with including controlling panic attacks, building confidence and releasing stress. I asked lots of questions, one of the main ones being what it felt like during a hypnosis session as I had seen people being 'hypnotised' during magic shows and the idea of that freaked me out! She explained that it wouldn't be anything like that but instead I would just feel very relaxed, heavy and a bit sleepy. As I regularly practised meditation and was familiar with this feeling and knew I benefited from this type of therapy, I thought I'd give it a go!
What is hypnotherapy?
Taken straight from the Absolute Mind website, Paula explains that hypnotherapy is "a natural state of deep relaxation which allows easier access to the subconscious mind and so assists the process of changing from within. Hypnotherapy is chosen whenever a person feels like they have consciously tried many ways of overcoming an issue without success". From my understanding, hypnosis speaks to your subconscious mind, which is where the anxious thoughts were being created and causing the conscious mind to react (in my case, panic attacks).
IBefore the session, I was really nervous. During my drive over there I felt like I really didn't want to go, but I tried to reassure myself by remembering that Paula was trained, and that I would never know unless I tried.
During the session, I felt exactly how Paula had said I would - relaxed, heavy and sleepy. I couldn't stop my heart from racing a little due to nerves but time went really quickly, and the fact that you can let your mind wander was actually easier for me than meditation sessions where you have to clear your thoughts. In this session, my hypnotherapy consisted of me listening to Paula talk about a situation that was metaphorical to my current mindset, where a small rabbit in a forest reacted to fear by running away.
After the session, Paula warned me that I might have a bad headache due to the fact that my mind had been so relaxed, and I really did. I took some ibuprofen and had an early night.
A few months on
I had three sessions with Paula, who recorded each tape for me to take home and use before I went to bed. I would listen to these tapes 3/4 times a week depending on the level of anxiety I was experiencing, and I could pick between a hypnosis that focused on stress relief, panic attacks or confidence. The improvement to my mental health was gradual so I didn't really notice it at first, but one day I realised how much all the thoughts in my head had slowed, and how much better I was at dealing with a panic attack to the point where I could process it and return to a calm state within a couple of minutes. Again like I said, every person is different, but I was very lucky that hypnotherapy worked so well for me. I still suffer from anxiety, but I have a better understanding of how to deal with it, and having my hypnosis tapes gives me a sense of relief as it feels like I am doing exercise for my brain and making an effort to try and make myself feel better. Now when I listen to my tapes, I even fall asleep before the end!
Lockdown has been tough for so many people, and each person is facing their own personal challenges during this time. For me, it is so important to maintain some sort of routine like I would have in my normal life to stay happy and healthy. Here are some things I have found that have helped to maintain routine:
1. Use time to organise your day
Since I began working full time I realised how toxic having so much free time during university was for me. Following my normal routine of waking up early, going to work for 9am, breaking for lunch at midday, and travelling home from work at 5 to have a relaxing evening helped me to maintain a healthy mind. So, during lockdown I have tried to stick to a similar routine of waking up early, working out during the time I would normally drive to work (following a workout by @ZLRFitness on Instagram), doing an activity until midday, breaking for lunch, doing another activity in the afternoon, and signing off from any 'work' (I have been working as a freelance marketer) to begin winding down for the evening.
This has helped me to make sure I am eating well as I have a habit of forgetting to eat if I'm busy, and fitting in a daily workout to start my day with a positive mindset whilst feeling some sense of 'the norm'.
2. Plan your meals
As food is sparse, I have found the easiest way to eat healthy and reduce food wastage is by planning my meals based on the food I have in the house. I usually write down my meal ideas, keeping breakfast the same each day. Sometimes, I'll cook for my family or I'll batch make a meal so I can eat it over a couple of days. Planning my meals helps me to focus my mind on other areas and makes me feel less stressed.
3. Write to do lists
To do lists can help you to stay motivated by giving yourself a reason to get out of bed in the morning as you know what you are working on each day and you can tick off your progress, which makes you feel good! It also helps to declutter your mind and reduce the pressure to remember important things.
4. Have some fun
We will (hopefully) never experience a time like this again in our lives, so it is important to make the most of it. Spend time with family who would normally be busy working or at university, start a project you never felt like you had time to do before or play a game. Do something that takes your mind off the current situation and helps to make you laugh.
5. Stay accountable
Set yourself deadlines (but don't be too harsh), or ask a family member to check up on you if you have university deadlines to keep you accountable and motivate you to get things done.