How We Can All Change Our Relationship With Social Media
I once had an addiction to social media. Every hour, I’d pick up my phone, scroll through Instagram, like every post. I compared myself: my friends complained about getting 2,000 likes instead of their usual 6,000… but my posts never passed 100 likes. I would put my self-worth in numbers — likes, comments, followers — counting and comparing for hours on end. I’d waste my time admiring someone else’s life, and I couldn’t put down my phone — it was like I was being mind controlled. I’d stay up scrolling past 4 a.m., envying celebrities’ lives — I admired Oprah Winfrey’s confidence under the gaze of millions, wished for Elon Musk’s superhuman work ethic, and hoped for Valkyrae’s stability in life. I’d end up putting myself down for not having the same success.
My friend, Ani Wandless ’24, has had similar experiences with social media. As a musician, she’d often watch clips of kids on America’s Got Talent winning golden buzzers for their music. And as inspiring as the music was, it also made her feel discouraged in her own musical pursuits. She found herself wondering, “What’s the point? I can never be as successful as them. I’ll never sing as [well] as they do.”
As she spent more time scrutinizing herself and pitting herself against her favorite singers, newfound insecurities haunted her mind. Her love for music became a burden. She pressured herself to perform perfectly, setting impossibly high standards for herself. The only constant in her life was Instagram, where she’d watch other people succeed, and wish, wish, wish. Her mental health crumbled as Instagram became more and more addicting.
“Social media makes you really compare every aspect of yourself to others,” she said.
Sometimes it takes a rough moment to step out of a daze. For me, that was receiving an English essay I had spent approximately two hours writing and two months procrastinating on, spiraling down ice-cream-making TikToks or day-dreaming about YouTubers’ vacation vlogs. For those two months, I felt in control of my life because I had filled every waking moment with scrolling and tapping, tapping and scrolling. But eventually, the reality of a failed grade hit. And that failing grade gave me the momentum to finally change this unhealthy relationship I had with social media. It felt impossible at first, but, with report cards looming, I had the motivation to cut off social media completely.
Last summer, Wandless also deleted Instagram from her phone. Her mental health improved as she started accepting her growth areas rather than tearing herself down for them; she could focus on her own life instead of copying the life of a social media star.
Talking about the toxicity of social media with her led me to believe that it was simply intrinsically harmful. But talking with Director of Counseling Services Carmen Chow made me question that belief. She said that social media is really just another form of communication. It’s easy to compare lives on social media, but “comparison isn’t something new.” Even before social media, everyone would compare themself to people they knew. And even though comparison can come from social media, in changing how we use social media, we can make it a positive and non-toxic space for us.
With social media, people can see and compare themself to multifarious celebrities and icons. However, by recognizing when we make these unfair comparisons, we can minimize the impacts on our mental health.
“You can always change something about [your situation] to make social media more healthy for you,” Chow said.
This conversation opened my eyes to a world where social media wasn’t 100% bad. From then, it took several tries to reintroduce social media to my life and figure out what works for me. I’ve tried to only look at posts of inspirational quotes or limit Instagram use to five minutes a day. I’ve found what works for me is not checking social media in the first and last hour of my day — though this can be difficult — and spending less than 30 minutes on all social platforms.
In my journey to foster a healthy relationship with social media, I’ve come to understand and appreciate that what’s right for one person might not be right for someone else. However, all people can work in their own ways to make social media safe and beneficial.