How to Use Social Media in a Healthy Way for Your Mental Wellness

Theodora, put down your damn phone.

Hello hello! I kind of miss when I used to blog more frequently and off the cuff…when my life was simpler. It seems I only write these days when I have things I so need to get off my chest and onto the “page.” One of the side effects of all this therapy and becoming more self-aware is questioning my own motives of why I’m doing things, why I’m sharing what I’m sharing—and then it all feels pointless.

ANYWAY. Today is International Self Care Day, an initiative started by the Crisis Text Line, a resource you can use if you’re in the middle of a mental health crisis. A resource I’ve admittedly used a handful of times to prevent said crisis from turning into a real emergency.

I only really started practicing actual self-care this year. Sure, I got manicures and shit, but painting some chemicals onto fingernails doesn’t really nourish my soul. (Unless we’re talking candy cane nails at Christmas.)

The Crisis Text Line has identified these nine areas of self-care, but today I wanted to talk about self-care on social media.

I’ve been working in the online space for 10 years now, and social media has only become more pervasive, and we’ve all only become more always-on.

While in treatment, I was off all social media, and it was pretty damn glorious. I got so much writing, reading and quality socializing done without searching for that elusive hit of dopamine you so rarely get when you’re refreshing your feeds. Here’s some of the ways I’ve learned to care for myself on social media that might help you:

Know Your Triggers

The unfollow button is your friend. I’m pretty sure we’ve all got something on social media that makes us feel less than. Figure out what that is for you. Is it the high school friend with the huge house while you’re living in an apartment? Is it the former coworker who’s jet-setting all over the world while you’re stuck at home? Is it someone whose “healthy” behaviors make you feel like you’re not measuring up? Unfollow that shit. (Also maybe examine why this triggers you, but start with getting rid of what blatantly triggers you.)

And if you know holidays will trigger you, stay off of social media on them. On Mother’s Day weekend, I delete Instagram from my phone. To be honest, I just can’t stomach seeing happy (or “happy,” I know) mother-daughter photos when I can’t hug my mom. Algorithms are awful, and you may see said triggering content for several more days, so keep that in mind.

The Instagram Effect is Real

I wrote a post on the Instagram effect a few years ago and what was going on behind the scenes of a few “happy” photos I’d posted on Instagram.

I am pretty open and honest on Instagram, and I post plenty of my ups and downs, but most people aren’t like me. (And that’s fine. You do you—but I love seeing when people are super open and honest.)

They’re presenting a finely edited version of themselves that they want the world to see. They may be facing foreclosure on that gorgeous house. They may have just found out their husband had an affair. Those mother-daughter photos that trigger me now? Those mothers and daughters may have incredibly toxic relationships. My point being: you never know what’s going on behind the photo and nobody’s life is as perfect as it looks.

Curate, Curate, Curate

The converse to knowing what triggers you: fill your feed with what nourishes you. For me, these days, that’s lots of therapists, mental health/self care accounts, following the #stillirun hashtag. DOGS. FOLLOW DOGS, you won’t regret it. As much as I bitch about algorithms, I will say that the Instagram Explore tab has gotten pretty damn good at knowing the kind of content I will interact with (mental health memes and puppies.) To see more of what you like, be sure to like or comment on it.

On Facebook, same is true: like or comment the stuff that energizes you so you see more of that. Hide the shit you don’t like.

Know When to Step Away

Personal and professional blur for me on social media—I do some client work on Instagram, I’m in networking groups on FB that post job opps, and I follow lots of other freelance writers on Twitter.

If these posts start making me feel like I’m not pitching enough or not writing enough, I put down my phone or step away from my computer. I’m just over here doing me, and as a freelancer, there’s always that one more thing you could be doing to help your bottom line—but not at the cost of your mental health.

And sometimes you need a longer break. It was so much easier for me to take a break when I was in treatment because I was removed from my regular world and I was surrounded by people to talk to all the time, but I want to start more meaningfully disengaging when I’m not in a forced situation.

Set Timers

If you have an iPhone, you can set screen time allowances for certain apps (cough cough Instagram.) You have to put in a secondary password once you’ve hit your allotted time. I’ll admit that I’ve gotten real good at just ignoring those and extending all day, lying to myself that it’s professional. I’m also kind of thinking of removing my personal account for a bit and just having this client account on there.

What do you do to care for yourself regarding social media use?

On Expectations and Timelines

Married at 25. 
Kids by 30. 
Move back to the suburbs or maybe Hoboken after a bunch of years in the city and buy a house. 
Have a job as a magazine editor and leave it to stay at home with kids and work on my book. 

That’s what I thought my life plan was.

Not single at 36. 
With a dead mom. 
Giving my sweet dog up two years ago just before my mom died. 
Renting a one-bedroom apartment. 
Two suicide attempts. 
Six weeks at a residential mental health treatment facility. 
Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and having to take three daily psych meds just to achieve some level of baseline. 

But I also didn’t think I’d ever live in California (though I’d always dreamed of it.) I didn’t think I’d travel to all of the continents but three, stamping my passport ~10 times in the past twoish years. I didn’t think I’d ever have enough work to have a steady freelance income. I didn’t think I’d pick up three fitness certifications along the way.

For so, so long, I tried my best to be the Theodora I thought people wanted me to be. Family. Friends. The internets. Society. Man…even the person I thought therapists wanted me to be.

Uh, that turned out well… (a note on the therapist part: I can now see I was so embarrassed by my feelings that I was afraid to share those deepest ones—the ones, of course, that most need to be shared. This was never a conscious thing—I had no idea how to even access them until a few months ago.)

I didn’t think I deserved to travel. Deserved to live my dream of living by the beach in California. I was supposed to just stick on that traditional life path with the two kids and white picket fence.

I’m not at all slamming anyone who is on that “traditional” life path. As long as that’s what you want, not what you think you should do. Life is WAY too short for shoulds. I wasted 36 years should-ing.

I was not put on this earth to live a life that can be put in a box. (Hi, I’m an Aquarius.) I have stepped away from that timeline and into my own life.

It involves writing.

Sharing my story—all of it, even/ESPECIALLY the messy parts. Because I am messy as fuck, but I live and love with all of my heart. I want the best for myself. For those I love.

Seeing the world.

Connecting with others deeply and building community.

Being the weirdass goofball that I am and not giving a fuck what anyone else thinks.

Opening up my heart.

I’m done playing small and playing on someone else’s timeline. I’m not saying I don’t want those things—honestly, I have no idea right now if I do or not—but I’m also going to enjoy the fuck out of where I am right now, too. And I don’t just mean being by the beach, although it is absolutely fucking amazing to be living that part of my dream.

More Reading/Listening

There’s a few things I’ve been reading to or listening to lately that ignited the thoughts in this post.

Grace wrote an amazing post on living at your own pace.

Danny J had a really thought-provoking podcast episode on “the mind fuck of aging.” She and her podcast host/bestie Jill both got divorced in their 30s, changing what they thought their paths would be—they are amazingly unapologetic about embracing the fuck out of the lives they’re living right now.

Ali had a recent podcast episode with Sarah MacKay Robinson of Oiselle, where they talked a ton about expectations. It’s more about motherhood, but so much unhappiness comes from when reality doesn’t measure up to our expectations—and we miss the amazing that’s around us.

Jordan wrote a post that slayed me. She writes about how her therapist called her a performer. “There is a difference between openness and authenticity. You speak about your emotions, but I’ve never seen you actually feel them. You perform them. And then you smile and put them away.

Hi, that’s what I’ve been doing over here for 10 years. I can tell you the story of what happened and how I “feel,” but that’s long been the extent of my real processing. It now blows my mind that for a big portion of my adult life, I processed my feelings (in the limited way I knew how) on the internet, in real time. You’ve probably noticed that I have been pulling back more on writing about my emotions and what’s happening. I’m learning, at 36, how to feel my feelings offline and actually feel them and not blog them away, eat them away, exercise them away, drink them away…

Maybe this post doesn’t make sense either, but as much as I want to be an amazing writer—and a lot of the time I think I am a pretty damn good writer—I’m learning to let go of some of that wanting to be perfect, too.

It’s really tiring in my head.