Social Media and Mental Health: Tips on Setting Boundaries

Woman typing on computer

Social media platforms can be helpful for keeping in touch with family and friends. Seeing photos and videos of events you couldn’t attend or major life changes can make you feel more connected and up to date. However, social media use, especially excessive use, has its negative side as well. At our mental health center in the Denver area, we encourage the people we work with to set safe and healthy boundaries regarding the use of social media.

How Social Media can Hurt Your Mental Health

For all its positive benefits, social media can cause harm if not used properly. For example, social media use can:

  • Be addictive. For some people, social media use reaches a level where it has many of the characteristics of addiction, including that they are mentally preoccupied with it, they forego other life experiences to use it, they hide or downplay their use, and they use it to produce a mood alteration that they crave.
  • Decrease truly social behavior. While a person may have a large number of “friends” on social media, the hours required to maintain those online relationships will often cut into the amount of time spent with people in real-life settings.
  • Promote comparison. Frequently or continually comparing yourself to others is unhealthy. However, getting updates on all the fun things that your social media connections are doing tends to encourage that kind of behavior and the inevitable envy and jealousy.
  • Increase sadness and depression. There is growing evidence that social media use, which we believe will make us happy, can actually increase sadness, anxiety and depression.

5 Strategies for Setting Social Media Boundaries

Even when the intent of a social media platform is positive, excessive use can have a negative impact on mental health. Below are some ways to set boundaries.

  1. Give yourself permission to unplug. Checking social media can start to feel like a requirement. However, the reality is you have the right and the ability to choose when and how often you use it (or whether you use it at all). Simply acknowledging that fact can be very empowering.
  2. Set time limits. What’s a reasonable amount of time to spend on social media each day? Two hours? An hour? Thirty minutes? You have to decide. But once you choose a time limit, commit to sticking to it. Not only does that help you today, it also gives you a good baseline if you choose to cut back on social media at some point in the future.
  3. Cut ties with negative people and organizations. If interacting with or reading posts from a person or group doesn’t make you happy, but instead makes your blood boil, cut ties with them. It may feel good to vent after being fired up by their statements, but in the long term, that relationship is doing more harm than good for your mental health.
  4. Only contribute in a positive way. Lashing out at others or promoting negative thoughts or ideas do not just harm the target of your posts, it hurts you as well. The age-old advice that “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” is very relevant with social media. Even if you are speaking out against something, you can do so in a positive way by offering alternatives rather than criticism. And sometimes prefacing with something like “I have another perspective” can prevent discussions from becoming adversarial.
  5. Provide and seek clarity in your communications. Social media doesn’t offer the physical cues we typically use to understand people. Consequently, a message where no offense was intended can easily be misinterpreted, and a negative reply can then create an escalation of tension that didn’t have to occur. Be as clear as you can in your communications, and if you feel a comment directed at you was negative in some way, politely ask for clarification. A question such as, “I took your comment to mean this… Did I have that right?” can help keep a conversation from spiraling into negativity.

Making Your Mental Health a Priority

The key to proper social media use is continually assessing how it is affecting your mental and emotional health. If your interactions are not encouraging and uplifting, you need to make a change. To learn more about our mental health center, visit communityreachcenter.org or contact us by phone at 303-853-3500. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.