How to set boundaries on Social Media

For many of us, myself included, social media has provided an outlet for self expression. At times when I felt I had nowhere else to turn, Twitter was somewhere I could turn to and talk openly about my mental health.

Living with mental illness can feel very lonely. For me, opening up online has helped me connect with others who are going through similar experiences to me. I’ve met others who have survived domestic abuse, people who battle panic attacks and anxiety each day, people who have lived through trauma and are now processing the after effects and people who live with BPD and have helped me gain better understanding of some of the things my mum went through while she was alive.

The people I’ve met through the Twitter mental health community have offered me empathy, kindness, wisdom and company. The friends I have made have been an army of warriors to march beside and many of those friendships are as deep and real as anything I’ve ever found in the ‘real world’.

We’ve all seen the reports though and we know by now that social media can have a really negative effect on our mental health. From comparing your own life to the highlight reels you see on Instagram, to being subjected to an onslaught of trolling or bullying, there are many different ways that social media can impact the way you feel about yourself and your place in the world. So, with so many obstacles to navigate, how can we make sure that we’re safeguarding our mental health without logging off forever?

Examine your relationship with social media.

I always think that the first step of making any change is to look inward and determine what exactly that change should be. In the case of social media and mental health, there are so many variables, but a good place to start is to think about how you feel before and after logging on and to go from there.

What do you want from social media?

What do you use social media for? Why did you set up your accounts in the first place? There are so many different reasons people use social media and they’re all valid. These days I use social media primarily for raising awareness of the social issues I’m passionate about and to connect with like minded souls, but I also use it to keep in touch with people I care about, to follow some of my favourite comedians, YouTubers and activists and to keep up with the news.

Social media is very sociable for me, I grew to depend somewhat on the interaction (especially in the periods of time I couldn’t face IRL socialising). Once you’ve figured out what you’re looking for from your digital life, you can start to shape it to what you’d like it to be.

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Part 1: Instagram

I’m choosing to start with Instagram because Instagram users tend to limit themselves to a few posts a week so 1 or 2 posts can tell you a lot about an account and what their profile is about. Arguably, Instagram is also the most invasive Social Media platform, with so much going on in each post (visual, caption and sometimes audio too) and an ad every 3 posts.

I think the best way to tailor your Instagram feed to be a safe space for you is to spend some time scrolling your feed and unfollowing the accounts that make you feel worse about yourself. Be especially careful with accounts who you keep around to inspire you to be more than you are now, especially if these include fitspo and thinspo (you do not need to shrink yourself.)

Remember that a lot of what you see on Instagram is filtered and heavily edited. Remember that even your favourite Instagram models sometimes stay inside and eat Cheetos. Literally nobody has a perfect life, so be very wary of anything that seems to be a perfect feed. Social media should be fun; it shouldn’t be about punishment - let it work for you.

Here are some other ways you can use Instagram to set boundaries:

  • Set limits to how often and how long you can use the app each day. Stick to them.

  • If you’re worried about privacy, set your account to private.

  • Flag any adverts that are being targeted at you that you don’t want to see.

  • Don’t be tempted to use FaceTune to ‘fit in’. You are beautiful. Consider not editing your photographs at all.

  • Post what you want, when you want to. Don’t worry about algorithms or engagement. Be more you.

  • Seek friendly users who leave comments and especially those who share the good and the bad

  • Turn off Push Notifications on your phone

  • If it gets too much, take a break from the app and log off for a few days

  • Block and report any users who overstep the mark

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Part 2: Twitter

Ah, Twitter. What a mad place it is. Online, it’s probably where I spend most of my time and it’s certainly where most of the real connections and conversations happen for me. Despite the friends I’ve made and the moments of support I’ve had, there have been some times where Twitter has felt a little scary for me.

Twitter isn’t as “look at my perfect life” as some of the other social media platforms can be, but it can be just as misleading. Twitter has far more anonymous users than Twitter and Facebook and, perhaps because of this, it is at times a playground for bullies and trolls.

Staying safe on Twitter is less about who you follow and more about who is following you. The single most important thing to remember as Twitter is that you can (and should) block anyone and everyone. You do not have to defend yourself from attacks. You do not have to respond to idiots. You don’t owe anyone anything. Block. Block. Block.

Also, if you have been blocked, remember that’s OK too (I probably click on at least 1 person a week who has blocked me, they’re often people I have never interacted with). Everyone is entitled to their own safe and happy space on social media, if that means they had to block you to get it then great, it means more and more people are thinking about who they follow.

Here’s what I’ve learned about boundaries on Twitter:

  • Mute words, accounts, phrases or hashtags that are triggering for you

  • If you’re worried about privacy, set your account to private (I do this sometimes when it all gets too much)

  • Join in with conversations and get to know people (it makes it feel far less intimidating)

  • Limit your time on Twitter.

  • Engage with hashtags and accounts that you are interested in

  • Turn off Push Notifs on your phone

  • Delete the Twitter app and use in-browser only

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Part 3: Facebook

The weirdest of all social media platforms (for me), mostly because I see way more ads and posts from businesses than anything remotely social when I actually log in - which is rare. I mostly use Facebook for messenger, but I did take some steps to make sure that I have a more pleasant experience every time I logged in.

Facebook can actually be a lovely tool for keeping in touch and up to date with friends from all around the world, but it can be overwhelming and impersonal if you don’t manage it just like any other website or app.

The most important boundaries you can set on Facebook are around Privacy and your Friends List.

  • Check your privacy settings.

  • Check them again. Are you sure that the things you want set to “friends only” are all done?

  • Go through your feed & mute or unlike all the spammy media things you liked when you were 18 and forgot about.

    and then… (here comes the rough one)

  • Go through your “Friends” list and remove everyone and anyone who (a) you have anything but the best of wishes for or (b) you suspect may have anything but the best of wishes for you. Life is too short to have obligatory FB friends.

  • Also remove anyone you wouldn’t stop to chat to in the street, anyone who you wouldn’t feel comfortable sending an out of the blue “HELLO” to and anyone who posts racist, ableist and sexist bullshit.

Remember, it’s an ongoing process.

It’s OK if you have to keep pruning and tweaking to get your social media to where you want it to be - you will change and your life will change and your relationship with social media should evolve to reflect that. There isn’t a magical formula that will make your time online infinitely better overnight, particularly if you’re having a difficult time.

Try your best to remember that there are real life people behind the social media accounts you encounter and it’s never OK to bully people. Comments don’t become magically less painful because they’re being read on a screen and not heard face to face. If anything, having something written down and published on the internet can make things feel bigger and more permanent. Let’s try to be kind to one another.

You can read more information about online bullying at bullying.co.uk. Call Samaritans on 116 123 if you need to talk to someone anonymously about what you’re going through.

What do you think?

What’s your relationship with social media like? How do you think social media companies can make people feel safer online?