It might surprise you to know that Facebook is seventeen years old, and Instagram has been around for nine years. These social media platforms, along with others, are now ubiquitous in our everyday lives. As of January 2021, 78% of the UK used social media on a regular basis.
Like all media sources, social media platforms and the information shared on them substantially influence a person’s behaviours, feelings, thoughts, mental health, and overall sense of well-being. As such, social media has been found to have a significantly negative impact in relation to a person’s self-esteem, level of confidence, and body image, and their relationship with diet and food.
So, what knowledge has this information given us?
Numerous studies demonstrate a correlation between regular, consistent social media use and the onset of negative body image issues. This is primarily because of the comparison factor which arises when viewing or scrolling through other peoples’ posts, brand accounts, and images. The most common body image issues that arise from online comparisons include body surveillance, dysmorphia, dieting, excessive exercise or fitness goals, self-objectification, and eating disorders.
Body dissatisfaction can lead to dieting and disordered eating, which is often a precursor to an eating disorder. Eating disorders are highly complex mental illnesses that are caused by genetic factors as well as environmental factors and have the highest fatality rate of all mental health disorders. In addition, a poor body image can also be a risk factor for a variety of mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety.
As a food addiction coach, I encourage all my clients to undergo a social media detox. This usually has a profoundly positive effect with an almost instant boost to self-esteem and confidence. Our perceptions of self-worth can be extremely fragile, and it is our responsibility to nurture and protect ourselves from negative and harmful conditions.This includes our interactions while online.
Here are my top ten tips for detoxing your social media.
It is easier said than done but avoid going on autopilot. It is so simple to pick up our phones and start scrolling absentmindedly. Instead, ask yourself why you are on your phone, what you are trying to achieve, and if it’s the best use of your time.
Focus on Real Friends
Social media is a fantastic way to stay in touch with friends and family, especially during the periods of lockdown we’ve had; however, social media cannot replace authentic communication. Use social media as a secondary tool and instead focus on seeing friends in person, making phone calls, or jumping on video chat. You will be sure to notice the difference.
Live in the Moment
Instead of constantly documenting your life or trying to take the perfect photo when out and about, put away your phone and focus on the beauty of the present moment. Mindfulness helps us be in touch with our thoughts and feelings, increasing joy and connection.
Follow the Joy
Choose only to follow people, posts, and brands that bring you joy. When you are scrolling, what is it that puts a smile on your face, and what is it that causes distress? Take the time to purge your feeds, and ensure the only content you see is positive, beneficial, or rewarding. This will stop you from getting embroiled in other people’s drama or in self-comparison, which only serves to lower your self-esteem and sense of worth.
Mute Trigger Words
Protect yourself from seeing upsetting images or conversations by muting keywords on Twitter. You can choose to hide usernames, phrases, hashtags, emojis, or trigger words for a brief period or for good.
It is all too easy to lose track of time scrolling on social media accounts. While endlessly scrolling, we are subjecting ourselves to a barrage of opinion and influence which we are often entirely unaware of. A 2019 study found that people who scrolled through Facebook posts for ten minutes each day suffered from a significant decrease in mood in comparison to those who used Facebook to chat with friends or create their own posts.
Clear Up Old Content
We have all been there… We all have old posts that we uploaded in times of anger, irritation, or even intoxication, and this old content can create a form of emotional baggage that hinders us online. Clear is a tool that connects to social media accounts and scans them for any not safe for work (NSFW) content, which helps you maintain a clear online conscience.
It’s easy to engage with content that triggers us in negative ways. Whether it’s political, environmental, fake news, or related to disordered eating, we can find ourselves at loggerheads with differing opinions. This can be exhausting and emotionally draining, and what’s more, it’s profoundly damaging to our mental health. If you find yourself being triggered, take a deep breath, unfollow, delete, or simply keep scrolling.
Avoid Using Social Media in Bed
For many of us, our mobile devices are the first thing we see in the morning and the last thing before we close our eyes at night. The stimulation from the blue light the device emits affects how we sleep and affects our mood and energy levels. Also, scrolling through your phone first thing in the morning interferes with your natural circadian rhythm and the release of serotonin as you wake. Leave your phone across the room when you get into bed – or better still, in another room entirely!
Take a Break
If you are aware that social media is affecting your mental health, why not take a break? A few days of detoxing from your social media accounts will help you recharge your batteries and reevaluate your priorities.
Understanding the negative consequences that social media has on body image is essential for early mental health intervention.
Body image distress is a common symptom of food addiction and eating disorders. Research shows that a negative body image is usually one of the last issues to be resolved during an eating disorder recovery and many people have body image concerns without experiencing disordered eating behaviours. However, these comparative concerns are still likely to provoke challenging emotions and a lack of confidence.
If you are struggling with body image or find that your social media use contributes to diminishing life satisfaction, then following these social media detox tips will help you regain autonomy over your thoughts and feelings. However, if you are struggling with food addiction or disordered eating, please seek help today. Recovery from an eating disorder can be a challenge, but with early treatment, the chance of regaining total health and freedom is possible.
If you would like to seek help or learn more, please get in touch with me, Dr Bunmi Aboaba, The Food Addiction Coach, by following this link.
This article was originally published in Brainz Magazine
 “UK: Social Media Usage 2019 | Statista”. Statista, 2021, https://www.statista.com/statistics/507405/uk-active-social-media-and-mobile-social-media-users/.
 Jan, Muqaddas and Soomro, Sanobia and Ahmad, Nawaz, Impact of Social Media on Self-Esteem (August 31, 2017). European Scientific Journal, 13(23), 329-341, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3030048
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