What I've learned about managing social media's impact on mental health

Most things in life are a mixture of good and bad and social media is no different.

It has loads of positives – it can be inspirational, supportive, empowering and can create communities.

However, it is open to misuse too, and sometimes the downsides can seem to outweigh the benefits, causing untold amounts of stress, upset and anxiety.

I appreciate that my experience is far from typical, but I think it’s allowed me to see social media at its very best, as well as its very worst.

As with most Love Island contestants, appearing on the show gave my social media following a massive boost.

This was an incredible platform from which to give an insight into life in a busy NHS A&E department and, since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, I have helped to spread important public health messages via my channels on YouTube and Instagram. It seemed to me the ideal use of my ability to reach such a big audience.

Of course, there will always be trolls, but on the whole I think I’ve dealt with them fairly well. I have a relatively thick skin, which is handy considering how much I was trolled for my sunburn on Love Island!

That was my first experience of deliberately offensive and unkind comments on such a large scale and I was shocked at how brutal people could be; people who didn’t know me or my personal situation accused me of being a bad doctor, irresponsible, uneducated and reckless, all because I got sunburned.

In truth, I was taking isotretinoin, a medication to treat acne, which happens to make your skin incredibly sensitive and therefore turn pink in the sun more easily.

Nothing to do with lack of factor 50! This experience taught me two great lessons. Don’t let the narration of others define who you are. And never, ever, feed the trolls.

It’s my belief that those who take shots at me on social media are almost always doing so from a position of jealousy or weakness.

I heard a great saying once – ‘Whoever is trying to bring you down is already below you.’ Jealousy is a truly terrible trait; there is no winner where jealousy is involved.

I have learned to separate and distance myself both mentally and physically from people with this characteristic.

Believe me, your stress levels will diminish the minute you cut people like this out of your life – real or virtual!

The only time when trolling does get to me, because I am human and a sensitive one at that, is when colleagues in the medical profession have a dig. I am, however, fortunate and incredibly grateful that I also receive a lot of support from colleagues across the NHS, as well as in the hospital where I work.

As hard as you might try, you can never please everybody. When I lost my brother last year, I decided to take some time out from social media.

For a couple of months I focused on my family, my work and my own mental health. During that time there were a few unbelievably hurtful comments aimed at me, but for the most part the support I got was incredibly supportive and moving.

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you I received hundreds of thousands of messages of kindness and care, for both me and my family, and every single one made a real difference.

When I started posting on my channels again, the response was overwhelming.

So while social media gets a bad rep, I tend to focus on the positives and the amazing things it can do.

Used correctly it be an incredible tool for good. So let’s be the change we want to see and continue using it in that way.

The strength of our connections with family, friends and colleagues has a huge impact on our mental health – something I think we all learned from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Social media enables us to reach out, to maintain and nurture our relationships, and this can ease stress, provide joy and boost self-esteem.

How to manage your social media’s impact on your mental wellbeing:

Start by monitoring how long and in what way you spend time online. Be honest, are you whiling away hours on social media? If so, try to limit how long you spend online.

Keep your phone in another room when you’re watching TV or spending time with friends and family.

Curate your feeds properly. Follow positive accounts only and unfollow negative ones or those that engender negative feelings (including jealousy)

Ensure you have downtime and plan for phone-free periods (Sunday mornings
are a good one).

Remember that social media itself is curated; it’s not reality, it’s ‘life’ carefully filtered and presented in a particular way, with all the awkward edges smoothed off. And everything that you see is already in the past – click ‘like’ and move on.

Live Well Every Day by Dr Alex George is published by Aster, £18.99, paperback. Also available as ebook and audiobook.

Metro.co.uk MHAW Takeover

This year, to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Metro.co.uk has invited eight well-known mental health advocates to take over our site.

With a brilliant team that includes Alex Beresford, Russell Kane, Frankie Bridge, Anton Ferdinand, Sam Thompson, Scarlett Moffatt, Katie Piper and Joe Tracini, each of our guest editors have worked closely with us to share their own stories, and also educate, support and engage with our readers.

If you need help or advice for any mental health matter, here are just some of the organisations that were vital in helping us put together our MHAW Takeover:

  • Mental Health Foundation
  • Rethink Mental Illness
  • Samaritans
  • Mind

To contact any of the charities mentioned in the Metro.co.uk MHAW Takeover click here

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