Social Media and Your Health: The Harmful & Helpful

Scrolling your feed should bring you up, not bring you down! 

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Social media sites have become such a huge part of our day-to-day lives that I've now taken to incorporate asking about frequency of use and types of accounts followed in my assessment process with clients. Originally, it started as a way to connect with old friends and see what they are up to. More recently, it has turned into a habit that can make or break your day and leave you feeling insecure. But it doesn't have to! Here we highlight a few common pitfalls and ways that we can navigate around them in a healthy way. Let's get started!

What to do when FOMO hits. 

Do you ever look at images you see on social media - places people are traveling, things people are doing, life events others are experiencing - and feel yourself missing out? Hellllooo FOMO! As I sit at home with a new baby, barely able to shower, let alone get out of the house on most days, I find myself falling into this fear of missing out or FOMO mode. Thankfully, I am able to recognize this and take a step back to reflect on the beautiful place of life I am in; albeit covered in spit up and rocking a messy top bun for the umpteenth day in a row, I am so fortunate to have a healthy, happy, beautiful baby girl. It's so easy to get caught up comparing yourself to others and feeling that somehow you are missing out and everyone else is having a picture perfect amazing day. When a case of FOMO hits, take a second to take a step back and put things into perspective. My guess is that you too have something amazing going on ;-) 

#Fitspiration is NOT your Motivation

Be aware of Fitspiration or #fitspo as you are scrolling through your newsfeed. Fitspo is a new hashtag for photos advocating that “strong is the new skinny.” It’s typically tagged to fitness celebrity accounts that are trying to market their workout programs by attempting to motivate you with their bodies. That doesn’t sound too pleasant, does it? Sure, it can be motivating, but not always in a healthy way. Fitspo has the potential of doing more harm than good and can leave you feeling as though you aren’t good enough. More often than not, those modeling the workouts are people who are getting paid to look this way. Don’t allow these accounts to drain you, their goal is to make a profit, not to help you become a better you. These are unreachable standards that can leave you feeling defeated. Be mindful of how you are feeling and consider whether following these accounts is working for you or against you.

And how about those gorgeous meals...My dinners NEVER look like that! 

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We're talking about #foodporn here folks...those perfectly illuminated, colorful dishes that make you salivate and want to run to the store to purchase all of the ingredients. I guarantee you, if I were to pick up my phone right now and scroll through my feed, I'd find a handful of #foodporn posts. As a food lover and dietitian who believes wholeheartedly in food inclusion, not exclusion, it's hard not to get sucked into wanting to create and enjoy these beautiful dishes myself. While there is no harm in that (dinner ideas?...yes please!), it's important to be realistic with yourself. Just like #fitspo, these pictures are usually taken by trained photographers and may even have food designers (yes, that's a thing!) strategically placing the food on the plate. Again, don't feel defeated! Regardless of how it ends up looking on the plate, if it tastes good, eat and enjoy :) 

Bottom line - try not to compare yourself to others.  

Easier said than done, right? It’s hard not to compare yourself to others, especially when it comes to all of the glamorized images we encounter. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to help keep your perspective: 

These are the highlights:
Of course you're only going to see the good stuff. When posting a picture or writing a tweet, we are all thinking about how others will perceive it. So, of course people will choose to post the best picture they can find. I recently spoke to a friend who mentioned taking over 100 pictures of the same image before landing the "perfect" photo. Try not to get caught up in the illusion that this "perfect" photo is an accurate depiction reality. So hard to do!

Don’t believe everything you see/read:
Before you start comparing, realize that there is more to this person's life than what they post. Everyone has their own set of "stuff" they are dealing with in their day to day lives that you probably don’t know about. Try your best not to make assumptions. We all do it, but if it’s getting to the point where it's making you feel insecure you may want to reconsider why you are following the account in the first place.

Using it to distract yourself from your emotions.

This has become a habit that I have noticed in myself. Sometimes when something upsets me or I receive some bad news, my immediate response is to turn to my phone. Scrolling through posts distract me from what I am feeling in that moment and makes me feel better. You may think that this is a nice escape, but it can do more harm than good. If you immediately distract yourself from what you’re feeling, you don’t give your brain the chance to process how to solve it. When this happens, you are suppressing your emotions, which can lead to more stress. 

Now that we are aware of how social media can harm us, let's talk about the ways we can use it to our advantage...

Follow the accounts that lift you up and educate you.

Following accounts that share relevant information can increase the quality of your time spent on social media. Follow the accounts that are genuine and easy to connect with. There are several accounts that are used for vanity reasons. Don’t waste your time scrolling through images that give off negative energy. Use social media for your own benefit, not your own harm! In our next post we'll help get you started with a 411 on some of our favorite accounts to follow. 

Give your brain a break!

The best tip I can give about how to use social media is to use it less. The less time you are looking down at your phone, the more time you have to appreciate other things in life.

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  • Go for a walk and appreciate nature

  • Spend time having a conversation (face-to-face!) with someone you care about

  • Cook a meal to enjoy with others

  • Read a book or article that educates you on relevant information

The more time you spend on your phone, the more time is taken away from the things that are much better for you mentally and physically. Although there are some great advantages to social media, it does not compare to the benefits the activities listed above can give you.

Help others with social media.

Sharing insightful information that could make someone's day a little brighter will give you a sense of purpose when using it. This goes back to considering why you use social media - are you trying to make people envious of your life? Or are you trying to put your skills to good use and help others? Think before you post! “How will this benefit me and others?” Putting some purpose behind what you post will change the way you use social media and make it more meaningful.

Crazy that a little screen can give us so much to talk about! Don’t let what’s on your phone get in the way of being the best version of yourself. Stay true to who you are and put your energy and time into things that give you meaning and purpose.

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