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Olwen Anderson's Blog

Is social media affecting your mental health?

Saturday, September 22, 2018
Before social media, there were slide nights. After returning from a holiday you’d invite your friends around, ply them with food and drinks, and share your happy snaps, often on a slide projector. But they only got to see the good images, mind you. 

What wasn’t included were shots of your partner being unceremoniously booted out of a restaurant due to their cultural insensitivity. The tears when you became hopelessly lost in a new city. How you looked after food poisoning from that dodgy local eatery. Instead every image was carefully curated to make it seem your holiday was completely magical. I bet some folk left those events feeling a little envious, like their lives just weren’t so successful in comparison.

Slide projectors and slide nights are now historical artefacts. In modern times we have social media like Facebook and Instagram as the tool to make it appear our lives are very special, wealthy, healthy and happy. That we’ve got it all together. Just like the slide nights, though, the less than ideal images are left out. Unless you’re savvy to it, what is presented seems so real; you can begin to believe that your friends’ lives are just more successful than yours.

It’s no wonder, either: Populating every Instagram and Facebook account are shots of people that seem to be on the up-and-up. They’re in great shape, eating “clean”, earning lots, living in stylish clean homes. Women regain their pre-pregnancy shape in astonishing time. People eating highly restrictive diets somehow look great instead of gaunt. No commuting fatigue, no bad hair days, no ‘bad’ food. Does it have an effect? You bet: Australian research found that just 10 minutes of swiping through Facebook posts has a deflating effect on women’s mood.

This means that unless you already have the skills to see through it all you could easily get sucked into eating a severely restricted diet. And if you’re already a little depressed or anxious your mood could deteriorate further. That’s not what you want.

But social media is a useful tool, too, and life would be a little less without it. Like the slide nights, the internet provides a way to stay connected with our communities and the people we love. But the next time you’re browsing Facebook and notice your mood deflating, just remember: what you see on the screen isn’t the total picture of a real life.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy "The Illusion of Fancy Food on Social Media"

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Olwen Anderson @olwenanderson


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