Look After Your Mind Online
We all understand that taking care of our physical health is being mindful of what we put in our body. Mental health is no different. We should be equally aware of what we feed our mind, particularly online. The dangers of which we can easily take for granted or be oblivious to out of habit because we do so much unconsciously.
Politics. Conspiracies. Discrimination. Bullying. Trolling. Comparison to others fuelling a negative opinion of self. These are some of the more obvious pitfalls we need to be aware of. But it doesn’t end there. Less obvious are the unconscious reminders of the trauma and hurt we carry.
Anything we browse online has the ability to develop a narrow mindset and version of ourselves. Being mindful of our state of mind and taking care to inform ourselves with a balance of perspectives is crucial, now more than ever. Even the seemingly harmless, positive, reaffirming quotes and memes we see can be potentially harmful, reminding us of those deeper self-diminishing thoughts we have.
What we see and hear affects our beliefs, our opinions, our view of the world and our sense of self. All of which impacts our mental health, both positively and negatively. It’s no surprise that with the growth and rise in power of social media and online businesses the past 15 years, the result has been a rise in poorer mental health and worse – suicide.
Social media today is a dangerous place without us even realising it sometimes. Under the guise of tailoring our online world to be more unique to us, more personal, so that what we see is more relevant and of interest to us, what we ‘want’. It’s easy to miss the manipulation, potential pitfalls and dangers this can bring. When it comes to advertising products that’s one thing, but what about politics? What about opinions? What about things that relate to how we feel inside? What about depression, fear, hate, personal trauma, anxiety…our inner demons? We can easily be led into a narrow perspective, consumed by what we feed our minds, potentially worsening how we feel about ourselves and the world around us.
With the ever advancing algorithms that social networks use, where what we read and interact with forms a narrative that keeps getting pumped into us whether we realise it (even want it) or not. It becomes easier to understand the potential impact this can have on us as individuals and highlights the need to regain some control for ourselves, over our own mental wellbeing.
This is something I noticed, something that actually prevented me healing and kept me in a place where negative thoughts and feelings were reinforced. A place I no longer needed to be.
If you’re in a bad place like I was and are searching for things to relate too, for validation or support, you can easily get lost in it and go further down the rabbit hole, becoming unaware of what’s happening in the background. It starts out pretty innocently, you’re just researching, looking for answers, seeking help and support, signs of life that are similar to your own, what you’re going through, how you’re feeling. And you find it.
And for a while it helps, it soothes, it heals. It feels like a good thing, it helps you feel part of the world again, that you’re not detached from it. That you’re not alone. But there comes a point where it can easily cross a line.
When I was at my lowest I found solace, I found relatable content that helped me understand many things that were going on in my life and in my mind. It genuinely helped me and formed a big part of my healing process. That is the positive side of a closer-knit world that the internet and social media (particularly) encourages.
However, after a while I realised the opposite, the negative impact this was having on me. My entire social media presence was being bombarded with the same narrative. What I researched on article sites, psychology sites, help and support sites, instagram etc etc…all would influence what I saw everywhere else too. So if you’re researching depression, mental illness, narcissism, anxiety, abuse, trauma, guess what, that’s what you get, even when you’re not asking for it.
From what began as a positive helpful endeavour soon became all consuming, there was no escaping it. The affect that had as I became more aware of it was that it was actually holding me back, preventing me from moving forward through my pain and healing. The very thing I was trying to do. I was constantly being reminded of the negative side of what I thought and felt. Social media was feeding those things rather than feeding solutions and positive thinking.
Look, I know full well that I created this beast initially and that yeah, it was all part of the healing process, and when we’re ready to see things differently, when we’re ready to heal, we do. But in hindsight, it’s very apparent to me that this healing would have happened much sooner if it weren’t for the algorithms influencing what popped up in my feed or the articles and advertisements that popped up no matter where I went online.
That is the side of this close-knit social media world I do not like, and never have. There is not enough responsible behaviour being practiced by those behind all this. They kind of leave us to adapt and pick up the pieces. Which is how it should be, and not a major problem when we’ve got our head screwed on, but when we haven’t, when what we see is controlled by a line of code that believes it knows what we want to see based on previous behaviour, no matter how small, it’s easy to see how this could be a problem and encourage a very narrow mindset and experience within the world. Reinforcing a handful of perspectives rather than exposing us to a broader set of views.
I won’t even go into the darker side of people using this to deliberately influence and manipulate us, that’s a story for another time…perhaps.
When it comes to our own mental health being negatively impacted, there are steps we can take to rid ourselves of the never ending narrative we face online.
When I found my social media soaked in this stuff I did a massive cleanse. I knew it was my past interaction that was influencing my present and I wanted that to end. Because my trauma was in the past no try present, I wanted to heal, but social media wasn’t helping. It hadn’t caught up. At first I just stopped going on social media all together. Severed that tie. Because let’s face it, it’s not good for any of us to be zombified by it, it’s as much an addiction as drugs or alcohol, it fucks with our mental and physical health just as much as those things do.
Ridding myself of social media completely was a good start. When I came back to it my use was very limited, but those algorithms hadn’t changed, they still pumped things into my world I didn’t want or need to see anymore. So I cleansed, unfollowed accounts, I spent hours removing old posts I’d saved and accumulated from times I was more fucked up, angry and in need of positive reinforcement, because yeah, those lovely positive, self-actualising memes affect those algorithms too.
I removed it all, even the positive reaffirming stuff, the self-help guides, the self-care tips, the heart warming and uplifting quotes. Because actually, these also keep our minds in that place. It’s all a reminder, I reminder of our pain, the entitled feeling in our pain, the justification in how we felt. As positive as some of these things are, they just keep our minds in that arena, and when in that arena, it’s easy for our mind to drift from this positive side, back into negative, intrusive thought patterns. The very reason why we feel the need to engage with them in the first place. The pain, the trauma, the betrayal. Whatever it was that brought us to the path of needing to heal in the first place.
That’s the dangerous cycle, the bit we don’t fully appreciate or understand at the time, that even the positive stuff, the memes and quotes, the self-care advice, it reminds us that we’re not okay. That somethings wrong. That perhaps we’re broken in some way. It’s that which pulls on the parts of us not yet healed, keeping us in a place we perhaps no longer need to be. A place we’ve grown from yet don’t realise we have. Instead we keep ourselves bound to to this place, as part of your identity, a definition of who we are. All with the help of social media and those pesky algorithms.
It pays to be mindful, to take action ourselves. As well as removing a lot of stuff from my accounts. I deliberately started following and liking shit that was completely unrelated, things I actually liked but even things I didn’t particularly, even funny fucking cat memes. Anything to try and teach these algorithms something new, something different in order to alter the narrative that my online world was pumping into me. It was my turn to manipulate them.
It’s something I had to do a few times before it really paid off. The healing process can be long and hard, being reminded of your negative feelings constantly, actively encourages it to continue. If you are in a tough place, I highly recommend cleansing your social media space. Your online world. To help with your healing and overall mental health. It’s the best thing I ever did.
Our online world can keep us in a place we no longer need or want to be. Be mindful of what’s feeding your mind. Take a step back. Review who you follow, delete what you’ve saved. This will reset what you’re shown on a daily basis inside that fucking phone. Make a decision to let some of that shit go, mix it up, cleanse your online world, just as you would offline.
And of course - be present, limit social media use, invest more time in your surroundings, in self and the people around you - in real life.
Take care of your mind online people.