Life in front of the camera: social media and mental health

In the vast realms of Instagram, TikTok, and other social media platforms, influencers face an ever-mounting pressure to embody an unattainable standard of perfection. Every flaw, every imperfection is magnified under the microscope gaze of social media. The consequence of falling short of this ideal can be profound, leading to anxiety, depression, and other mental health struggles.  

There’s no denying that social media can have an immense impact on everyone’s mental health, both for those looking through the lens of the camera at influencers, and the ones behind it. 

In the eyes of your audience, the assumption often prevails that influencers lead flawless lives, effortlessly gliding through a world of filtered beauty and effortless success. Yet, it is crucial to remember that behind the meticulously curated posts and captivating content, influencers are imperfectly human, grappling with their own mental health battles.

Mental health awareness week 2023

Mental Health Awareness Week (15-21st May) provides a timely opportunity to break the stigma surrounding mental health and initiate open conversations. This year, the Mental Health Foundation has chosen ‘anxiety’ as the theme, inviting us to delve into the dangers of this pervasive mental disorder when left unchecked. 

Anxiety, with its suffocating grip and constant worry, has become a relentless thief of joy for many young adults and adolescents, particularly when scrolling through social media. The immense burden of portraying a picture when scrolling through social media. The immense burden of portraying a picture-perfect existence online can result in isolation from their audience. The fear of criticism, the pressure to create content that satisfies the ever-changing algorithms, and the relentless pursuit of engagement all contribute to the erosion of an influencer’s authentic self-expression and creativity. 

Ironically, the very essence that propelled influencers to social media stardom - being themselves- often becomes a casualty of the overwhelming question: “What’s next?”. This relentless quest for the next big thing makes it difficult for influencers to cultivate genuine, organic content and stay true to their authentic selves. 

How does social media affect mental health?

The constant exposure to carefully curated and idealised versions of others' lives can lead to some really negative feelings when using social media channels. For example, you might experience feelings of inadequacy, envy, and low self-esteem. The relentless pursuit of validation through likes, comments, and followers can also foster a sense of worthlessness and anxiety - whether you’re an influencer or just a standard user. 

With others' achievements and experiences continually on display on our phones, we can sometimes feel a fear of missing out (FOMO) which can amplify feelings of loneliness and isolation. Additionally, cyberbullying, online harassment, and the spread of harmful content can further deteriorate mental health. It is crucial to recognise the impact of social media and take steps to establish a healthy relationship with these platforms.

Is social media bad for mental health?

There’s no denying that heavy usage of social channels can have a negative impact on a person’s mental health. However,  it’s important to remember that it can have a positive impact too - and social media has also raised awareness of mental health and self-care practices.

For example, now more than ever, platform users across the world now have more access to information about mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety - and it’s easier to connect with other people online who are experiencing similar symptoms too, promoting communities of people experiencing poor mental health.

Managing mental health online

Managing mental health issues caused by social media pressures can be challenging, but with the right strategies, it is possible to navigate this digital landscape while prioritising your well-being. Here are some tips to help you manage and cope with mental health issues related to social media pressures: 

1. Recognise your triggers

Pay attention to the specific aspects of your social media that trigger negative emotions or impact your mental health. It could be comparing yourself to others, receiving negative comments, or feeling overwhelmed by the constant need to validation. Identifying these triggers is the first step in managing them effectively.

2. Set boundaries

Establish clear boundaries with social media. Determine how much time you’re comfortable spending on these platforms and stick to it. 

Consider designating specific periods of the day for social media use and avoid mindless scrolling. Setting boundaries can help create a healthier relationship with social media and reduce its negative impact on your mental health. 

3. Curate your feed

Take control of your social media experience by curating your feed to include accounts that inspire, uplift, and provide meaningful content. Unfollow or mute accounts that might trigger negative emotions. Surrounding yourself with positive and supportive content can significantly improve your mental well-being

4. Seek support offline

Cultivate meaningful relationships and connections offline. Engage in activities that bring you joy, spend time with loved ones, and participate in hobbies that nourish your well-being. Building a strong support system outside of social media can provide a sense of grounding and perspective. 

5. Take regular detoxes

Schedule regular breaks from social media to recharge and reconnect with yourself. Consider taking time off or dedicated periods of the day to disconnect completely. Use this period to engage in activities that promote mindfulness, self-care and relaxation. Why not listen to a podcast that helps promote positive well-being such as The Anxiety Podcast, Meditation Minis and The Hilarious World of Depression

6. Practise mindfulness and self-reflection

Incorporate mindfulness techniques into your daily routine to develop awareness and manage stress related to social media. Engage in activities such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or journaling to help calm your mind and gain perspective. Self-reflection can also help you identify your values, strengths, and goals, reducing the impact of external validation on your well-being. If you need some guidance, Headspace offers various digital resources and services to help individuals improve their mental well-being and dev

7. Seek professional help if needed

If the pressures of social media are significantly impacting your mental well-being, it's important to consider seeking support from a mental health professional.  Helplines such as Samaritans or BetterHelp can provide guidance, tools, and strategies tailored to help you navigate and manage the challenges effectively. 

Mental health awareness campaigns to note

‘Dramatic Transformation ‘ by ASICS 

For last year’s World Mental Health Awareness Day, Asics paired up with mental health charity Mind to highlight the profound impact of exercise on one’s mental health. Social media is full of misleading images of people who have ‘transformed their’ bodies and Asics found that (73%) of Brits believe that this obsession with the perfect body damages our mental health. 

Their research found that a staggering 80% of individuals feel demotivated by the portrayal of transformative exercise images, and nearly half (48%) experience body insecurity when exposed to "before-and-after" photos. To help promote the transformative power of exercise on the mind, prominent figures such as Love Island alumnus and A&E doctor Dr Alex George, creator and influencer Jada Sezer, and Strictly Come Dancing judge Motsi Mabuse feature prominently in the campaign. Asics worked with these influencers to help challenge people’s perceptions of dramatic exercise transformations and encourage exercise for mental health benefits, not purely the aesthetic.

‘Brace Together’ by Maybelline New York 

The renowned make-up brand, Maybelline New York, recognised the challenges faced by their target audience, ages between 14-24, and identified mental health as a key struggle for this demographic. In an effort to address these struggles, the brand launched an empowering initiative known as the “Brave Together” campaign.

The primary objective of the “Brave Together” campaign is to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health and provide essential support for individuals dealing with anxiety and depression. Maybelline has developed a comprehensive, long-term program that offers one on one assistance and equips individuals with a toolkit to navigate their challenges effectively. 

In the effort to spread awareness of mental health amongst Gen Z, Maybelline enlisted the support of Storm Reid, an influential Gen Z actress known for her open discussions on mental health.   Storm advocates for and strives to create social change through her various platforms, making her the perfect voice in driving greater change amongst the brand’s consumers. 

A final thought

With social media playing such an integral role in our lives; connecting us to those we love and exposing us to extraordinary and seemingly perfect lives, it is important to remember to be kind - not only to those in the limelight but to ourselves, too. Remember, self-care, authenticity, and seeking support are key to maintaining a healthy mind in the digital age.

Whilst we are always available via the platform or email for any concerns, we acknowledge that our professional expertise here is limited. If you are concerned for yourself or a loved one, please reach out to a mental health professional to get the correct support and guidance you might need.