It’s hard to imagine a world where we’re not constantly on our phones.
The White Lotus and Euphoria star Sydney Sweeney has admitted her relationship to Instagram can be problematic, telling PA news agency: “It’s the most unhealthy part of my life. The fact that I am second-guessing and having anxiety over posting a picture is sickening.”
There are undoubtedly positives to social media – it can help us stay connected to loved ones, and Instagram can get your creative juices flowing. However, it can also have negative effects on our mental health.
In a 2017 report from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and the Young Health Movement (YHM) Instagram was ranked the worst platform for young people’s mental health, saying social media in general is “linked with increased rates of anxiety, depression and poor sleep”.
Priory psychotherapist Pamela Roberts suggests social media platforms such as Instagram can encourage a “disengagement” with other people and life around you. “Psychologically, that’s unhealthy because we become engaged in a fantastical life instead of a real life, and then real life becomes a constant disappointment, and disappointment can lead to anxiety and depression,” she says.
Roberts adds: “Not everybody is affected in the same way,” but if you’re on the more extreme end of the spectrum, some of these signs might apply to you…
Complete preoccupation with Instagram
Roberts talks about “the constant need to be with the phone or device” – she’s even seen people so preoccupied with their phone, they “step in front of traffic and [are] not even aware the traffic stops for them”.
Sometimes this can manifest as a “psychological withdrawal”, she says. “So, if the internet’s not available or the device has gone missing, there’s a complete anxiety and breakdown, distress, anger frustration – inappropriately sized reactions to an inability to engage with Instagram.”
It affects other people
Often it can be hard to see you’ve got a problem, and it might be the people around you who notice first. Roberts suggests other people getting worried and noticing you’re disengaged could signal something’s wrong.
Your mood changes
Another warning sign is “people starting to become depressed or highly anxious” due to their Instagram use, says Roberts.
You won’t alter your behaviour
Roberts mentions an “unwillingness to make any changes” because you have an “absolute attachment to not reduce the activity and start introducing other things”.
What can you do to improve your relationship with Instagram?
If your relationship with social media is really troubled, Roberts recommends getting help – particularly if perpetually scrolling through Instagram is a way of avoiding real troubles in your life.
“Sometimes these things are ways of managing emotions that feel too much,” she says, “so sometimes, that does need an assessment, if there’s some kind of trauma this is desensitising you from.”
You might also want to talk to people experiencing the same thing. “That can always be helpful, to get some sense of there [being] nothing shameful about this, it’s just a pattern that’s become entrenched,” advises Roberts.
On a simpler level, Roberts recommends making daily changes, including: “Making sure there’s only one screen open at a time, [setting] time limits, then doing more mindfulness – actually engaging with people in conversation.” For the psychotherapist, it’s about “relearning behaviour patterns: if you’re walking along the street and looking at your phone, stop – put the phone in your pocket, put it somewhere else, even switch it off”.
Her other top tip is finding a healthy activity you really enjoy to replace scrolling through Instagram. “There’s a real need to get into life activities: in person, with other people, and physical activities that are enjoyable,” Roberts says.