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4 Ways to Improve Your Relationship with Social Media

Recent research found links between anxiety and depression and social media use.

Key points

  • Recent research has found a relationship between problematic social media use and depression and anxiety.
  • Steps to change your social media use include increasing content that improves your well-being and reducing distressing content.
  • Do an honest assessment of your use and notice if it causes problems for you.
Paul Hanaoka/Unsplash
Paul Hanaoka/Unsplash

Is your social media use making you feel more depressed or anxious? Recent research examined 159 studies about the impact of social media on mental health. Across these studies, there were significant relationships between social media use and depression and anxiety.

People who had symptoms of depression or anxiety were more likely to have problematic social media use. Also, more extreme social media use tended to make symptoms of anxiety and depression even worse in vulnerable people.

Some reasons this study found for worsening mental health symptoms included feeling left out, increased body image concerns, unfavorable social comparison of oneself to people online, cyberbullying, and social isolation from people in real life. For some, social media use gets in the way of sleep.

Steps for Improving the Negative Impact of Social Media

Suppose you notice a negative impact of your social media use on your mental health. In that case, you don’t necessarily have to eliminate using it (although that could be an option). Instead, having a more thoughtful approach might make a world of difference in your mental health.

1. Assess Your Social Media Use

The first step to making changes is to assess areas for improvement. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • Do some platforms make you feel worse than others?
  • Are there particular people or accounts you follow on social that result in you feeling bad about yourself?
  • How much time are you spending on social media?
  • When are you most likely to be on it? Is it getting in your way of your sleep or spending time with others?
  • What are you not doing in your life because you are on social media?
  • If you post on social media, how do you feel afterward? Are you looking for validation from others? (I previously wrote this post about people looking for excessive reassurance and validation on social media).

2. Reduce Distressing Content

If certain content makes you feel worse about yourself, you can alter what content is shown to you. Therefore, if you feel vulnerable about a specific aspect of your life, give yourself permission to hide/mute/unfollow people and accounts that cause you to experience distress. Consider some common areas of personal vulnerability that might be affecting you:

  • Relationships
    • Examples: Recent loss of a relationship due to break-up, being unhappily single, dissatisfaction with a romantic relationship, family conflict or estrangement
  • Financial struggles
  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Body image concerns
  • Grief
  • Race, sexual orientation, or gender-based traumatic stress
  • Medical problems or physical disability
  • Mental health concerns

Suppose you are struggling with one or more of the above issues and find that seeing content on social media makes you feel worse about your situation. Consider making changes to the content you see (e.g., unfollowing or hiding/muting certain people or accounts, skipping videos that feed into specific algorithms).

My clients often say they feel guilty about not feeling happy for someone who has something they do not have. However, if you are struggling to make ends meet, you don’t need to see pictures of your brother at an expensive resort in Hawaii. If you just had a miscarriage, you don’t need to see images and videos right now of your friends’ babies and children.

Suppose you struggle with an eating disorder or have body image issues. You don’t need a barrage of pictures of celebrities or friends in bathing suits or body-con outfits. Your mental health comes first. So, if you are going to be on social media, it’s important to curate what you see.

Relatedly, if you follow people who post upsetting political or social commentary, consider unfollowing or hiding their content.

Finally, if a particular platform, no matter what you do, has content that continues to upset you, consider significantly restricting your exposure to it.

3. Increase Content That Improves Your Well-Being

Consider what kind of content brings you joy. When I discovered the world of foster kitten accounts on Instagram, I started following several of them. I often see cute and playful kittens when I open up the app. I also started following accounts about positive news, and now I am usually put in a good mood after being on the app because of this curation. There are some wonderful accounts on social media – think about the things that make you happy and start following those accounts.

4. Get Off Social Media and Get Into Your Life

If you spend too much time on social media, consider strategies to reduce your use. For example, on your phone, you can limit your time on certain apps (e.g., using Screen Time and Downtime on the iPhone).

It’s also helpful to consider if you are using social media for avoidance purposes (you might not even realize that you are doing that). Are you using social media to avoid problems or doing things that cause you stress?

For example, someone with relationship problems might use social media to avoid contact with their partner. A person who has social anxiety might feel like they are interacting with people by using social media. Still, they avoid going out and doing things in the world. Or, you might have something that you find unpleasant, such as looking for a job or writing a paper for school, and you use your time on social media to avoid that.

Others use social media to get validation and reassurance through likes and comments. If that is the case for you, it might be healthier to spend quality time with others in real life.

A New Relationship With Social Media Is Possible

Social media is not always problematic. However, do an honest assessment of your use and notice that it does cause some problems for you. A few changes can help you have a healthier relationship with technology.


Lopes, L. S., Valentini, J. P., Monteiro, T. H., Costacurta, M. C. de F., Soares, L. O. N., Telfar-Barnard, L., & Nunes, P. V. (2022). Problematic social media use and its relationship with depression or anxiety: A systematic review. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 25 (11), 691-702.

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