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‘An ode to social media’ by Matt Haig

“When anger travels the internet, looking for a hook, it’s time to disconnect, and go and read a book.”

Matt Haig, author of ‘Reasons to stay alive’ and ‘Notes on a nervous planet’, announced this week that he’s backing away from Twitter for the sake of his mental health. He tweeted;

“I am reaching the end of my Twitter life. I find myself too easily annoyed, and too easily annoying on here. I have been too addicted to something bad for me. Sticking with Instagram- Mattzhaig – but cooling it on Twitter. So many great people here. But this medium is bad for me.”

He then posted on Instagram; “I have quit Twitter and no longer Facebook and I feel sunnier already.”

Is this a drastic move or a sensible one that we should all consider? Is social media detrimental to our mental health?

A lifeline to the outside world

For many of us living with chronic ill-health the internet, and social media in particular, can be a lifeline to a world that we often feel excluded from. Chronic illness can be very isolating, and social media provides a way for us to socialise, and meet new friends, without leaving our home, or in my case, my bed.

It allows us to connect with people who understand our struggles, who know the words of encouragement we need to hear and who help us to feel heard at a time when we feel our most invisible. Social media allows us to preserve existing relationships too, when we are unable to connect in the ‘real world’ due to ill-health.

And for many of us social media plays a much bigger role. Through my Facebook pages and the groups I admin, I have rediscovered my purpose in life. Without social media my platform to express myself, raise awareness and reach out to help others, is taken away. And I have made some incredible friends online and their continued support has helped me through some very tough times.

Sometimes the pressure gets too much

But like with most things in life, it’s not all positive. Sometimes the pressure gets too much, and we need to take a break.

The pressure to reply to comments or messages. The need to engage when we feel an injustice is being carried out. The need to defend friends, or strangers that get attacked by trolls online, and the need to correct misinformation. Not to mention the pressure to conform to impossible standards, and compulsion to compare our lives to the ‘perfect’ lives presented to us on all social media platforms.

When my mental health deteriorates I overstep an unseen line in the sand. Social media is no longer ‘social’, it becomes much more. It’s like I’m on a mission to correct the wrong.  When my health deteriorates I find myself compelled to get involved with discussions and arguments, which normally I would just scroll by. Negatives comments which I would normally just brush off, upset me. I’m a lot more argumentative and dare I say it, opinionated.

Matt Haig has written very honestly about his own struggles with mental ill-health. He talks a lot about the fast, chaotic and anxiety inducing world that we live in his book ‘Notes on a nervous planet’. In particular the role that social media plays. And he states that when he feels his anxiety levels rising, he has to disconnect from this chaotic world in order to break the downward spiral.

Social media exposes us to the ugliness within society

There is no denying that social media is invaluable for people with health conditions to know that they are not alone. But a number of studies have found an association between social media use and depression, anxiety, sleep problems, eating issues, and increased suicide risk.

Social media exposes us to the ugliness within society. And that can be tough on those of us who live with mental ill-health.

It’s tough to hang onto hope when you’re exposed to such cruelty online. The news, trolls, discrimination and bullying all serve to validate the cruel thoughts we’re already fighting in our heads. And the horrific videos and images that people insist on sharing, that you cannot unsee, can replay in our minds for days. With the recent terrorist attacks in New Zealand, and the torrent of racist abuse that followed online, it’s hard not to get sucked into this ugliness. I know it has deeply affected my mental health.

Could we all benefit from taking a break from social media?

Living with chronic ill-health, and being isolated, can feel awful. Some days, we’re up to interacting with others, and other days we want to hide away from the world. Social media can be a great window into the world, but it can also become overwhelming.

It’s not just the possible negative effect on our mental health, but interacting on social media can be exhausting too. For those of us with physical illnesses that affect our energy levels, social media can zap our already limited resources.

And disconnecting allows us to focus on real life connections. It also allows us to focus our energy on the day-to-day challenges ill-health places on our lives.

In my article 10 tips to get you through bad mental health days, I write about the need to disconnect when we are struggling with our mental health;

“9. Take a break from social media.

We only see carefully edited highlights of people’s lives on social media but it can often appear to us that other people’s lives are perfect. This can add to our insecurities and feelings of inadequacy, which often amplify our feelings of failure. No matter how much we try to avoid it, social media is also an open market for drama, stress, trolls and judgemental thinkers.

Although social media can give us a valuable connection to the outside world, it can also add to our stress levels, and we don’t need that when we are already struggling with self worth. Try taking a break from social media and see if it helps.”

Sometimes the very best thing we can do for our mental wellbeing, and physical health is to disconnect for a while. The world will continue to keep spinning without us.

As Matt Haig puts it: “we live in a 24-hour society but not in 24-hour bodies”. It’s impossible to keep up with the chaotic world we live in without damaging our health, so don’t be afraid to do what’s best for you.

I know how overwhelming social media can be when I’m already struggling with my health. I often take breaks from social media because sometimes cutting off this connection, even if only temporarily, is the best way to stop my health from deteriorating further.

If you feel you mental health is suffering, and you can feel yourself spiralling into the abyss, maybe it’s time to take a step back and disconnect for a while. The internet isn’t going anywhere. Take care x

Do you find social media hard work when you are struggling with your health? Do you ever take breaks from social media for the sake of your health?

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