THE DEBRIEF: ON A BAD DAY ONE WRONG TWEET CAN SPEND ME SPIRALING - AND I KNOW I'M NOT THE ONLY ONE. BUT HOW MUCH POWER DO WE HAVE OVER HOW OUR SOCIAL MEDIA FEEDS MAKE US FEEL?
It’s been shown time and time again that social media has a far-reaching impact on our lives. From body image to home decor envy, there’s always something that we have to keep up with - but how much does our day to day interaction with the online world affect our moods? It has the potential to affect me a lot, I reckon; depending on various other factors, the things I encounter online can certainly set the tone for my day. For example, if I wake up feeling pretty good and then check Twitter, seeing messages from people being complimentary about my work/haircut/cat feels great! The world feels like a friendly place.
Some things can go either way. I had a message the other day telling me to “ignore the haters.” Luckily on that particular day I was in quite an upbeat mood, so it didn’t really phase me. Hey, at least if people are saying horrible things about me they’re not doing it to my face. (People say some really nasty things online, as we all know, and I’ve had more than my fair share of shit over the years.) I remember thinking on reading this message that I was glad the timing worked out, because I know if I was having a bad day, or feeling insecure, that a message like that could have been a lot more upsetting. If I was already feeling down then the suggestion that there are a load of people out there in the world thinking I'm awful would be a lot to bear, adding to feelings of anxiety and poor self-esteem that I, like most of us, deal with on a regular basis.
As much as social media can affect our moods, it can also work the other way around, with our moods influencing how we use the internet. A 2014 studysuggests that how we interact with people online is determined by our mood when we log on: when we feel unhappy or unsuccessful, we like to spend time looking at people who are worse off than us, to make ourselves feel better. People already feeling happy aren’t searching for a self-esteem boost, so are more likely to spend time looking at people who they consider to be attractive and successful. I think this is somewhat true; if I’m having a day where I feel spotty and gross then I do not want to look at a glowing yoga bunny eating chia seeds upside down on a beach somewhere. I want pictures of cute puppies and fried food covered in cheese.
In a strange way I find this a cheering thought. As much as the daily grind of online life has the potential to influence us, we can also steer our own usage, subconsciously or not, to make us feel better. This means we have the opportunity to choose the way that we want to feel, and make sure we’re giving ourselves the best exposure to make it happen. For example, if you know that following fitness bloggers on Instagram makes you feel inspired and motivated, that’s perfect; but if you know following them makes you feel inadequate and overwhelmed (me) then maybe that’s not going to be good for you. As an alternative, you might like to find some people posting about body positivity or their own challenging, realistic fitness journeys.
That’s just one instance where your choices could help to change your mood for the better day to day, but it can be applied to your social media landscape in general. When we know how much potential there is for mind-altering content online, we can at least anticipate some of these things and make the conscious decision to make our feeds a more mood-boosting place.