4 ways to safeguard self-esteem on social media

Don't let your social feeds eat away at a positive self-image

If you’ve ever felt down after scrolling through your social media feeds, you’re not alone. In fact, we’re almost hardwired for that to happen, says Tanya Spencer, a clinical psychologist at NAIT and lead for student counselling and chaplaincy at the polytechnic.

Spencer says the human brain is built to develop relationships with about 150 people – a cap known as Dunbar’s Number.

“You have limited slots in your brain for people,” she says. Social media can saturate those. When you’re online, “you have instant access to far more people than our brains are geared for.”

Whether you realize it or not, your brain attempts to develop a relationship with the people in your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Snapchat feeds, drawing comparisons between them and you. If you view yourself as not as good as those who you’re comparing yourself to over and over, your self-esteem can plummet.

“It’s sometimes the case that the people who are most vulnerable [to having their self-esteem impacted] are the heaviest consumers,” says Spencer. Often, they don’t know how susceptible they are, she adds.

If checking you social feeds tends to leave you feeling low, here’s Spencer’s advice for boosting your self-esteem back up where it belongs.

social media unfriend or unfollowUnfriend or unfollow

The messages you view as negative don’t have to feature violence or inappropriate behavior, says Spencer. Posts by friends or family on social media can affect you when that wasn’t the intention. Fortunately, you have the power to stop those posts from entering your feed.

"Use that unfriend button.”

“Use that unfriend button,” she says. Or, in the case of certain family members or friends, adjust your settings to change who appears in your feed.

Develop a disrupter

If you realize you’re pursuing messages or stories online that deflate your self-esteem, Spencer says to find a way to interrupt yourself. “Put a note on your computer, or have a mantra like, ‘It doesn’t matter what people online say.’ If it’s a case where you keep getting beat up online and keep going back for more, you need to think [of a solution],” says Spencer.

She suggests wearing an elastic band on your wrist. “If you catch yourself thinking a [negative] thought, give yourself a little snap. It might not work for everyone, but it’s a bit of a mental stop sign.”

Focus on the good

If you’re stuck in the cycle of seeking out damaging content online, feeling bad about what you’ve seen, then starting all over again, reassess how you spend your time on the internet. Try spreading positivity with your presence, Spencer says.

"Figure out what’s going to build a sense of meaning.”

social media break“What are the parts of your online life that make you feel good? Figure out what’s going to build a sense of meaning.” Consider using your time online to lift others up, says Spencer. As blogger Melyssa Griffin suggests, try supportive tweets, complimentary comments on blogs, or by creating Pinterest boards that make you – and likely others – happy.

Walk away

A great option is to log off. “If you are struggling, put [your device] down,” says Spencer.

You may need to step away from social media more often than others, and that’s okay. “People react to social media in different ways, depending on their personalities,” she says.

“Some people say, ‘Don’t take it personally,’ [but] not everybody has the ability to do that.” Time away can help you gain perspective before you sign back on.

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