Social Media Self-Care

(Trigger Warning: this post discusses eating disorders)

During my recovery from an eating disorder, I learned that social media can be toxic when working to maintain a healthy relationship with food, your body, and mental health—but it can also be a valuable asset if used correctly. Because media inevitably impacts your mindset, whether or not you realize it, harnessing the power of your content exposure can greatly influence what you take away from a scroll down your feed. Enacting social media self-care has been one of the best ways to preserve my mental health and enhance my self-esteem, and I truly believe these small steps can benefit anyone with an online handle.

(Note: in the rest of this post I will mainly address Instagram because that’s the app I use most often, but this advice can apply to basically any platform)

Let’s flashback to eighth-grade me, an awkward tween full of angst, misdirected energy, and, most importantly, a newly purchased iPod 4. My first app, recommended to me by my middle-school girl gang, was (of course) Instagram. I immediately followed a bunch of fitness “inspo” accounts because as an athlete I thought they would motivate me get in shape. Instead, every time I opened the app I was bombarded with pictures of fitness gurus with 5% body fat and triple-D’s, a body shape unattainable for most individuals—especially young girls, like me, whose bodies are still developing.

However, it took me a long time to realize that these accounts posting “inspiring” images of busty, sculpted women made me think this was a typical appearance for a healthy person, leading me to have a misguided idea of what it meant to be healthy and to feel beautiful. In reality, this physique is difficult, if not impossible, for most to uphold unless it’s literally their day job (as it is for many of the models on these pages). I’m not saying inspo accounts are always unhelpful for all people, but I have found that for someone struggling with self-image or eating-related health concerns, accounts with too much emphasis on too narrow a construct of beauty can be incredibly toxic.

A huge breakthrough in my recovery was learning to be intentional about crafting my media feed. First, I unfollowed these inspo accounts and any other account that made me anxious or insecure. The change was immediately noticeable: I stopped feeling stressed after scrolling through my feed because I was no longer pressured by the constant presentation of unrealistic physiques.

Next, I followed accounts that could provide more positive messages. There are ample of them on Instagram, my long-time favorites being @happypositives, @thepositivitypage, and @teenpositivity. These accounts were a huge step in my self-care journey. Now when I scroll through my feed, I’m met with daily reminders of the world’s beauty and my own worth—messages that have inspired me more than any IG model ever could. Again, this isn’t meant to insult fitness gurus; I just know that for me, at least, it’s healthier to process content promoting positivity and self-care than posts emphasizing physique.

I also decided be more mindful about the pages I like. Instagram has an algorithm noting what pictures you double-tap, and this algorithm helps shape your recommended-for-you page. When I constantly and mindlessly liked pictures, including those of fitness accounts, my recommendations page was filled with content that continued to pressure and depress me. When I switched to carefully liking only the posts (besides those of my friends’) that I knew would benefit me to see more of—for me, posts mainly involving social justice and self-care topics—my recommendations page filled with messages encouraging self-love and helping me grow as a person, a citizen, and an ally.

Another dilemma I’ve had is trying to stay informed without letting the constant, often-depressing updates on current event accounts get me overwhelmed. To remedy this concern, I designated one particular app for me to receive most of my news from—for me, it’s Twitter—and allow the rest of my media to follow less news-oriented content. This provides me easy access to news when I want it but also allows the option for me to go to my safe space on another app and refuel with some positive quotes and pictures of puppy when I need a little break.

If an account always leaves you feeling insecure or anxious, and you see no real benefits to keeping it around, then get rid of it—even if that account is your friend’s. Many people feel that they have no choice in seeing their friend’s posts, but if these posts are just leaving you down, then you have every right to take a step back from them. This doesn’t mean you have to unfollow your friend entirely. Instead, try muting their account for a few days—they won’t be able to tell, and it gives you choice to check in on the friend’s posts when you feel ready rather than when Instagram’s algorithm declares.

This isn’t to say we should unfollow any account that challenges our thinking or poses a different lifestyle than our own; however, I think people often don’t realize how much content on their feed has far more downsides than benefits. Actively curating your feed to only contain content that adds something beneficial to your day—whether that be a new perspective on life or a new way to bake brownies—is an easy way to take care of yourself.

Social media self-care isn’t just avoiding inspo pages or double-tapping less often: it’s learning to be mindful. It’s enacting a cycle of choices to shape your feed into content that helps rather than harms you. This means being in-tune with your mental health and your reactions to all content on your feed. So whether you struggle with body-image and your relationship with food, or simply want an easy way to grow as a person and improve your mental health, I highly recommend trying social media self-care. It has helped me in my own recovery from an eating disorder and has aided my personal growth. Plus, when some middle-aged grump tells you that social media is “ruining youth,” you’ll have the delightful opportunity to prove them wrong.

Follow Gretta on Instagram and Twitter if you’re interested in regular updates of how often she forsakes her homework to get boba tea or watch Hulu.

Gretta Kissell