There is literally nothing like the internet to mess with your head. From the validation culture (how many likes?), subtle mean-girling (the ‘laughing emoji’ placed into your comments feed on Instagram when you post a selfie) or downright, unequivocal abuse, what is supposed to be a world of communication is a world of terror for many.
It’s not even a question of being thick-skinned – get enough of those laughing emojis – which is the least of it – and you can really start to feel worried and upset. I rarely post selfies so have bypassed this particular mean-girl trend but I certainly got it on my L’Oreal True Match pictures. I blocked everyone who did it because I can – and so can you.
It’s World Mental Health Day today so mental health has been in my timeline constantly and it’s made me think about how the internet has an impact. I’ve just watched a video from an anti-bullying site (I can’t even describe it to you, it’s that bad) that was filmed (obviously) and uploaded to Facebook – pre-internet, it would never have been filmed nor would there have been anywhere to watch it. But would it still have happened? It’s unanswerable, really. But the things we see have an impact whether it’s extreme like the video or whether it’s just a slow, drip-drip laughing emoji. Mental health is such a huge, wide-ranging subject most of which I can’t touch on – I’m simply not equipped to do so, but I can talk about what I see day to day.
There are extremes of behaviour on the internet and you have to make a choice. You have to choose properly to look after your own mental health. Because internets is my job, I see a lot of people being very much brought down by the relentless pressure of being ‘liked’, whether that’s the Instagram heart, the FB like or the number of followers you have. I see people desperate for likes (repetitive follower checking), and desperation is an awful feeling, I see obvious bullying and I see less obvious, subtle eroding of confidence (‘DMing you!’ i.e. obviously and purposefully leaving someone out). Every day! I’ve seen some shocking ganging up by grown women who should know better in forums, and I’ve seen aggression beyond belief – over lipstick mainly.
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I also know that in my timeline on Twitter where I do most of my communicating there are many, many people, mainly women, who suffer from mental health issues – from full on bi-polar (I still look for someone I followed years ago with bi-polar who has worryingly recently disappeared and it’s not so long ago that someone I had a great Twitter relationship with committed suicide. She was relentlessly supportive of others and yet could see no value in herself) to other mental health issues such as anxiety or depression (I understand these can also be severe).
Humans rely on visual references – on social media channels, there aren’t any. There isn’t a live face for you to look at and gauge emotion, there isn’t a voice to pick up intonations from and there’s no body language to help you either. You literally have to guess what people mean. We all love a guessing game, right? But, if you feel downhearted, anxious, worried or self-doubting, you can read all sorts of things into the guessing game comments. And it can wear you down and sometimes it’s the difference between good mental health and a downward spiral.
So, you have to make a conscious balance in your mind between people who are good for you and people who aren’t, especially online. And you DO know the difference. You do. My timelines are full of people I really, genuinely want to be there but it took a long time to eradicate those I didn’t want there. I still use my block button without hesitation and very rarely is there an issue. I get the odd comment from someone who is blocked but they’re blocked for good reason. I do not want to communicate with them!
You cannot exist in any happy state unless you feel able to take control of what you see. All I can offer you is the support to use your courage and keep good people around you online, because they’re the ones that make or break your social experiences.
Everyone feels wobbly sometimes – bloggers, vloggers, instagrammers, snapchatters, periscopers – everyone. I left Periscope and went to FB Live instead – the trolls were just unbearable on Periscope and while I left behind a lot of followers, give me that small, lovely, supportive and fun group that follow my FB Live any day of the week. ANY day.
‘Social’ media is an outdated term for places that are in reality rather anti-social. Likes don’t matter – you do. Your well-being matters far more than whether you lost a follower. Block everyone that makes you feel like a sadder or more worried version of yourself on every single channel. Don’t look back and don’t go back; go forward knowing you have made a positive choice. Nobody needs those mean-girls (who probably have endless issues of their own because if they didn’t they’d be doing more meaningful things than purposefully bringing others down).
The other thing I’d urge you to do is when you see someone is having a hard time on-line, offer them some support whether it’s directly into their timeline or in a DM. I do it and it’s good for people to know that someone wants to know they’re okay whether you know them in real life or not. I’m always pleased to know if someone I follow has a mental health issue – it helps to understand them better and also to offer support (even if it’s just to send them the number of a mental health help line which I have done in the past). It’s also the case that sometimes it’s easier for someone who is suffering to ‘speak’ on social channels than it is in real life so it’s important to hear them.
You are entitled to a safe and happy place online – it’s absolutely your right to have it, so please ensure that what happens online doesn’t contribute to an existing mental health issue or cause one. I’ll repeat: you are entitled to a safe and happy place online.
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