Scrolling. Liking. Commenting. Click-click-clicking. The majority of U.S. college students spend hours each day on social media platforms and are never far from their digital devices. In this era of constant online engagement, students’ identities, experiences, and mental health are significantly impacted by social media use.
In response to this, MindHandHeart created a list of tips to use social media in a healthy, positive way, in partnership with Student Mental Health and Counseling Services at MIT Medical, the Division of Student Life, and Active Minds at MIT.
Former president of Active Minds and current graduate student Tarun Kamath contributed to the list of tips and reflects on its creation, saying: “Social media can shape a student's self-image and perception of the world, and can have an enormous influence on one's mental health. Active Minds is always looking for ways in which to improve student mental health and, by disseminating this information, we hope that students may shape their social media habits such that it enhances, rather than detracts from, their daily lives.”
Complementing this list of tips, MindHandHeart and the Division of Student Life hosted study breaks in every undergraduate residence on the topic of social media and mental health in spring 2019. Students met for dinner and watched the film “Eighth Grade,” which touches on themes of social media overuse, anxiety, and growing up in today’s digital age.
In fall 2019, MindHandHeart and the Communications Forum hosted a dialogue on social media and mental health featuring Bo Burnham, comedian and director of “Eighth Grade,” and Jonny Sun, comedic author and MIT PhD candidate. Over 600 people crowded into 26-100 to hear Burnham and Sun discuss how the digital world is shaping young peoples’ identities and experiences. Both Burnham and Sun rose to fame through social media platforms and have been open about their struggles with mental health. A recap of the event by MIT Admissions Blogger and first-year student Cami M. is available on the MIT Admissions Blog.
Read through our list of tips below and consider how they might apply to your own social media use.
1. Support a healthy online community. Before you comment, let your words pass through three gates: At the first gate, ask yourself “Is it true?” At the second gate ask, “Is it necessary?” At the third gate ask, “Is it kind?” (Inspired by a quote from Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet.)
2. Live in the moment. Photos and videos have their place, but awareness of the present moment is crucial to your connections and experiences! A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology by Tamira et.al. reports that media usage could even change or reduce memories of life events. So capture that amazing sunset, but don’t forget to enjoy it, too.
3. Link instead of compare. Comparing yourself to other people can make you unhappy in the long run, whereas making genuine connections with others can enhance your overall well-being. If you are on social media for a few minutes, mindfully ask yourself, “Am I comparing? Or linking?” Take a moment to do something that links you — reach out to an old friend or elder relative and send them something to brighten their day.
4. Follow people and things that bring you joy. A lot of social media content is highly curated and may represent lifestyles and attitudes that don’t exist. To account for this, consider limiting the number of people you follow on social media. This could mean only following those who are close to you, make you feel good, and will be there when you need them.
5. Keep things IRL (In Real Life). If social media is causing you any stress, consider deleting apps such as Facebook and Instagram from your phone so that you don’t have easy access to them. Prioritize time spent with friends and family over time spent scrolling through social media.
6. Start your day intentionally. As easy as it is to pick up your phone and start scrolling from your bed, it may not be the healthiest way to begin your day, as you cannot control what you’re going to see. Seeing something negative could potentially contribute negative subconscious thoughts that put one at risk for unhealthy patterns, according to research conducted by Marcus Raichle at Washington University in St. Louis. Try starting with meditation, prayer, stretching, or positive affirmations instead. These alternatives are likely to support a healthier internal monologue.
7. Make events accessible. If you’re planning an event, be sure there are other ways for people to RSVP who aren’t on Facebook or other social media platforms.
8. Take a break and support others in doing so. If a friend is struggling with social media overuse and wants to take a break from it or use blocking apps, support them and don’t make fun of them. Join them in the break, if possible.
9. Don’t struggle alone. If you are experiencing anxiety, depression, attention problems, or any other deeper issue related to social media overuse, make an appointment to talk with someone who can help you feel better again. MIT offers an array of peer, group, and counseling services. Visit resources.mit.edu/resources/personal-support to learn more.