Mental Health and Social Media


Photo by Eren Li from Pexels


I recently did something quite *radical*.

*Pause for effect.*

I deleted Instagram for two weeks.

*GASP!*

Now, for those of you who aren’t on Instagram, this might not mean a whole lot to you. For you folks, imagine I just said that I didn’t read anything for two weeks (books, news, articles, magazines… nada.) Yeah, now you get me ;-)

For my friends who are on Instagram, you’ll understand why this is a big deal.

I chose to take a break because I found that it was becoming a coping mechanism for other emotions that I was struggling to be with. Scrolling felt like a mini vacation from the difficult feelings of anxiety and fear. A quick bout of scrolling would soothe the physical discomfort and difficult thoughts that accompany anxiety. Thus providing short-term relief but leaving me no closer to addressing the root of the anxiety and fear in my body.

(Side note: I share these experiences because I know that someone reading this newsletter is nodding along thinking: “Oh my gosh, I do that too! I’m not alone!” No reader, you are are NOT alone and I’m excited to share more about what helped me to be with those feelings.)

As you may know the yoga tradition is not just about physical postures. Even though I mostly talk to you fine folks about the physical aspects of practice (because I think it’s fascinating and exciting), there is a LOT more to it than that.

Within the yoga tradition, there is a practice called Saucha. This is the practice of mental and physical purity/cleanliness and it highlights the relationship between clean spaces and physical hygiene and how those two things impact our mental health. Let me put it this way: I’m sure you’ve heard the expression of how one’s mental health is reflected by the state of one’s bedroom? If one’s bedroom is in a disarray… we can maybe guess that things in a person’s mind may also be a big chaotic? If one’s belongings are anally organized, perhaps their inner world is also tightly controlled?

There are many things that impact our mental states, though. We can look at the inputs we take in through our senses to see what thoughts and emotions crowd our mental field. For example, what is the quality of the media that you consume on a daily basis? What kind of messaging or images are you exposing your mind to most frequently? What music do you listen to? What kinds of podcasts? News sources? Gossip? What kind of Instagram accounts? Most importantly: how do those pieces of content leave you feeling? How much mindless information are you consuming and filling the “room of your mind” with? Do you leave yourself space where you aren’t consuming more information? Just like how we can collect and accumulate hoards of clothing in our closet until we can no longer see the floor, we can also accumulate vast amounts of information which fill our mind and leave us feeling disconnected from ourselves and our lives.

I noticed that every time I came off a scrolling session (no matter how short), I consistently felt temporarily better, emotionally lighter and entertained. So what’s the problem, right? Well the trouble was that when it came to returning back to the material world, I felt more and more disconnected rather than connected to it. At very subtle levels, I began to feel disheartened as to why my life wasn’t as shiny, happy and perfect as what I saw online.

Let’s pause here.

Doesn’t that sound silly in a sense? Why would we feel like our lives are so crap in comparison to someone living a very different life in say… Costa Rica… who apparently only eats fresh mango and does handstands on the beach all day? Two radically different lives… why would we even go down that road of comparison? Rationally, we know social media is curated. Rationally, we know that most of what we’re seeing is about 0.1% of a person’s whole life. Rationally, we know we can’t really compare our life to anyone else’s… yet, this isn’t about the rational mind. This is about how this content makes us feel. It’s emotional. Often, the comparing and the self-judgement take place at a subconscious level and we’re so busy consuming content that we don’t have space to feel it’s impact on the body. Especially with the latest push to Reels where now not only are we consuming images and text, but even more information with music, voice-over, text, little dances, mock mini-dramas. It’s a lot to take in.

When we’re practicing mental cleanliness, we clean up our habits around the content we consume (How much time spent? With what frequency? At what time of day?) and we curate the content we consume so that we aren’t over-loading ourselves with messaging/images that leave us feeling more disconnected from ourselves rather than connected to our selves.

Here are some other things that helped to cultivate more of a feeling of connection to myself again during my 2-week vacation from Instagram:

  • Chose to lengthen my morning meditation sessions (up from 20 minutes to 30 minutes — which was ground breaking, by the way)

  • Had some fun in the kitchen and cooked more meals from scratch (good stuff, too like lentil soup, Shepard’s pie, chicken noodle soup, carrot juice and pizza)

  • Spent more time alone reading books and doing puzzles.

  • Remembered I really enjoy singing along to songs from musicals and have been singing non-stop to Broadway hits (sorry, Christa!).

  • Signed up for a course in mental health to begin to actively learn more about how to care for feelings of anxiety and fear so that Instagram scrolling doesn’t become a fall-back again.

My overall emotional state and self esteem got a boost as well simply because I was more engaged in the life in front of me.

Research has shown for years that Instagram has a negative impact on how folks see themselves and their place in the world. Now that I’m back on the app, I have also begun to cull accounts that I was following because of how their content generally makes me feel.

Scary videos of animals in the wild? Nope.

Yoga Influencers who project fitness culture? Bye.

Business coaches who preach posting 3-5x/day on social media? See ya!

The yoga tradition teaches a million and one ways of remembering our innate wholeness.


Mental cleanliness practices around social media are just one way of removing the veils that stop us from accessing the wisdom of our hearts and remembering who we truly are.

Sending you great love and compassion on this human journey,

Kat





Photo by Eren Li from Pexels


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