Instagram and mental health

mental health awareness weekBe kind to others. Be kind to yourself: what COVID-19 can teach dentists about mental health and social media.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week (18-24 May).

Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, the theme for this year is ‘kindness’ – perfect serendipity in the current climate.

Ultimately, one hopes the positive ideals of friendliness, generosity and consideration from which we’ve all drawn comfort will long outlive the immediate threat of this deadly virus and the Thursday night gathering to ‘clap for our carers’.

Small gestures of gratitude not only make others feel appreciated, they also have a positive effect on us.

And, whilst kindness is important, self-preservation matters, too, often going hand in hand.

However, we can only achieve longevity in any change by giving a 100% commitment to replacing our old habits with new.

Remaining mindful

Once this hostile environment passes and we are all in a better place, we should remain extremely mindful of the way we conduct our lives. This means looking out for others and looking after ourselves.

The internet has also become toxic territory, too. Social media is a powerful force and COVID-19 has infected areas of our digital channels and platforms.

From death tallies to its economic impact, the PPE shortage debacle to the future of dentistry, how many hours have we spent in the past few months scrolling through our feeds to seek answers, find updates or compare circumstance?

Uncertainty heightens stress levels and social media can feed the anxieties as well as lead to knee-jerk reactions in posts and comments – all of which are a bit of a minefield for our mental health.

Whilst the merits of social media are immeasurable, mindful online activity should be our mantra – especially so in times of a crisis.

There are many scientific papers to evidence the fact that social media has strong links to mental health issues – causing low self-esteem, higher depression rates, anxiety, loneliness and also envy. The list goes on.

Constructive communication

Digital connections have naturally been ramped up in this climate of self-isolation and socially distancing. In fact, many businesses could not have survived without the likes of Microsoft Teams and Zoom, whilst families and friends would be bereft without the wonders of Whatsapp and Facetime.

All of these have been a positive within a quagmire of negatives. And, once lockdown is over, we have a window of opportunity to make constructive changes to our social media activity – and create a new ‘normal’.

To ensure constructive communications online, we should:

  • Stop before we post anything on social media
  • Think about the implications of what we are saying
  • Observe the rules of kind engagement
  • Post positively!

And to elevate that positivity, we must also keep an eye on our own mental health, strength and resilience.

By managing our consumption and remaining selective in how we engage as well as the frequency, we can all enjoy the benefits of social media without it impacting on our mental wellbeing.

The battles fought during this time will not only shape the way we communicate in the future, but should also develop our emotional intelligence.

The principles of kindness during this pandemic will play a defining role in what happens next. Many of us will recall the businesses and the people who showed empathy and many of us will need to change our social media habits to stay kind to ourselves.

Be kind

Now more than ever it is important to be mindful of our relationship with social media.

Arguably, we do know something about the battle everyone is fighting, so be kind – to others and yourself.

Here, dentist Dr Mahrukh Khwaja, founder of Mind Ninja, lists some of the ways we can embrace a healthier future.

Dually qualified in dentistry and psychology, Mahrukh is also an accredited mindfulness teacher and offers educational service for dental professionals.

As an advocate of a healthy dental online community, she encourages dentists to consider more positive ways to engage using social media.

Social media mental health checklist for a healthy and resilient brain

There are a number of positive steps we can take to enhance our mental wellbeing whilst using social media. Here are some suggestions based on positive psychology, mindfulness and CBT.

  • Start your day mindfully and stop those ‘stress hits’ piling up. Avoid checking in with social media the moment you wake. Our brain has evolved to be highly attuned to danger – it used to be the sabre-toothed tiger, but now any negative news on social media is seen as a threat
  • Increase self-awareness of your social media triggers and behaviours. Ensure you check in and identify which posts are feeding your brain positive emotion versus the negatives
  • Increase levels of positive emotions. Curate a feed that is positive and uplifting by following accounts that raise your levels of joy, optimism, humour and a zest for learning
  • Encourage a positive mindset by minimising the impact of negative thoughts using thinking judo. Comparison with others may lead to over critical, catastrophising thoughts centred on being ‘good enough’. This cycle of negative thoughts therefore underpins anxiety and depression. Dentistry is also a visual results-focused profession, which may magnify this negativity. Minimise time spent in thinking traps by actively practising the 3Cs:
    • Catch a negative thought
    • Check it – is this thought helping me or hindering me?
    • Change it using three thinking strategies:
  1. Examine the evidence (‘This is not true because…’)
  2.  Reframe (‘A more helpful way to think about this…’) or
  3. Plan (‘If X happens, I will do this…’).

Actively practising the above, in real time, rewires your brain to become resilient. Our brain has amazing neuroplasticity – and can create new neural pathways for resilience each time its exercised.

  • Limit the time spent on social media. Use tracking apps, schedule pockets of the day or use scheduling apps that automatically post to help you reduce time spent online
  • Practise self-awareness and compassion. If you catch yourself unnecessarily scrolling for a long period, ask yourself: ‘Is this helping or hindering me?’ ‘How am I feeling?’ ‘How is my body feeling?’ Therefore without judgement, abort mission
  • Utilise your most underrated social media superpower; the power of muting. Turn off notifications. Constant alerts will tire and stress the brain. If switching off alerts is not possible, create boundaries that help you unplug during parts of the day
  • Be kind to yourself by avoiding engagement with trolls. Delete the comment and use the 3Cs above if you feel triggered
  • Take a digital detox two hours before bed. Turn your phone to airplane mode, enjoy your downtime and a good night’s sleep.

For more information on using Instagram, Shaz’s book Instagram for dentists is available for purchase.

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