Is Instagram good for my mental health?

This is a question I have often asked myself. As someone that suffers from social anxiety you would think that there are many aspects of Instagram, and social media in general, that would exacerbate my anxieties, but they don’t. In fact, I have learnt to use platforms like Instagram to help me with my anxiety & depression.

But this hasn’t always been the case. I have had a love/hate relationship with Instagram for as long as I can remember. I would go through periods of loving the interaction, posting everyday, doing lots of stories and generally embracing everything Instagram has to offer. Other days however I would feel like I was addicted to it. Constantly checking my likes and comments on new posts, wondering why a certain post didn’t get as many likes as previous posts. I would spend an eternity trying to take the ‘perfect’ photo and get frustrated when it inevitably didn’t happen. I would start to doubt whether it was worth my time & energy trying to get more followers and I’d ask myself ‘what’s the point?’. So definitely a love/hate relationship.

So what changed?  

Well, my mindset changed. My attitude towards Instagram changed. My expectations & goals changed. There were two main aspects I had to confront and change…

 

comparison
‘Comparison is the thief of joy’

 

  1. Stop comparing myself to others. ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ as the saying goes. And with Instagram, comparison can very quickly lead to self-doubt, anxiety & a feeling of uselessness and failure.  It’s easy to forget that Instagram is a ‘shop window’ to someones life. Most people only show what they want you to see, so in effect, you are comparing yourself to a lie. I follow many different people from many different backgrounds, and I love the fact that everyone is different! Everyone has different lives, different attitudes, different outlooks. I’ve used the word ‘different’ a few times there on purpose. Everyone’s life is different, not necessarily better, or worse, just different.
  2. Forgetting about the stats and focus on interaction. Instagram is about interaction. It’s about likes, comments, chatting, making friends, providing help & support, keeping in touch and so much more. I used to purely look at how many followers I had (or lost) and how many likes I was receiving, which is all well & good if those numbers are in a upwards trend but that’s not always going to be the case. Inevitably the numbers aren’t going to meet your expectations and that’s when the self-doubt kicks in and you start asking yourself questions. These days I focus on chatting to people, interacting on posts, building up good relationships with people. And you’ll find that if you put the effort into interacting with people, your numbers will look after themselves.

 

tips-instagram
Whilst stats are important, they shouldn’t be the primary focus

The above points don’t happen overnight. It took a long time to change my mindset and even now I will sometimes feel myself slipping back into how I used to feel. But through practice and experience I’ve learnt to notice the early signs and make sure they don’t continue to grow.

Now it’s all well and good trying not to compare yourself to other accounts but sometimes it’s almost impossible to do! In these cases you need to be true to yourself and unfollow accounts that make you feel this way! 512x512bbThis may mean having a cleanse of accounts that make you feel down and accounts that have no positive benefit to you. The whole idea is that you follow accounts that you enjoy looking at. Maybe you have something in common, maybe you really like the photos they post, maybe they make you laugh. Accounts that are irrelevant and have the potential to make you anxious of self conscious are no good to anyone so ditch them! This will also make your interactions a lot more meaningful!

 

Why I use Instagram

I use Instagram as a therapy tool. A way of expressing myself and my feelings. In real life I have many traits of an introvert. I find social situations exhausting and uncomfortable. I find it hard talking to people if I believe that they won’t really understand me, or empathise with me. But online, I can connect to thousands of people via a phone screen and still feel in complete control because they’re not all standing in front of me. The people that don’t understand, or don’t care, will probably ignore it but the few that do will interact with me and they are the important ones. The few that say, ‘I understand’, or ‘I feel the same’, they are the ones that make it worthwhile.

Instagram has given me a platform to talk about my mental health. Again, I feel comfortable being open & honest because I’m talking to people via a screen. Talking helps me and I have received many messages from other people thanking me for my honesty and openness, so it helps other people too. Imagine it as a therapy session of like minded people but instead of a few people sitting in a room, there are potentially thousands of people who know exactly where you’re coming from and can understand!

I love Instagram now. I know why I use it and what I get out of it. I know what makes me happy and what doesn’t. Instagram can be many things for different people so it’s important to know what it is for you.

Happy scrolling everyone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Therapy is…

Therapy is…what? I did a feature on instagram recently, spurred on by a post about spending 10 minutes looking at the seaview at my local beach. I just stood there, listening to the sound of the waves, feeling the cool breeze on my face & smelling the salty sea air. It was a moment of pure calmness. It was therapeutic. All around me just faded away into insignificance. It was wonderful. So I did a feature for my followers called ‘Therapy is…’.

Capture

Therapy is ‘treatment intended to relieve or heal a disorder’. I think we’ll all agree with that. Obviously, the treatment is usually talking to a professional, in a room, on a chair or couch.

But therapy can mean so many different things for different people in their day to day lives and I wanted to find out more about that from my followers.

IMG_2125
Therapy is…simple pleasures like playing on the beach.

Here are a few comments I received:

  • ‘I’m happy with a stream or river, surrounded by trees, grasses and a bit of wildlife’
  • ‘Therapy for me is any moment I can shut off and be in my head for a little while’
  • ‘Running is my therapy’
  • ‘The sea is calming and my kind of therapy’
  • ‘Exercise, either at the gym or walking’
  • ‘Therapy is either the water or the mountains!’
  • ‘For me it can be as simple as cuddles with my child on the sofa’
  • ‘Indulging in my favourite treat, some me time and a good ol’ cuddle of your loved ones’

Is amazing how many people say that being outdoors is their kind of therapy. Whether that’s by the sea, in the mountains or in a forest. I think being outdoors can put things in perspective. Most of us are consumed by our day to day lives and routines which for me is sitting in an office for 8 hours a day so getting outside, breathing in the air and taking in the view really is therapy for me.

It seems that therapy for most people is the small things, the hugs from loved ones, indulging in a favourite treat, exercising. It’s recognising the things that make us happy or make us a better person and continuing to do them.

IMG_5623
It’s all about the little moments in life. Like reading a book with your kids

I have had therapy, I’ve sat in a room and talked to a therapist and it has benefited me massively. Talking to a professional makes you understand why you feel the way you do or why you think the way you think. They can provide the answers to a lot of questions.  But in our everyday lives we need to take responsibility of our own therapy and we need to do what makes us happy.
I make an effort to have some ‘me time’ everyday. It could be going for a walk, sitting in a quiet room for 10 minutes, getting up 15 minutes earlier than usual so I can sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee before getting ready for work. It’s those moments that help me get through the day. Like I said, it’s the little things.

Why don’t you have a think? What is therapy to you?

Embracing my introverted self…

Up until very recently I thought I was anti-social. I didn’t enjoy nights out. The noise, the crowds it was all too much for me to handle and I’d often find myself sneaking off home early without telling anyone. I found making small talk unnatural and joining in a group conversation even harder. It was exhausting to be honest. I just couldn’t let my hair down.

Crowded bar
A crowded bar = My worst nightmare

The problem was I didn’t know why I wasn’t enjoying myself! I wanted to enjoy myself. I’d spend the whole time thinking ‘Come on Matt, relax, enjoy yourself, you’re with friends, this should be fun’. Obviously this internal ‘motivation’ had the opposite affect. I ended up spending too much time in my head and not enough time focusing on the external stimulus of my surroundings. I would become anxious and so self aware it was like a spotlight was shining on me and people were looking at me thinking ‘Look at him being all quiet & distant, he’s so boring’. At the end of the night I would end up disappointed, exhausted and wishing I hadn’t gone out in the first place.
So that is what I started to do – Not go out. I turned down invitations, came up with excuses like I’m tired, I can’t afford it, or sometimes I just didn’t turn up. Initially it actually felt really good. An easy way of dealing with social anxiety is to not go out in the first place, you don’t have to deal with it then. I knew deep down however, that the issue was always going to be there until I decided to do something about it, and so I started to try and understand why I felt like I did.

I was convinced I was just anti-social but then someone said to me ‘I don’t think you’re anti-social, I think you’re an introvert’. I’d obviously heard of the phrase but I didn’t know what it meant exactly. So I did some research.

I discovered a website called Introvert, Dear and all of a sudden every thing seemed to just make sense. Why I hadn’t been enjoying myself on nights out, why I had social anxiety, why I felt exhausted when socialising. The reasons were all there.

The following information in italic is taken from Introvert, Dear. And includes my thoughts highlighted in blue

So what is an introvert…? 

introvert1

The most common definition of an introvert is someone who gets drained by socialising and recharges by being alone. I felt exhausted going out and certainly enjoy my own company But there’s so much more to introversion than that. 

Everyone is born with an innate temperament  – a way that you gain energy and prefer to interact with the world. Introversion and extroversion are temperaments. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert is largely determined by your genes – meaning you were probably born that way. – I certainly remember being quiet and thoughtful as a young child. In fact I remember a story my Mum told me about Nursery when I was about 2 years old. I used to scream when I was left in the large hall with all the other children but as soon as I was taken into the smaller side room that had fewer children in I was completely fine. Kind of makes sense. 

However, we are also shaped by our life experiences. If your quiet, thoughtful ways were encouraged by your parents, teachers and others, you probably grew up feeling confident in who you are. But, like many introverts, if you were teased or bullied or told to ‘come out of your shell’ you may have developed social anxiety or felt like you had to pretend to be someone you’re notI’ve underlined this sentence as it just opened my eyes and made me start to understand why I was feeling the way I was. 

Being an introvert is completely normal and it’s not even that uncommon. US studies suggest that 30 to 50% of the US population are introverts. 

How do I know I’m an introvert…?

Have you always felt different?Yes, I always felt different in my group of friends. I was always the quiet, sensible one and I felt like I didn’t fully fit in because I wasn’t acting the same as they were. 

Do you enjoy spending time alone?  – Yes, I always take time out on my own. Whether that be getting up 10 minutes earlier than needed to sit and have a coffee in the quiet, or going to the train station early so I can enjoy the sea view on my own before getting the train to London – Which links in with my previous post on Therapy here –  INSERT LINK

Do you feel like you are the only person who doesn’t need to talk, talk, talk – or be around people ALL the time? – Yes, it’s safe to say I’m not a chatty person!

Other characteristics include:

  • We’d rather stay at home most nights than go out to one social event after the other
  • We enjoy quiet, solitary activities like reading, writing, gaming, gardening or drawing.
  • We’ll usually choose the company of a few close friends over a wild party
  • We do our best to work alone
  • Many of us will avoid small talk or other unnecessary social interactions
  • You have a vivid, rich inner world…
  • …and you’re often ‘in your head’
  • You prefer to be out of the spotlight
  • You can ‘network’ but it feels fake
  • You don’t always know what to say
  • You’re better at writing your thoughts than saying them
  • You dive deep, both in relationships and interests
  • You seek meaning

All these points hit home with me. All of them. 

introvert2

I always thought I was a shy person but I think I’ve been confusing being a shy and being an introvert because the two have totally different traits…

Being shy means you get very nervous and self-conscious in social situations. Introverts & extroverts can both have this trait – not all natural-born extroverts run around chatting with strangers! 

Being introverted means socialising wears you out. You might not be nervous or shy at all. 

Personally I believe I am little shy even though people I meet say I don’t come across shy when I speak to them. I now understand that I’m more of an introvert than shy. 

Being an introvert has negative connotations associated with it, almost like it’s a bad thing. But as I said earlier, it’s a very common and very normal way to be. Can you imagine a world full of extroverts? Or even a world full of introverts? Society needs a good mixture of both to function.

Being an introvert is often mistaken for being socially awkward, but just like shyness, they are completely different traits. Not all introverts are the same. Some will need only a little bit of alone time to recharge and can handle a fair amount of social time before they feel drained. Others drain quickly and prefer to spend very long periods alone. I believe I’m somewhere in the middle. I can handle a fair amount of social time but it’s not easy.

I also want to dispel some of the common myths surrounding what it means to be an introvert.

  • We are not necessarily socially awkward. Many introverts can actually be quite charismatic in social situations.
  • We don’t hate people. Our lack of chit chat is often misrepresented. People take it as a sign that we don’t like others. The truth is the opposite. Introverts often avoid small talk because we consider it to be inauthentic. We crave a more meaningful connection to talk to people.
  • We aren’t rude. If an introvert is completely out of social energy we may be a little crabby, or zone out for a while, but we’re not trying to be rude – and we’ll be a lot more friendlier once we’ve had time to recharge on our own.
  • We don’t need to be fixed. Being an introvert is part of who we are, and it can be a source of brilliance. We are at our best when we embrace our nature and use it as a source of strength.
  • We don’t wish we were extroverts. Sure sometimes introverts envy an extroverts ability to think quickly or fit naturally into a social situation. But we also take great delight in our inner world and alone time.

 

There’s a lot of information here and some of you maybe thinking some of it sounds familiar to your own lives. I want to try and dispel the notion that being an introvert or having some tendencies of an introvert is a negative thing. I certainly have gained a lot of reassurance from learning more about it and it has answered a lot of questions I previously couldn’t answer.

So how does this knowledge help me?

Well I looked at the information above and more on the ‘Introvert, Dear’ website and realised that I was trying to be someone I wasn’t. I was ignoring my introverted tendencies. I now know that being quiet at a party, not joining in small talk or taking some time out to be on my own is ok. I don’t have to be chatty, I don’t have to be loud, I don’t have to dance if I don’t want to. I can just relax, enjoy myself by just being me. And if that means being introverted then so be it, because that’s who I am and I’m ready to embrace it.

Men have body image issues too…

In this article I want to talk to you about men’s body issues, how society is slowly moving in the right direction when it comes to opening up and speaking out, and about my own issues with my body, how it’s affected me and what I did to deal with it….

Men have body issues. I think men have always had body issues but it’s only now that we live in a more open & acceptable society that we are now seeing more & more men coming forward and speaking up. Men are being more honest, spurred on by the ever increasing mental health campaigns out there. Society is moving in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go. Body shaming is big news and something I abhor. Whether it be mocking an overweight person in a gym changing room or claiming it’s ‘just a bit of banter’ between mates, it needs to stop. I know men that have been the butt of this ‘banter’ and they outwardly join in and laugh but on the inside it affects them deeply, often leading to low self-esteem and confidence issues. The press are the worst for it. Nit picking any celeb that has a hair out of place, or has a wrinkle, or the hint of a belly! I mean come on, really?! It’s the inconsistencies & hypocrisy that really annoys me. The same websites/media sources will post a story of how a model fat shames a fellow gym goer, get’s on the ‘society needs to stop this kind of bullying’ bandwagon, and then post a story about celeb X looking old & stressed because someone took a photo of them without their makeup on. Or a previously toned male celeb has suddenly put on a few pounds and now has a ‘Dad bod’. Young guys & girls read this crap and take it as the norm. They believe that if they have ‘a bit of a belly’ people will mock them, laugh at them and shun them. Why wouldn’t they when they see it everyday online? Anyway, this is a big issue for me as you can tell.

Let me tell you about my body issues as a man….

IMG_2379

This is me…Not so long ago I would ever had posted this photo. Why would I want people to see my body? My flat pecs, skinny arms and ever expanding back fat. But I have a different mindset now. More of a ‘I don’t give a shit’ kind of attitude. It’s important to point out here that our issues are relative. Some of you will think there’s nothing of me, I’m slim, what am I going on about, I’m just being silly! But to me I’m not, and to you, you’re not. It’s all relative.

I suffered from body issues from my late twenties (relatively late in life). Here are the reasons why…

  • Unrealistic expectations of getting the ‘perfect’ physique
  • Photos of ‘masculine’ physiques online / on TV
  • Partners commenting how hot and fit certain male celebs look
  • Constant comparison with other men
  • An underlying self-esteem issues

The biggest issue for me was the underlying self esteem issues I had. We could go deep into why I had low self esteem but the important thing for me was recognising it and doing something about it.

blue and red superman print tank top shirt
The ‘Perfect’ Physique doesn’t exist. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I spoke to a therapist to address the issues I had, why I had them and what I can do to overcome them. This helped a lot but the biggest help I received was from my wife. She understood, she empathised with me, listened to me and told me what she thought. She made me focus on being mindful, told me not to ignore my negative thoughts, but to acknowledge them and then just let them go. Understand that those thoughts are not you, and you are not controlled by them.

img_4237
On holiday in Majorca June 2018

Now when I look at the above list, this is what I see…

  • The ‘perfect’ physique doesn’t exist but we have a preconceived, distorted, media fed idea of what that means (think Chris Hemsworth, Zac Efron etc). And not only does the ‘perfect’ physique not exist, the idea of perfection varies from person to person!
  • Look at it objectively. If I see a photo of a toned, muscular body I accept it for what it is. I may say ‘Wow, look at those abs’, ‘he obviously works out’, ‘that’s a good physique!’. His body has nothing to do with me, it has no impact on my life, it doesn’t change the way my friends & loved ones view me. Only I can let that seed of jealously in to grow in my mind. And if it does sneak in there I go back to the bold point above. I acknowledge it and then let it go.
  • This is something I had to work hard at. If my partner commented on Zac Efron being hot I would immediately think ‘hold on, I don’t look like Zaf Efron, does that mean she doesn’t fancy me?? Is she going leave me for a Zac ‘Efronesque’ guy?’. It’s irrational guys and again we need to take the subjectivity out of it. Women are allowed to find other people attractive just like we find other people attractive. It’s completely normal. It’s not a dig at you, it’s not about you. And actually, the fact she feels comfortable saying that in front of you is a good thing! If your partner does then go off and find someone else then that’s their issue and you are way better off without them! Now if my wife says some guy’s hot on TV I will agree, or disagree and we could have a little banter over it.
  • I used to compare myself with other guys all the time. And I mean everyday guys in the street here. This was all down to my low self esteem. My self worth was low so it was easy for me to see other guys as fitter, stronger, more masculine, funnier, more popular etc etc…I then realised that most of these were just assumptions that I’d made up in my head! Did I know the facts? No, I didn’t. Yes, there might be a guy who has a more athletic physique but what does that mean? Well it means just that, he is more muscly than me. The idea that that makes him more popular, more attractive, more of a threat is all in my head. And the ironic thing is, this guy is probably looking at you thinking something similar! So again, I recognise those thoughts, acknowledge them, and let them go.

All this was not easy, and it took a long time. I’m not saying that I’m completely over my body issues but understanding them and rationalising them goes along way to making them seem insignificant. I speak to my wife and support groups like @dadscomm on instagram who are a bunch of Dads like me. I can do it so you can do it. Thanks for reading.