Is Social Media Helping or Hurting My Mental Health?

Man using online screening IOI-S to check for signs of an eating disorder

Contributor: Kirsten Haglund, Community Relations Representative for Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center and Founder and President of the Kirsten Haglund Foundation

In order to take a proper, introspective look into how our social media habits affect our mental health, we first need a proper idea of how good mental health actually looks.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as, “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” (

Certainly, this picture of mental health is a lofty goal, and not all of us are operating at 100 percent, all of the time. However, some kind of balance of these standards gives us a pretty good idea of what good mental health looks like in a very practical sense.

So, let us approach the question of whether our social media habits are helping or hurting our mental health based on the WHO’s definition.

Ability to Reach Our Potential

Reflect on your goals: personal, professional, relational, spiritual. What are the gifts, talents, and abilities you have been given? How are you using these to further your potential?

After reflecting upon those questions, ask yourself if your social media habits help you to further that progress or hinder it. How much time do you spend on social media, and is it productive, such as networking on LinkedIn, or writing recovery blogs?

Or do you find yourself dejected and in despair after hours of scrolling through Facebook and Instagram posts, less inspired to do anything as a result of low-self esteem and a lack of self-worth? Try to identify the platforms that help you realize your potential and those that do not.

Coping with the Normal Stresses of Life

Social media has immense power to bring people into communities of activism. The body positive movement, pro-recovery community, blogs and Facebook groups can help immensely in offering a way to connect with others and find ways to cope with the stresses of life.

The lifeline that social media provides to others going through similar things can promote healthy habits and reinforce good decisions we make with enthusiasm. However, when stress abounds, and we turn to social media like a drug – for fulfillment, stimulation, or self-flagellation – it becomes incredibly damaging to the mind and spirit.

Social media addiction can be a very real phenomenon and can take us further into the pit when stress strikes, rather than helping us out of it.

Working Productively & Fruitfully

Woman Checking Social Media Images

Let’s be honest: Social media can be a procrastinator’s best friend. It is incredibly distracting. It can also assist in productivity if used the right way. Many people find that setting time limits, like five minutes at a time, or 30 minutes total in a day on Facebook, helps to keep the distraction to a controlled minimum.

Also, fruitful work is fulfilling and boosts self-confidence. When we are constantly distracted or comparing ourselves to others, checking back to see the number of likes or shares a photo gets, we lose the benefit of the mental health boost that comes from accomplishing meaningful work.

Making a Contribution to the Community

One of the greatest things about recovery is that it frees us up to help make a difference in the lives of others. When we struggle with an eating disorder, addiction, or another mental health issue, we lack the capacity to bear anyone else’s burdens or be of service to our greater friend group, church, or community.

A great gauge of mental health is whether or not we are able to put down the smartphone and the self-absorption it represents, and reach out to others: have face-to-face interactions, visit a friend or family member, a volunteer with a non-profit organization.

Or, you can use your social media profiles to organize groups to action, sign petitions, or promote causes about which you care. Ask yourself, does your social media activity help assist in this effort, or hinder it?

It could be that your phone, tablet or laptop is draining your fire to reach out to others rather than inspire you to get out and get involved.

We all strive to be mentally healthy, especially throughout and after recovery. Social media is neither inherently good nor bad: it is a tool that can be powerfully used to enhance our mental health or to damage it.

Reach out to a friend, therapist, or church elder to talk about your social media use. Then take some time for introspection. Rather than experiencing “FOMO” (fear of missing out), balanced social media habits can lead to a less anxious, more gracious, embrace of life both on and off screen.

Kirsten+Haglund+HeadshotAbout the author: Kirsten Haglund continues to work as an advocate for greater awareness of eating disorders and resources for care. Since she won the crown of Miss America 2008, she has spoken on numerous college campuses, worked with youth and church groups domestically and abroad, lobbied Congress with the Eating Disorders Coalition, and started her own non-profit, the Kirsten Haglund Foundation, to raise funds and assist families financially in seeking treatment for eating disorders. She is also the Community Relations Specialist for Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on August 30, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 30, 2017.
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