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More Than Your Handle: On Mental Health + Social Media.

It seems to me that when I find myself at a table with a group of people, more and more often these days, a conversation on the toxicity of social media comes up. Okay, maybe it's because I bring it up.

But that's all I really need to do to launch a heated discussion on the downfalls of our online lives, and inspire personal stories of overcoming digitally-induced mental health struggles. The feeling is clearly there, it's shared, and we're all aware of this common reality for many of us. Even those of us (myself included) who thought we were above falling into the pitfalls we read and hear about, have at some point found ourselves caught in the wires of self-doubt, anxiety and pressure we were warned about.

The fact is: social media is a huge part of our mental health in 2021 and beyond. We need to stop pretending its effects on everything from our happiness, self-worth, daily habits and even brain chemistry to our very identities somehow don't or won't affect us. And so, for Mental Health Awareness Month, it seemed only fitting to address this increasingly relevant issue. I asked a few friends from my feed and IRL to share their experiences with managing their mental health on social media as well as their tips.

When I first joined Instagram it was new and people hadn’t really begun profiting off it yet (at least in South Africa). As more people (including me) started profiting off Instagram and becoming “content creators” I started feeling stressed about curating a certain style of content and showcasing a certain lifestyle.

It’s not that my photos weren’t authentic but I only showed my followers specific aspects of my life. For about a year I found it fun. I liked creating content and getting clothes and shoes to play with but then I started feeling exhausted. It was tiring having to post because I had to and not because I created something I wanted to share.

I stopped doing work for brands and kind of let my Instagram die down. Even though I wasn’t making money anymore I actually felt better about myself. I didn’t have to worry about comparing my content to other people’s or stressing about engagement and followers. I took a “kind of” social media break more recently (I was still on Instagram but I mostly stopped creating content myself). I was kind of jealous that other people seemed to be able to churn out amazing content seemingly so easily but when I started having conversations with them about it I realised that it wasn’t just me that was over creating content on behalf of other people.

"Getting used to constant validation is really addictive and it can feel very disconcerting when it stops or you’re not getting the level of validation you want."

I honestly don’t know if I can advise other people on how to handle the stress of social media because I’m not sure how to deal with it myself yet. I made a decision recently to get back on Instagram properly and posting more but hopefully with a different mindset towards why I want to post. I think the attention we receive from social media can be extremely dangerous. Getting used to constant validation is really addictive and it can feel very disconcerting when it stops or you’re not getting the level of validation you want.

I’ve sometimes found it helpful to see that I’m not the only feeling anxious or distressed about the hellscape that is our current world but for the most part I still find Instagram quite anxiety-inducing. I sometimes don’t realise how long I’ve been scrolling for or how much time I spend staring at a screen but I’m working on being more aware of it. I’m still learning how to be on social media without it affecting my mental health (I think a lot of us are) but I think just acknowledging its effects has been useful already.

I've actually found SM to be a bit of a life saver. Before I came out as trans, the first trans community members I could connect to and learn from were all on SM. Since coming out, I use my SM to share all the info I wish I'd had.

The negative impact comes from the way I manage my time with SM. Waking up and scrolling first (or doing it right before I go to sleep) can often put me in a bleak mood, mostly because I'm watching other peoples' "lives" happening but doing nothing with myself (oh hey, capitalism guilt!) Also, doom scrolling at times of crisis is bad bad bad.

"Your SM profiles are only what you make of them, they are not a reflection of your worth"

SM is an important tool for grassroots organizing and the sharing of information, but un-monitored exposure to terrible and triggering images and info can make you feel really helpless and perhaps deter you from engaging productively in the issues.


  • I monitor how much time SM is taking up day to day and if it feels like a lot, I try to just adjust accordingly

  • I turn off notifications and put my phone out of sight and out of mind while doing other tasks (work, cooking, naps, walks, etc)

  • I practice NOT picking up my phone with every notification that pops up

  • I remind myself I don't need to address each thing immediately

Social media is a great tool for community, learning, creativity, and activism. Just monitor what makes you feel good and what doesn't, and try to train yourself to act accordingly. Know that your SM profiles are only what you make of them - they are not a reflection of your worth. And also remember to take everything you see with a pinch of salt - your friends', exes', enemies', influencers', favorite athletes/actors/whatever - all their profiles are curated, just like yours. What you see is not the full picture.

I honestly hate social media, but here I am, parasocial relationships developing. Assuming people know who you are just because of what you post, and my lack of response to messages only fuels my anxiety. It’s a massive catch 22.

"You are not your handle. You are multifaceted and genuinely unique" A specific time when I realized the negative impact SM was having on my mental health was when I stopped eating and spent most of my time scrolling and evading human interaction. I couldn’t function for a good 3 weeks. I was creatively blocked. But as of late I’ve figured out that this place isn’t real. Nothing about it is. So it’s easy to detach from any stimuli that isn’t conducive to your psyche.


  • I do take social media breaks, not as frequently as I should, but when I feel this overwhelming sense of dread I tend to cut it out

  • Lately I spend a lot of my time in studio painting or reading or researching for future projects [instead]

  • Don’t fall into the trap of believing in your stats and interactions

  • Switch your phone off

  • Delete Netflix and go to a cinema

The most important thing to realize is that this place isn’t real. Your like ratio, your following. It’s not real. What’s real is who you are and your passions. If you can detach yourself from the fickle nature that is social media you’ll realize that there is so much world to experience. Separation of the online persona is so vital. You are not your handle. You are multifaceted and genuinely unique.


South African Federation of Mental Health- information resource and workshops

Inala Mental Health Foundation - provide educational and psycho-social welfare services to youth individuals, families and communities

South African Depression and Anxiety Group- Helpline, support and counselling services

NPOwer Mental Health Support - Mental Health Support Programme & 24-hour toll-free Helpline


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