August 2, 2019

Our love-hate relationship with social media has been the topic of discussion lately within my friend group.

Though Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter can be a great way to connect with others, find inspiration, or promote your business, for many of us social media can open up the floodgates of comparison.

With practically a bird’s eye view into the highlights of others' lives in the palm of our hands, a few minutes of scrolling can leave us feeling worse than we were before.

Tech companies are even taking note. Recently, Instagram announced that they are testing a new version of the platform that hides the total number of likes and video views a user receives. They say it's an attempt to help your “friends to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get.”

Now, this is definitely a welcome change, but it still only scratches the surface when it comes to the less than favorable emotions some of us feel from those we follow. It can even get to the point of being toxic for our wellbeing.

The Signs of a 'Toxic Follow'

Dr. Melissa Robinson-Brown, Ph.D., a psychologist, and speaker, tells Shine that there are 5 signs someone is a toxic follow:

●︎ You feel anxious or sad when you see their posts.

●︎ You find yourself playing the comparison game. And ultimately putting yourself down for not being as successful, as attractive, as fit, as bold, etc.

●︎ You’re only following the person in order to “stalk” or keep up with their life. Like a past friend or an ex-significant other or friends of an ex.

●︎ You find yourself starting to avoid or continue scrolling when you see their handle pop up in your feed.

●︎ Their posts appear to be negative or hostile. Especially if it seems like their thoughts/posts demonstrate all-or-nothing or black and white thinking.

Any of this sound familiar? I know personally, I’ve followed people who fall into all of these situations, so you aren’t alone.

One solution: Going cold turkey with a social media break. And although this has been scientifically proven to decrease loneliness and depression, a more long-lasting alternative may be to also modify your timeline. Meaning: It might be time for you to tap that unfollow button for a few folks.

Share today's article with someone who's always on the 'gram.

How to Unfollow in the Name of Self-Care

If you’re feeling uncertain about where to start when it comes to cleaning up your timeline, Robinson-Brown suggests asking yourself a few questions when looking at someone's profile:

●︎ Why did I choose to follow this person?

●︎ Do I find their posts, lifestyle, or attitude inspiring?

“Remember that people aren’t perfect, and it’s possible that some posts may miss the mark, but if their feed is overall still realistic and it resonates with you, then continue to follow," Robinson-Brown says. "However, if you find that post after post is creating negative and difficult feelings for you, then it’s time to hit the unfollow.”

If you find that post after post is creating negative and difficult feelings for you, then it’s time to hit the unfollow.

We also have a tendency to follow some people simply to keep tabs—people like exes, friends of exes, the family of exes… basically all the ex-related people—which is self-induced toxicity.

“If you are following these people in order to see how someone is moving forward or moving on without you, this is toxic to your own growth and ability to move on," she says. “Close the door. It will be painful, but it also means you will be able to work on your own healing.”

When It's Someone You See IRL

Sometimes, our most anxiety-provoking follows can be those that are closest to us. Perhaps a good friend of yours has been a bit more negative on social media lately or posting things that are a bit out of character. In those moments, Robinson-Brown suggests that you check in with them.

“Perhaps the friend is going through something or dealing with something difficult," she says. "Gently point out how recent posts have been making you feel. For example: 'I felt pretty sad the other day when you posted about wanting to withdraw from all people. Is everything ok?' The friend may not even realize that their posts have been having this impact on others.”

There are some situations where a conversation may not exactly be the solution, so Robinson-Brown says try muting them for a short period of time to see how you feel. If things persist, then unfollowing a friend is OK.

“Hopefully, if the friendship is meaningful to you, it goes beyond your relationship on social media,” she adds.

Once you’ve filtered out that negativity, you can start to re-build a timeline that fills you up instead of draining you. Try following more affirming hashtags and inspirational or motivational accounts. Also: There's a whole new trend of therapists taking to Instagram to share daily wisdom—here are six of our favorite accounts.

Finally: It’s important to keep in mind that we all have a tendency to only share the positive side of things. This can make it seem like everyone is “winning” except you, but that isn’t the case.

Remembering that our timelines are typically a highlight reel can help you manage expectations.

Social media is meant to be fun. It’s given me something to do during awkward moments while waiting for friends to arrive, I’ve been able to share and see some amazing milestones, and memes have made workdays a lot less drab.

The key is knowing that you are in control of the content you see, and it’s OK to make changes that benefit your personal wellbeing.

The key is knowing that you are in control of the content you see, and it’s OK to make changes that benefit your personal wellbeing.

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