Social media may be touted in its ability to combat loneliness but it can also trigger feelings of self-doubt, lower self-worth and self-esteem, and lead you to compare yourself to others. This has the potential to cause mental health issues, including anxiety and depression.
Don’t let the likes fool you, warns Netcare Akeso’s director of strategy and health policy Melanie da Costa. In other words, social media is not a playground for the faint of heart, she says. It can either have the power to boost your self-esteem or feed into your insecurities.
“Look beyond the image reflecting back at you, and realise that you are so much more,” says Da Costa.
Love beyond screens
Akeso is comprised of a group of private, in-patient mental health facilities that provide individual, integrated and family-oriented treatment for a range of psychiatric, psychological, and addictive conditions.
Megan Hosking, Akeso’s crisis line and marketing manager, says that a healthy self-esteem is nurtured when we learn to love the many different facets of ourselves beyond the surface level measures of physical appearance.
Add to this the highly filtered, edited and posed images that proliferate on social media, creating an expectation of unrealistic standards that young people often feel pressure to live up to.
“The danger of ‘selfie culture’ is that it threatens to erode self-confidence by narrowing how we define and what we value about ourselves as people, which is fundamental to mental wellbeing,” Hosking says.
Strive for true love of self
Clinical psychologist Maria Cloete explains that unconditional self-love means loving yourself freely.
Cloete tells Health For Mzansi, “Love is really essential to our survival after our physical needs are met. If we talk about unconditional it means love without conditions.”
“Sometimes we love ourselves after exercising at the gym or eating a healthy meal. Our love for ourselves is conditional.”
To love yourself is revolutionary through the likes and clicks.
“Our identity and our self-esteem is very much impacted in biosocial interaction. Imagine if we could give ourselves that complete unconditional positive regard that just says no matter what I do [or look like] I will still be good enough.”
Maintaining good mental health requires us to consciously be aware of and check in with ourselves, constantly putting in the work to stay healthy and well, adds Da Costa.
“This entails forming constructive habits, having a solid support system and having conversations with the right people to ensure you have access to help, if needed. Building and maintaining a healthy self-esteem can be a daunting process [but] remember you are not alone,” she says.
Five steps to loving yourself
Hosking shares five steps to embracing yourself unconditionally without depending on social media:
- No make-up selfie: Take a no make-up, no filter photo of yourself when you don’t look your best.
- Try not to post: Don’t post it to social media. Instead, use it as a self-reflection tool and take a minute to consider how you look at your own image and to become aware of how you see yourself, says Da Costa.
- Make a list: List your strengths and capabilities, and that which you identify as being “you”.
- Keep it real: Be realistic about yourself and set daily goals towards improving any aspects that you may wish to develop. If you’ve been scrutinising yourself based on appearance, reconsider which accounts you follow or think about taking a break from certain media or social media platforms.
- Love yourself: Love yourself for more than what can be seen in a mere selfie, including the contributions you make to the world and other people’s lives. “Instead of dedicating time and energy to the unattainable standards of selfie culture, which may encourage people to be overly critical of themselves, rather empower yourself with a more compassionate view of yourself. Only you can define who you are as a person, and your true merit,” Hosking says.
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