Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

For many college students, midterms are right around the corner and Zoom fatigue is as real as ever. So I hope you are treating yourself the way you want to be treated. And no, that wasn’t a typo. 

It feels tone deaf getting into my piece today without acknowledging the state of the world, specifically the state of California. The fires blazing just a few hours North of Los Angeles have not only added to the stress and uncertainty of climate change but also to the barriers that COVID-19 has placed around our lives. Take it from someone living in L.A. –– it’s suffocating.

Over the weekend I felt overwhelmed, claustrophobic and more than anything, helpless. I wasn’t going for my usual morning run or afternoon walk because the weather app advised me to stay inside. Adapting to the confined lifestyle of a COVID-19 world had already done enough damage, or so I thought. But a quarantine inside another quarantine?! Talk about going with the flow of things. 

I guess I am sharing all of this so that if you are feeling or have felt any of these feelings, you can know you are not alone. But I also acknowledge how knowing this isn’t always enough. 

So what can you do right now? How can you get a grip on your life and seize the day despite the strenuous obstacles that the world has thrown our way? If you ask me, you have a few options:

First, I recommend starting with this amazing dance cardio video, even if you don’t know what an 8-count is. But if a box-step and jazz hands isn’t really your thing, I have another idea for you. It involves focusing on yourself and how you interact with the world. Which brings me to the theme of this week: social media

Social networking sites were originally designed (or so we’ve been told) to help individuals share content and expand their networks. Plain and simple. But we all know that this is no longer the form nor function that the respective platforms embody. With the help of Instagram stalking and Tik Tok trends, the social media space quickly turned from a world of potential and passion to one of pity and poignance (I really like alliteration if you couldn’t tell). 

In 2012 social media was optional, it was for those who took photos or at least loved sharing them. It was for those who wanted to take a risk on their out-of-the box idea and turn their dreams into a reality. It was for those who wanted to post pictures of their kids –– not those that felt like they had to keep up. But as the masses started to accept the vacuous and toxic nature of these apps, people started to play the blame game –– myself included. How could Instagram make me question my self worth and purpose? Why would people design such an evil app? How could they? But we continued to like and comment and repost.

Then we entered a period where deleting social media was the new fad, until people started to realize that so much of life was online –– the stakes of “FOMO” in every sense were just too high. Now, of course, there are the outliers like Emma Stone and Sandra Bullock, but for most of us a social media-free life is an unrealistic and undesirable one. 

I have previously talked about the importance of limiting screen time, which is always important, but today I am referring to concrete and intentional strategies that will make our experience with social media healthier and happier. And this doesn’t necessarily mean deleting it. Because believe it or not, there is a healthier and feasible way to participate in social media and maintain a sense of sanity. And it looks like this: 

  1. Accepting the responsibility that comes with your profile.
    1. Now I have to be brutally honest here. If you want to have a more positive experience on social media, you need to put in the work. Remember that social media is a choice that you made, and with that choice comes an inherent responsibility that many of us choose to ignore. But ignoring it leads to comparison and hate and stress and tears. You have to make the time and effort to cater your feed to what you need. For me, this looks like a plethora of news accounts, body-positive accounts, influencers that help me boost my self confidence, and even monks that encourage me to meditate. Oh yeah, and some of my friends and family, too.
  2. Remembering that the image is crafted and pretend. Always.
    1. It is so easy to get warped into what I like to call the “Twitter-trance” or “Insta-infatuation” period. It is important to remind yourself, however, that social media (Instagram specifically) is an alternate version of reality. Newsflash: “Make Instagram casual again” is pretend, and everything you are seeing even if it’s “unfiltered” is undeniably a filtered depiction of someone’s life. It is essential to remember that when doing your nightly scroll. 
  3. Following the right people… and unfollowing the wrong ones. 
    1. If you only remember one thing from this piece: please unfollow the people, places and brands that make you question your identity, sense of self or self-worth. You don’t need that energy in your life and you are saving yourself by making that green button blue. 
  4. Using it to your advantage 
    1. Earlier in “the Q” I talked about the importance of seeking inspiration during the pandemic, which is easy to do on social media. But more than following any person, place or thing, to make social media a positive space you need to self-reflect. Ask yourself: How can I use this space to help me do me? How can I use this space to accomplish my goals? How can I use this space to maximize my strengths and potential? When you think of each platform in this way, you allow yourself to return to the original intent of the social networking sites: a place for growth, connection and endless possibilities. 

At the end of the day, mindfully participating in social media is a choice. It takes work and effort and boundaries, but it is doable and well worth it. Social media is a defining factor in how we think and act and live –– one could even argue that our social circles or career paths would be at a disadvantage if we unplug. But going forward, let’s try to use social media to help us become the best version of ourselves. Not the worst. 

Originally published at uscannenbergmedia.com 

Subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.

More Thrive Global on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis