Following and unfollowing on social media is voluntary and that’s the beauty of it. Social media is one of the few areas of our lives where we have total control over who we interact with and what we see. You might not be able to avoid your cubicle neighbor’s constant complaining, political rants, or negativity, but you don’t have to put up with it in the virtual world. And that’s a good thing because social media can do a number on your mental health.
Social media is full of negativity, noise, hype, sales pitches, and scare tactics. It’s also full of positivity run amok: People living perfect lives, having perfect vacations, and achieving impossible things. All of this fabulousness can make you feel inferior. Sometimes hitting that unfollow button is the best thing you can do for your mental health and for your writing.
Here’s what happens. You follow someone (ideally) because you think the person is interesting, shares your passions, creates content you enjoy, offers relevant information or tips, or any of a hundred other reasons. Then, for whatever reason, that person becomes more annoying, negative, or scary than you anticipated. Their posts make you nervous, sad, anxious, or depressed. When you don’t unfollow, you continue to see this stuff day after day, compounding the damage to your psyche. The solution? Unfollow.
Here are some circumstances under which unfollowing might be the best thing you can do for your mental health and your work.
Lessen the “noise” in your life. You may have followed someone because you believed that they had something of value to offer, only to discover that they really don’t. Maybe they changed their social media focus to something that doesn’t interest you, or their information isn’t as useful, funny, or entertaining as you thought it would be. For whatever reason, these people have become nothing more than noise in your feed. We all have enough noise in our lives, both digital and real, so it’s healthy to cut down on stuff that has no value. This is especially true if wading through all of the noise is cutting into your writing time or making it difficult to keep in touch with the people you really want to follow. Unfollow the noise and simplify your feed so that you can quickly find the useful and important information.
Get rid of the negativity. Some people do nothing but complain on social media. Others post controversial, hateful, intentionally terrifying, inappropriate, or bullying things that you don’t want to see. Some will turn on your and your work, attacking you or your work personally and making you feel like crap. Unfollowing these people can save you a ton of angst and anxiety. You probably have to deal with enough negativity in your real life, who needs it online, too? Getting rid of the negativity frees your brain to concentrate on your work and to think about the positive aspects of your life.
Get rid of the positivity. Hang with me because I hear you thinking, “Why would I want to unfollow someone who posts positive things? Isn’t positivity good?” Yes, positivity can be uplifting and inspiring. It can motivate you to achieve. It can also be annoying and damaging to your mental health. Why? Because some people cloak their bragging in positivity and then proceed to beat you to death with it. (See also, the “Humblebrag.”)
Here’s an example: A writer I follow lands an agent, a movie deal, and major distribution in a bookstore. I’m genuinely happy the first time I see it. But when I hear about it through a hundred tweets about how nervous she is, how thrilled she is, how she doesn’t deserve such success, or how every event she puts on is a huge success, it becomes a negative.
Maybe there are people out there who are better than me and who can be genuinely thrilled with each tweet by this person, but all it does for me is feed my anxiety monster that says I am “less than.” I feel like a failure because my success isn’t the same as theirs. If someone’s relentless bragging and positive posts (whether about their career, vacations, or perfect kids) are making you feel like you’re somehow failing, it’s time to hit that unfollow button.
Get rid of the crazy. Sometimes people become scary. They may attack you or others, making you wonder just how far they’re going to go. They may become fervent in some belief and attack you if you don’t share it, as well. Some people make a habit out of posting off-the-wall opinions, conspiracy theories, or chain letters/posts and get upset when you don’t immediately thank them for this insanity. They may start tagging you inappropriately, making claims about how “close” they are to you, or dogging you for an endorsement that you don’t want to give. For whatever reason, sometimes people just start showing their crazy side. Unfollow anyone who makes you uncomfortable. (And if it’s really bad, report them to the network. Or the police, if you feel like you are in danger.)
If you don’t want to unfollow someone completely, many social networks offer the option to mute or hide someone’s posts. You continue to appear in their follower list, but their posts no longer appear in your feed. If you want to see what they have to say, you have to look at their account yourself. This puts the control back in your hands as to how often you see these people’s posts. (This is a great option for annoying family members who would be really upset if you outright unfollowed them.)
Your social feeds can be uplifting, positive spaces that you look forward to visiting, but you have to take control and get rid of anyone who makes you feel depressed, anxious, scared, or jealous. Use that unfollow button and protect your mental health.