Why and when you should unfollow someone on social media and how it can affect your mental health
- There is a connection between social media use and depression, anxiety and stress, according to psychotherapist Nadia Addesi
- If you feel bad about yourself, or anxious or depressed after watching someone’s content, you should definitely unfollow them
You’re scrolling through your social media feed when it hits you. A post from that account that just rubs you the wrong way.
Maybe it’s a celebrity whose Photoshopped photos of their chiselled abs or bikini body trigger your body-image issues, or maybe it’s an influencer whose lavish lifestyle and seemingly only good days make you feel inadequate.
However fleeting the feeling, experts say our interactions on social media can elicit strong thoughts and emotions – so knowing when it’s time to unfollow someone is key to preserving mental health.
“Research shows us that there is a connection between social media use and depression, anxiety and stress,” says Nadia Addesi, a psychotherapist and social worker in Ontario, Canada, with nearly 300,000 followers on her Instagram account.
This is especially the case if you feel bombarded with posts that are not aligned with your morals or values, explains Melissa Dowd, a therapist in San Francisco, California at PlushCare, a virtual health platform for primary care and mental health services.
“That can negatively affect our emotional well-being,” she says.
If you’re wondering whether it’s time to unfollow someone on your feed, Dowd suggests asking yourself a few questions.
These include: how am I feeling after I interact with this individual virtually and/or their posts? What value, if any, am I gaining from being connected to this person? Are my morals and values in sync with this individual’s based on what they are sharing, commenting or posting online? Is this person someone I would choose to spend time with in person?
“The biggest sign it is time to unfollow someone on social media is if you start to feel bad about yourself after you see their content,” Addesi says.
“I often challenge my clients to spend some time scrolling their feeds and reflect after each post they see. If the post or person they are following triggers negative feelings of anxiety, self-esteem or the need to compare, I ask them to sit with the feeling and imagine how it would be if they were not seeing this content on their feed,” she says.
Typically, Addesi explains, a person feels better unfollowing and not getting exposed to this type of content regularly. If it’s family or friends who are triggering you, however, unfollowing isn’t always an option.
In these cases, Addesi recommends muting or hiding their posts. “That way they are still on your list, but you are just not seeing their content as often,” she says.
While using the unfollow button is a good way to weed out your feed, Dowd encourages social users not to be afraid to set virtual boundaries even before hitting “follow”.
“If the person or organisation isn’t someone or something you would choose to spend time around or associate with in-person, then it likely isn’t the healthiest ‘follow’ choice,” Dowd says.
You can also take positive steps on social media by curating your feed in a way that makes you feel good.
“It is important to follow accounts that lift you up, rather than bring you down,” Addesi says, adding that the algorithm is tailored toward your consumption habits.
“If you are seeing something that isn’t making you feel great about yourself, try not to consume too much of it, as it will continue to show up on your feed. Instead, intentionally watch videos that make you feel good, laugh and inspire you.”
Dowd agrees it’s beneficial to choose to follow accounts that positively add to your life, whether it’s an organisation you feel passionate about or an account that can bring much-needed humour throughout the day.
Stay away from the self-image sabotage, too.
Instead, opt for accounts that are transparent about editing and filters or don’t use them at all.
Love and acceptance over filters and fakeness? Sounds like a social media feed worthy of a follow.