It's time for spring cleaning, and unhealthy social media accounts need to go, experts say

By Madeline Holcombe, CNN

    (CNN) -- Many of us spend hours a day in front of a screen. Shouldn't it be joyful?

Unfortunately, it isn't always so easy. Prolonged screen time disrupts sleep and gives us a big hit of dopamine, often called the "feel-good" neurotransmitter -- so much of it that if you go overboard, your body could compensate by making less of your own. Scrolling through social media can add the harmful impacts of comparison, unrealistic standards and the spread of misinformation, said Wendy Rice, a psychologist based in Tampa, Florida.

"Any time you bring groups of people together, there's opportunities for people to directly harm each other's mental health by how they treat each other, for people to compare themselves to others in a way that affects their self esteem, and for people to share tips and information that's misguided, even if they don't intend to," Dr. Neha Chaudhary, a child and adolescent psychiatrist on faculty at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said in an email.

However, some corners of the internet are looking to help with content meant to make your life better.

Experts say with a discerning eye and a healthy strategy, there are different types of accounts you can follow to make your social media life happier.


Life-changing information


Social media use has been linked to depression and anxiety, but some professionals are using the space to spread information that aims to improve viewers' mental well-being.

Every week, Kirk Honda, a Seattle-based therapist and adjunct professor at Antioch University, puts out hours of content on YouTube.

Some videos are a deep dive on a psychological topic, while others are reactions to popular media from the lens of a therapist, but all of it is made intended to make the world a better place, Honda said.

"There are some fairly simple ideas about attachment and relationships and personality and schemas that I can explain ... that have changed my life, my client's life, my students' lives and my followers' lives," Honda said.

The information psychologists have can be shared to help those who need it, but unfortunately not everyone online is sharing accurate information.

"According to some research and anecdotal experience, a majority of the information about psychology online is dubious at best and harmful at worst," he said, citing people sharing debunked claims about how to manipulate others or dramatic -- often baseless -- videos about how to sniff out a narcissist.

Information from laypeople sharing their personal experience with a mental illness can help spread awareness, reduce stigma and make people feel like they are not alone, but creators should include the caveat that they are sharing their personal experience, Rice said.

Many of the concepts and diagnoses are too complex to be boiled down accurately and comprehensively into a 15-second video, she added.

People who have questions about the mental health content shared online should consult a professional therapist to get more nuanced and in-depth information, Rice and Honda suggested.


Taking the filter off health


Hashtag fitspo. What I eat in a day. Weight-loss journey.

Social media is littered with content that can add to body shame -- and sometimes even contribute to unhealthy behaviors to achieve a certain image.

Some dietitians are reclaiming a corner of the social media world to give audiences more holistic, healthy messages. One of those is TikTok creator and dietitian Steph Grasso.

"What really made me want to shift from the clinical to content creating is what I've been seeing on social media. How crazy diet culture is," Grasso said. "People are going to the extreme where they're eating 1,200-calorie diets thinking that's healthy."

Grasso's account combats those calorie-cutting, weight-centric videos with her own, adding veggies to her Taco Bell order, making a grocery list that gets the nutrients she needs while satisfying her cravings, and sharing the evidenced-backed research behind some of the biggest trends.

"I'm really promoting healthy lifestyle changes that are sustainable and personalized to somebody's lifestyle," Grasso said. "I think my platform was a big success because I was showing people healthy eating does not need to be glamorized."


Community, not competition


Like your home, your social media account may need a spring cleaning to stay a happy, safe space, which often means unfollowing toxic accounts, said writer, model and social media creator Kendra Austin.

While much of the internet has often praised primarily small, fit, wealthy, young White women, Austin curates her account and her content to prioritize authenticity and encouragement, she said.

Austin turned to social media not only to spread a message of celebrating individuals as they are rather than who they "should" be -- but also to hear it herself.

"I didn't see myself represented in any space, and I just felt like I knew that I was meant to create a world of my own," she said. Now, she focuses her content on creating community for herself and her followers.

But it takes discernment to know what content is creating community and what is stimulating competition, she said. A good place to start is checking in with the feelings your feed elicits.

"The biggest bad feelings that come up first are jealous or envy," she said, adding that those let her know her feed has veered off course. "If you find yourself becoming somewhat jealous and envious, it's just time to let go" of that content.

Instead, Chaudhary hopes her clients surround themselves with content that celebrates community.

"I love the social media movements that reject the outdated cultural tendencies of putting only certain bodies on a pedestal," Chaudhary said in an email. "Self acceptance, self-love, and a positive body image are all really important for promoting our mental health and overall wellness. We should be able to be ourselves, and be ourselves with pride, no matter what that looks like for each of us."

The-CNN-Wire
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