Good Vibes Only

Social media should be fun. So why does it sometimes feel like a drag? Learn why your feed might be making you blue and how to make your phone a happy place.

You know the feeling. You’re scrolling through your social media feed, and you start suspecting that everyone is crushing it except you. You swipe past photos from a party you weren’t invited to, videos of a celebrity dancing on a beach, and a post by a classmate who has way more likes than you’ve ever gotten. Your mood is getting worse and worse, but you just can’t put down the phone.

Getting bummed out by TikTok and Insta may seem like the opposite of how social media should make you feel. But the truth is, these platforms can be real downers. In fact, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently warned that teens who spend more than three hours a day on social media double their risk of developing mental health problems. “There is growing evidence that social media use is associated with harm to young people’s mental health,” Murthy said.

While it’s true we could all use a break from our favorite apps from time to time, you don’t need to swear off your favorite platforms forever. There are many ways to improve your well-being while still being active on social media. 

These strategies don’t require huge changes in your behavior. Even just noticing how you’re feeling while you’re scrolling can help you figure out how to make your interactions more positive.

“It’s good to be self-reflective about your tech use. That means noticing the things you’re doing online that make you feel good. That might be the people you’re talking to, content you’re following, or apps you’re using,” says Eisha Buch. She’s a former teacher who creates programs to help teens use digital media safely. “Then lean into those positive feelings. You can also think of habit changes that might help reduce negative feelings.”

Ready to put that advice to the test? Read about four common social media situations that can give you bad vibes, and learn how to turn them around to make sure your phone is a place for good vibes only.

Bad Vibe 1: Oh no, it’s FOMO

Your friends’ Stories are packed with pics and videos from all their cool vacations. But you’re stuck at home—and life feels dull.

What’s going on: 

FOMO is real. It’s also complicated! The fear of missing out on something can make you feel insecure. But to cope with that insecurity, you might start checking your phone more often. As a result, you see even more vacay posts, which continues the cycle of negative feelings.

What to do: 

Remind yourself that posts never give the full picture of what’s going on. For example, your BFF might have gotten into an annoying fight with his brother just minutes after he took that smiling shot. His vacation likely had ups and downs, just like everyday life. That reality check can help you move past the feelings of FOMO or at least quiet them. But if a certain account regularly makes you feel like you don’t measure up, that’s a sign that you should unfollow it, says Buch.

Bad Vibe 2: Feeling Less Than

Your feed is full of flawless-looking influencers. You love their content, but sometimes you start feeling down about your own appearance.

What’s going on: 

Comparing yourself to others is normal. But studies show that the constant stream of photoshopped images and carefully edited videos online can hurt teens’ self-image and self-esteem. In fact, 46 percent of teens say social media can make them feel worse about their own bodies.

What to do: 

Get the social media algorithm to work for you, not against you. The more you engage with a type of content, the more likely you are to see similar content on your feed. The next time you see a post from someone who makes you feel less than, scroll on by. And be sure to like or comment only on posts that make you feel good. Soon you’ll start seeing more positive, mood-boosting content on your feed. 

Bad Vibe 3: Afraid of a Ghost

You posted a cute photo of a friend, but she hasn’t liked it. Now you’re freaking out. Does she even like you?

What’s going on: 

You’re caught in a thinking trap. That’s when you take a factual piece of information and use it to make conclusions that you don’t know are true. “Social media has a way of amplifying these thinking traps,” says Buch. You may notice that you start to imagine worst-case scenarios. (“She’s probably laughing about my post with all her other friends.”) You might even start thinking negative thoughts about yourself. (“I shouldn’t have posted that photo. I’m so dumb.”) Deep breaths. Thinking traps affect everyone—even adults! But you can escape them.

What to do: 

Poke a hole in your thinking trap by listing alternate explanations for your friend’s behavior. Maybe she’s in class and can’t access her phone. Maybe her phone died. Or maybe she simply didn’t see your post. The more you practice identifying your thinking traps and walking your mind through practical explanations, the less likely you’ll be to slide down a scary spiral of negative thoughts. You can also ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Maybe your friend did see your post and didn’t love it. So what? As long as there was nothing inappropriate in the post, the important thing is how you feel about it. Your feed should be about what you like, not what you think others will like.

Bad Vibe 4: Sleepless Nights

It’s 11:30 p.m. You should be asleep, but instead you’re watching YouTube Shorts. You’re going to be a wreck in the morning, but you can’t stop scrolling.

What’s going on: 

Don’t blame yourself for feeling addicted to your phone. “Tech companies have many features that are intended to keep you hooked on their apps,” says Buch. For example, the auto-play feature on videos keeps you endlessly scrolling. The nonstop stream of push messages (“Your friend liked a post!”) are created to get you to reopen an app over and over again. No wonder you can’t put down your phone!

What to do: 

First, take note of how you feel. If the endless scrolling isn’t fulfilling or is keeping you from doing something important like sleeping, then it’s time to take a break from your phone. Ideally you should not have your phone in your bedroom starting an hour before bedtime. If you use your phone as an alarm, consider getting an old-fashioned alarm clock. You could also use an app like Offtime to temporarily disable addictive apps and turn off notifications. Set it for bedtime until your wake-up time the next morning. You can also use it for homework time or whenever you need to not be distracted by notifications and alerts. That way, your fingers and mind will get the break they need.

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