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The Impact of Social Media on Creative Artists’ Mental Health
"How Many Likes Until You Love Yourself?" Alyesha Chauhan
Social media has become an integral part of our lives. As creative artists, we use it to showcase our work, connect with our audience, and find inspiration. In this week’s newsletter, I’d like to explore the impact of social media on artists’ mental health, in the positive and negative sense—and there’s plenty of both.
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Generally speaking, the internet can expose us to new ideas, perspectives, and opportunities, provide us with feedback and encouragement, and it also helps us reach a wider audience. The key is to use social media in a balanced and mindful way that supports our mental health and creativity rather than harming them. Because if we’re not careful, we can very quickly move down the slippery slope of comparison: All of a sudden, every artist seems to have more success, talent, or recognition than us. Cue feelings of envy, insecurity, and low self-confidence.
What I am sometimes acutely aware of myself is the pressure to constantly and consistently produce new content, engage with followers, and keep up with the latest trends. And if we’re not careful, this can result in burnout, anxiety, and loss of motivation. It can also make us compromise our artistic integrity, and chase after likes and views instead of following our passion and vision.
And I haven’t even mentioned negative feedback, criticism, or trolling yet, which can hurt our confidence. Or information overload, distraction, and FOMO (fear of missing out), all of which interfere with our focus, productivity, and creativity.
Creative artists are often seen as people who have a lot of freedom in their day-to-day lives, but we also have to cope with many unique challenges that can affect our mental health.
One of the challenges creative artists face is uncertainty. We frequently have to deal with unpredictable income, irregular work hours, lack of job security, and constant rejection. All of this can create a lot of stress and anxiety. There’s also the not so small problem of having to meet deadlines while producing high-quality, creative and unique work. It easily leads into exhaustion and loss of motivation.
I love working alone, but I also know that many artists feel immensely isolated. Many (of course not all) creative artists often work without much social interaction or support. This can lead to loneliness, depression, a sense of disconnection.
However, one of the biggest challenges we face is the often relentless criticism of our work. And communication in social media unfortunately often ends up fairly dehumanising, forgetting that a real person with feelings is at the receiving end. And yes, attachment to our work makes us vulnerable to negative feedback, judgment, or trolling. Cue doubts in our abilities.
Social media divides people. Often, the thinking surrounding it is very black and white: It is either all good or all bad, when the truth, like so often, can be found somewhere in the middle. Of course, we already have a lot of research about the negative impacts of social media on our mental health, and that shouldn’t be brushed aside. If you are interested in some of this research: I wrote about the impact of (especially visual) social media use while back, and you can find the article here.
So let’s look into some of the myths surrounding social media use that are applicable to almost everyone, but especially to creative artists:
Social media is always good for inspiration/creativity
Social media can be a source of inspiration, feedback, and exposure, but it can also make us fall into the comparison trap, pressure us to conform to trends, distract us from our work, or expose us to trolling. All of this affects our mood, motivation, confidence, and originality. But the myth on the other side of the same coin is:
Social media is always bad for mental health
Social media can provide us with a sense of connection, community, and support, and it’s needless to say that all of these improve well-being and happiness. It can actually help us to cope with stress, anxiety, or depression because it provides us with resources, information, or advice (we just need to be mindful to always double-check and not trust everything blindly). And yes: Social media absolutely can be addictive and isolating for some people, but it can also be a source of connection and support for others. At this stage, social media addiction is still not a recognised mental disorder (although I personally don’t think it has to be to understand how absolutely devastating it can be), but rather a behavioural pattern that may indicate underlying psychological issues like low confidence, depression, or anxiety. Isolation isn’t always a direct consequence of the social media use as such, but rather a result of how people use it: Using social media as an escapism from problems, or to avoid real-life interactions tends to worsen mental health instead of improving it. But we can also use social media to enhance social relationships, express ourselves, or even to seek help. The way we use it always reflects our needs, motivations, and also our deeper problems.
There is a “right way” of “doing” social media
Different artists have different goals, preferences, styles, and audiences. For example, some artists may use social media to showcase their work, while others may use it to mainly collaborate or exchange ideas. Some artists may prefer to use one platform over another, depending on the features offered and target audiences. Some artists may have a large and loyal fan base, while others may struggle to reach or engage their audience on the same platform (but another one might work really well). It’s a bit of a process to find out what works for you, and only you can do that, no one else. But you can definitely connect with other artists who cover a similar niche and exchange ideas (and no, you don’t need to be afraid of competition. There really is enough space for everyone).
Social media is a reliable source of information and advice on mental health
Now, this is a personal bugbear of mine, and the irony that you are reading this on the internet or via a newsletter is not lost on me. Social media can be a useful source of information and advice, but it also spreads a lot of misinformation. No one really regulates or monitors the quality or accuracy of the content that is shared or posted (and censorship is another topic that I don’t even want to go into here). Suffice it to say: Anyone can post anything on social media and the internet, regardless of their credentials, expertise, or intentions. So you are bound to find al lot of information that is inaccurate, outdated, biased, or even dangerous—from misleading or false claims about mental health treatments, products, or services to promotion of harmful practices. So please always try to make the effort to verify sources, and check the facts before trusting them blindly. And I am aware this can be challenging, because who should we ask? My advice would be to look for peer-reviewed research on the topic, and most of all: To consciously seek out information that contradicts our own beliefs and biases. That information might still not change our minds, but it gives us a more rounded, in-depth view and makes us ask more questions instead of just believing the first, convenient answer.
Social media can be super helpful and connecting if we use it in a balanced and mindful way. What you need will obviously be individual, but here are a few ideas to get the thought process going:
Set limits and have boundaries
Social media can be addictive and distracting, so it is important to be mindful about the amount of time and energy we spend on it. We can use apps or tools that track our social media usage, or set timers or reminders to take breaks. We can also turn off notifications, mute or unfollow accounts that make us feel bad, and avoid checking social media before bed or first thing in the morning. For creative artists, it is especially important to think about when and how we share our work, and how we respond to feedback. Choose the best time and platform that suits your goals and audience instead of just randomly sharing in the hopes of getting followers and likes. Focus your energy on constructive feedback and positive interactions instead negative or toxic comments.
That little, powerful thing: Self-compassion
Social media can make us compare ourselves to others, cue envy, insecurity, and low self-esteem. Therefore, it is important to practise self-compassion. How exactly we practise gratitude without it turning into toxic positivity is very individual, because it is as important to acknowledge that sometimes, we simply have these feelings, and that’s okay. You could try to write down what you are thankful for, or you could focus on appreciating what others have to offer and let them know. Speak to yourself as you would speak to a friend—that includes self-compassion for your work, like celebrating achievements, acknowledging progress, but also being kinder to yourself when you make mistakes, and learning to appreciate them as opportunities to grow.
Support and connection
Social media can create a false sense of connection and community, while actually reducing our real-life social interactions and support. Stay in touch with the people who care about you, and who understand your challenges. These people can be friends, family, teachers or mentors, but we might also find them in online groups or communities that share our interests and values. For creatives, it is especially important to connect with other artists who can offer inspiration, feedback, collaboration, or even friendship. And it is needless to say that if we feel we can’t cope, are overwhelmed or depressed (be that because of our social media use or other things that are happening in our lives), there is absolutely no shame in seeking professional help.
And as usual, I will finish this week’s article with a few questions for exploration—feel free to share your ideas in the comments, or join our subscriber chat to talk to likeminded people.
How do I feel before, during, and after using social media?
How much time and energy do I spend on social media each day?
Why do I use social media—what are my goals and expectations?
Do I feel the need to be successful/validated/liked when I use social media?
How do I cope with negative feedback, criticism, or trolling—what are my current strategies?
How do I deal with comparison, envy, or insecurity after social media use?
How do I balance my social media use with real-life social interactions and support?
How do I currently protect privacy and boundaries online?
How do I maintain my artistic integrity and authenticity when I use social media?
How do I currently use social media to enhance my creativity and inspiration—does it work, or could I do anything differently?
And that’s it for this week. Over at Shadow Truths, we’ll look at #3 (Dream a Little Dream) of The Sandman next week. And in a fortnight, I’ll be back over here with my thoughts about Coping with Rejection, which is a very hot topic for creative artists.
Up until then,
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