In recent years, Selena Gomez has become really transparent about her mental health struggles. In 2018, she opened up about suffering from depression and anxiety and how going to rehab to seek treatment left her feeling empowered. In 2019, she shared how her mental health journey led her to one of the scariest moments of her life and how getting a clear diagnosis helped her in so many ways. She's been vocal about her experience with therapy and last year revealed how going on mental health medication completely changed her life. She even launched her own mental health platform, Wondermind. Last August, she got candid in an interview with Elle about life since being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and the various ways she takes control of her mental health. In a recent interview, Gomez revealed how social media impacts her mentally and the things she does to find balance.
"I definitely have felt, like maybe I wasn't good enough or I should look a certain way," Gomez said in a recent interview with USA Today. "I had a hard time, but it's actually been four years for me without social media on my phone besides TikTok. So, it's been wonderful. I still post and do what I do, but I've learned to have a balance with it and not let it consume me."
Four years ago, Gomez was the most-followed person on Instagram. But the pressure that came with it deeply affected her. In her September Elle interview, she shared how in 2017, she handed over all the passwords of her social media accounts to her assistant. Since then, she never posts directly. The most she does is provide her assistant with ideas, photos, and even quotes for potential posts. Part of Gomez's struggle with Instagram was how it constantly made her feel like she "wasn't pretty enough."
"At one point Instagram became my whole world, and it was really dangerous. In my early 20s, I felt like I wasn't pretty enough. There was a whole period in my life when I thought I needed makeup and never wanted to be seen without it," she told InStyle. "The older I got, the more I evolved and realized that I needed to take control of what I was feeling. I wanted to be able to look in the mirror and feel confident to be who I am."
Gomez went on to share how taking a break from social media was the best decision she has ever made for her mental health. "I created a system where I still don't have any passwords. And the unnecessary hate and comparisons went away once I put my phone down. I'll have moments where that weird feeling will come back, but now I have a much better relationship with myself."
Gomez's struggle highlights the serious impact social media can have on one's mental health — particularly for young people. Numerous studies have touched on the link between social media and mental health. It's even been referred to as a public health crisis. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center study, 69 percent of adults and 81 percent of teens in the US use social media. And that was in 2017 — imagine today! There is also research that shows that social media envy can lead to anxiety and depression, with women being more likely to be impacted mentally by social media than men.
"While social media can be a powerful community-building and information-disseminating tool, it has an addictive quality to it," licensed therapist and coach Josie Rosario said. "Studies have shown how using it releases dopamine, a 'feel good' chemical that keeps you connected to the platform. Excessive use can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions as it can promote feelings of inadequacy, FOMO, and self-criticism among others."
Gomez's body-image struggles and feeling like she "wasn't pretty enough" are a common effect of excessive use on social media, particularly for girls and young women. Rosario explained how access to filters and other image-editing tools impact and in some ways even dictate today's beauty standards. Young women experience so much pressure with social media that many are even getting plastic surgery or cosmetic procedures done to look how they look in filters in real life. But Rosario believes this pressure is even harder on girls and women of color.
"This is especially dangerous for Black and brown girls because as a society that is organized around race, the pervasive message is that white is superior and everything else is inferior. So you have young girls who are already feeling less than getting a message that reinforces this idea with the unspoken expectation that they should aspire to mirror digitally enhanced images. From a neuroscience perspective, it deepens the grooves in the brain related to feelings of self-worth."
Jasmine Cepeda, a licensed therapist who specializes in psychodynamic and somatic-based therapy, also worries about how social media is impacting how people even think about mental health and therapy.
"It has already been said that Instagram can lead folks to compare themselves to others, second guess themselves, and lead to overall low ER self-esteem . . . however, as a psychotherapist myself, my main concern is how Instagram is influencing how people view therapy," Cepeda said. "Yes, maybe social media is normalizing therapy and making it popular, but like all things that become popular, the complexity is lost." She explained how social media platforms like Instagram are designed to get you addicted to new content every few seconds. "People forget it is a large corporation manipulating you, and like many things that become mainstream, social media is portraying therapy as some quick general life-coaching. That is not therapy, at least not with me."
Unfortunately, social media and mental health have developed quite the contentious relationship, and while folks could probably really benefit from getting off of it completely, it might not exactly be practical for many, especially those whose work is tied to the platform. But fortunately, there are ways to make it work for you while protecting your mental health, self-esteem, and overall well-being. Rosario and Cepeda recommend a few things for folks who are looking to find balance.
Set Social Media Boundaries
"Boundaries can look like using your phone's screen-time feature that allows you to set a limit for social media app use," Rosario said. "If you're able to, you can have a work phone and a personal phone to further separate the two, especially if it's needed for work, which is more true these days."
If social media is highly impacting your mental health and you don't have a business to promote or it doesn't enhance your career in any way, Cepeda highly suggests getting off it. She believes the negative effects of social media can easily outweigh the good.
"I am truly curious why people use it so much if they have no business to promote," she said. "Instagram is one big corporation — one big mall of ads. Celebrities are ads. They have businesses and products to promote. What are you doing on Instagram? If it's to see what your friends are up to, why don't you call or text or hang out with them to find out?"
But if you truly need to be on it, be strategic about how much of your time you dedicate to it. "If you have a business to promote or need to be on it for your job, I would say post and be gone," she added. "Think like Beyoncé. She drops her music and peaces out. I love that. Do that! Post and be gone. If you have to check comments or messages, do it with a timer on and stop when the timer is off. Do not make it interrupt your real life."
Get Support to Limit Your Time on Social Media
"Because of its addictive quality, a strong support system can be deeply beneficial. Folks can also start tracking their usage so they have a baseline and decide a plan for how to decrease use in a way that aligns with how they want to be in relationship with the apps," Rosario said. "Some folks find it helpful to quit use altogether, whereas others might prefer to decrease over time. There are many ways to go about it. What's important is that you're awake and aware throughout the process and feel empowered to redefine your relationship with social media as you see fit."