Is Instagram good for my mental health?

This is a question I have often asked myself. As someone that suffers from social anxiety you would think that there are many aspects of Instagram, and social media in general, that would exacerbate my anxieties, but they don’t. In fact, I have learnt to use platforms like Instagram to help me with my anxiety & depression.

But this hasn’t always been the case. I have had a love/hate relationship with Instagram for as long as I can remember. I would go through periods of loving the interaction, posting everyday, doing lots of stories and generally embracing everything Instagram has to offer. Other days however I would feel like I was addicted to it. Constantly checking my likes and comments on new posts, wondering why a certain post didn’t get as many likes as previous posts. I would spend an eternity trying to take the ‘perfect’ photo and get frustrated when it inevitably didn’t happen. I would start to doubt whether it was worth my time & energy trying to get more followers and I’d ask myself ‘what’s the point?’. So definitely a love/hate relationship.

So what changed?  

Well, my mindset changed. My attitude towards Instagram changed. My expectations & goals changed. There were two main aspects I had to confront and change…

 

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‘Comparison is the thief of joy’

 

  1. Stop comparing myself to others. ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ as the saying goes. And with Instagram, comparison can very quickly lead to self-doubt, anxiety & a feeling of uselessness and failure.  It’s easy to forget that Instagram is a ‘shop window’ to someones life. Most people only show what they want you to see, so in effect, you are comparing yourself to a lie. I follow many different people from many different backgrounds, and I love the fact that everyone is different! Everyone has different lives, different attitudes, different outlooks. I’ve used the word ‘different’ a few times there on purpose. Everyone’s life is different, not necessarily better, or worse, just different.
  2. Forgetting about the stats and focus on interaction. Instagram is about interaction. It’s about likes, comments, chatting, making friends, providing help & support, keeping in touch and so much more. I used to purely look at how many followers I had (or lost) and how many likes I was receiving, which is all well & good if those numbers are in a upwards trend but that’s not always going to be the case. Inevitably the numbers aren’t going to meet your expectations and that’s when the self-doubt kicks in and you start asking yourself questions. These days I focus on chatting to people, interacting on posts, building up good relationships with people. And you’ll find that if you put the effort into interacting with people, your numbers will look after themselves.

 

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Whilst stats are important, they shouldn’t be the primary focus

The above points don’t happen overnight. It took a long time to change my mindset and even now I will sometimes feel myself slipping back into how I used to feel. But through practice and experience I’ve learnt to notice the early signs and make sure they don’t continue to grow.

Now it’s all well and good trying not to compare yourself to other accounts but sometimes it’s almost impossible to do! In these cases you need to be true to yourself and unfollow accounts that make you feel this way! 512x512bbThis may mean having a cleanse of accounts that make you feel down and accounts that have no positive benefit to you. The whole idea is that you follow accounts that you enjoy looking at. Maybe you have something in common, maybe you really like the photos they post, maybe they make you laugh. Accounts that are irrelevant and have the potential to make you anxious of self conscious are no good to anyone so ditch them! This will also make your interactions a lot more meaningful!

 

Why I use Instagram

I use Instagram as a therapy tool. A way of expressing myself and my feelings. In real life I have many traits of an introvert. I find social situations exhausting and uncomfortable. I find it hard talking to people if I believe that they won’t really understand me, or empathise with me. But online, I can connect to thousands of people via a phone screen and still feel in complete control because they’re not all standing in front of me. The people that don’t understand, or don’t care, will probably ignore it but the few that do will interact with me and they are the important ones. The few that say, ‘I understand’, or ‘I feel the same’, they are the ones that make it worthwhile.

Instagram has given me a platform to talk about my mental health. Again, I feel comfortable being open & honest because I’m talking to people via a screen. Talking helps me and I have received many messages from other people thanking me for my honesty and openness, so it helps other people too. Imagine it as a therapy session of like minded people but instead of a few people sitting in a room, there are potentially thousands of people who know exactly where you’re coming from and can understand!

I love Instagram now. I know why I use it and what I get out of it. I know what makes me happy and what doesn’t. Instagram can be many things for different people so it’s important to know what it is for you.

Happy scrolling everyone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Being an ‘Every other weekend Dad’

In this article I want to talk about the struggles of being an ‘every other weekend Dad’. The guilt that comes with it & the mindset required to be able to cope.

Say hello to my two boys, Jake & Ben. They are typical brothers, always bickering & fighting, never agreeing to anything and blaming each other for everything! Deep down they love each other dearly (although they would never admit it).  They are both caring, funny & full of energy. Typical young boys.

We take for granted the everyday, seemingly insignificant stuff. I know I certainly did. It’s not until you’re not involved with the everyday upbringing of your kids that ‘stuff’ suddenly becomes massively important. If you think about it, parenting is a culmination of all those little moments that happen every single day.

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Brotherly ‘love’

Things I miss that I used to take for granted:

  • Cleaning up after them
  • Getting them to brush their teeth
  • Arguing with them
  • Reading a bedtime story every night
  • Comforting them when they hurt themselves
  • Cuddles (obviously)
  • Seeing their faces first thing in the morning
  • Kissing their forehead goodnight
  • Play fighting
  • Hearing their voices everyday
  • Hearing the phrase ‘fine’ or ‘ok’ when I ask them how school was
  • Cooking them dinner
  • This list could go on and on…

 

‘A good Dad starts with presence, not presents’

This doesn’t have to be taken literally, you can be present without being physically there with your children.

But the biggest thing I miss…? Being a Dad to them. I know what you’re thinking ‘You are still their Dad’. And I agree, I am. But please think about what it means to be a Dad.

I believe that a Dad should:

  • Be physically present in their kids lives
  • Protect them
  • Comfort them
  • Teach them right & wrong
  • Play with them
  • Be emotionally invested in their well-being
  • Be able to listen to their jokes, their stories & even their whining!
  • Be a positive role model by instilling a good moral compass

 

So how can I ‘be their Dad’ when I can’t do a lot of the above list? Well, actually I can, just in a different way. I’ve had to adapt. Yes, I can’t physically be there with them everyday but I can be there with them in their thoughts & actions. When I spend time with them it’s important to create memories, instill morals, laugh, play, have fun, read to them, cook for them, tell them off, help them with homework etc etc…because they will keep those things with them in the days we are not together.

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A fun day out at Brands Hatch

 

And we have the technology to keep in touch as well. We can facetime whenever we want, text or call each other. It’s not the same but the interaction is still important. Although, I am a typical guy when it comes to talking on the phone, I’m not exactly chatty! The boys are the same so our conversations are normally quite quick and to the point. But that doesn’t matter, it’s just the way we are. It’s the fact we’ve spoken, that’s the main thing.

So do I feel guilty for not being there everyday? YES! All the time to be honest! But I’d be more worried if I didn’t. I’ve just learnt to accept that, as a parent, we feel guilt, whether that’s a stay at home parent, or an every other weekend Dad, we all feel guilt at some point. It differs from parent to parent and can be due to so many areas of parenthood, but it’s there. I guess it comes down to expectation…

‘In whatever situation we are in we can only do our very best’ 

We all have different situations to deal with, different experiences & home lives and those situations may change for the better or worse, but we can only do our best in whatever that situation maybe. And if we love and care for our kids and they are happy & content, even in seemingly hard times, then we are doing a pretty good job. So yes, I may feel guilty I can’t be there everyday for my boys but I can see that they are happy so that makes me feel like I’m doing the best job I can.

Kids are resilient and can generally adapt well to life’s ups & downs, as long as they are loved and cared for the outcome tends to be a positive one.

It’s taken time & effort but now we are in a routine we have accepted our current situation and we are all happy. It will change as the boys get older but we will adapt again. The situation rarely stays still but the love & support should always be there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Men have body image issues too…

In this article I want to talk to you about men’s body issues, how society is slowly moving in the right direction when it comes to opening up and speaking out, and about my own issues with my body, how it’s affected me and what I did to deal with it….

Men have body issues. I think men have always had body issues but it’s only now that we live in a more open & acceptable society that we are now seeing more & more men coming forward and speaking up. Men are being more honest, spurred on by the ever increasing mental health campaigns out there. Society is moving in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go. Body shaming is big news and something I abhor. Whether it be mocking an overweight person in a gym changing room or claiming it’s ‘just a bit of banter’ between mates, it needs to stop. I know men that have been the butt of this ‘banter’ and they outwardly join in and laugh but on the inside it affects them deeply, often leading to low self-esteem and confidence issues. The press are the worst for it. Nit picking any celeb that has a hair out of place, or has a wrinkle, or the hint of a belly! I mean come on, really?! It’s the inconsistencies & hypocrisy that really annoys me. The same websites/media sources will post a story of how a model fat shames a fellow gym goer, get’s on the ‘society needs to stop this kind of bullying’ bandwagon, and then post a story about celeb X looking old & stressed because someone took a photo of them without their makeup on. Or a previously toned male celeb has suddenly put on a few pounds and now has a ‘Dad bod’. Young guys & girls read this crap and take it as the norm. They believe that if they have ‘a bit of a belly’ people will mock them, laugh at them and shun them. Why wouldn’t they when they see it everyday online? Anyway, this is a big issue for me as you can tell.

Let me tell you about my body issues as a man….

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This is me…Not so long ago I would ever had posted this photo. Why would I want people to see my body? My flat pecs, skinny arms and ever expanding back fat. But I have a different mindset now. More of a ‘I don’t give a shit’ kind of attitude. It’s important to point out here that our issues are relative. Some of you will think there’s nothing of me, I’m slim, what am I going on about, I’m just being silly! But to me I’m not, and to you, you’re not. It’s all relative.

I suffered from body issues from my late twenties (relatively late in life). Here are the reasons why…

  • Unrealistic expectations of getting the ‘perfect’ physique
  • Photos of ‘masculine’ physiques online / on TV
  • Partners commenting how hot and fit certain male celebs look
  • Constant comparison with other men
  • An underlying self-esteem issues

The biggest issue for me was the underlying self esteem issues I had. We could go deep into why I had low self esteem but the important thing for me was recognising it and doing something about it.

blue and red superman print tank top shirt
The ‘Perfect’ Physique doesn’t exist. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I spoke to a therapist to address the issues I had, why I had them and what I can do to overcome them. This helped a lot but the biggest help I received was from my wife. She understood, she empathised with me, listened to me and told me what she thought. She made me focus on being mindful, told me not to ignore my negative thoughts, but to acknowledge them and then just let them go. Understand that those thoughts are not you, and you are not controlled by them.

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On holiday in Majorca June 2018

Now when I look at the above list, this is what I see…

  • The ‘perfect’ physique doesn’t exist but we have a preconceived, distorted, media fed idea of what that means (think Chris Hemsworth, Zac Efron etc). And not only does the ‘perfect’ physique not exist, the idea of perfection varies from person to person!
  • Look at it objectively. If I see a photo of a toned, muscular body I accept it for what it is. I may say ‘Wow, look at those abs’, ‘he obviously works out’, ‘that’s a good physique!’. His body has nothing to do with me, it has no impact on my life, it doesn’t change the way my friends & loved ones view me. Only I can let that seed of jealously in to grow in my mind. And if it does sneak in there I go back to the bold point above. I acknowledge it and then let it go.
  • This is something I had to work hard at. If my partner commented on Zac Efron being hot I would immediately think ‘hold on, I don’t look like Zaf Efron, does that mean she doesn’t fancy me?? Is she going leave me for a Zac ‘Efronesque’ guy?’. It’s irrational guys and again we need to take the subjectivity out of it. Women are allowed to find other people attractive just like we find other people attractive. It’s completely normal. It’s not a dig at you, it’s not about you. And actually, the fact she feels comfortable saying that in front of you is a good thing! If your partner does then go off and find someone else then that’s their issue and you are way better off without them! Now if my wife says some guy’s hot on TV I will agree, or disagree and we could have a little banter over it.
  • I used to compare myself with other guys all the time. And I mean everyday guys in the street here. This was all down to my low self esteem. My self worth was low so it was easy for me to see other guys as fitter, stronger, more masculine, funnier, more popular etc etc…I then realised that most of these were just assumptions that I’d made up in my head! Did I know the facts? No, I didn’t. Yes, there might be a guy who has a more athletic physique but what does that mean? Well it means just that, he is more muscly than me. The idea that that makes him more popular, more attractive, more of a threat is all in my head. And the ironic thing is, this guy is probably looking at you thinking something similar! So again, I recognise those thoughts, acknowledge them, and let them go.

All this was not easy, and it took a long time. I’m not saying that I’m completely over my body issues but understanding them and rationalising them goes along way to making them seem insignificant. I speak to my wife and support groups like @dadscomm on instagram who are a bunch of Dads like me. I can do it so you can do it. Thanks for reading.