How Taking a Step BACK from Social Media Improved my Mental Health

Hi, y’all! I felt like writing this blog post because I’m finally in a place where I feel mentally and physically healthy after about two years of severe anxiety and health issues. I’m not really sure where to begin, so it may seem like I’m rambling a bit, but I hope those of you reading this can really empathize with what I experienced and take bits and pieces to incorporate in your own life. 

Social media, specifically Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest are the driving forces behind my successful small business selling teaching resources. I started my teacher-themed social media accounts when I was teaching as a way to share resources, ideas and new activities I was trying with my students. During my second year of teaching, I went back to school to get my MBA in marketing and learn how to truly design and market my resources. A common theme in all of my grad school classes was the power of social media. I jumped in without a second thought… I knew utilizing social media was something I could achieve to help build my audience and get my resources in the hands of teachers and students.

DISCLAIMER: This is not a post about selling my teaching resources. I’m extremely proud of my business and confident in the content I sell. This post is about how social media began to consume me and my mental health deteriorated as a result. 

IT’S ALL FUN AND GAMES… 

In the beginning, I LOVED my social media avenues. I saw them as an outlet… a way to share ideas, vent, and collaborate with like minded teachers about literally anything. When I started these platforms, I was not open about my sexuality– in fact, I hadn’t even come out yet. If you look far enough back, there are photos of me dating dudes *face palm*. Things seemed easy. I was posting what I wanted, I didn’t care about the numbers, insights, amount of likes, etc. I simply wanted to use it as an area to share and gain… and most importantly, or so I thought at the time, I was seeing my tiny business blossom into a successful small business! 

After about two years, I started to gain a larger following. I was posting daily. I would wake up and think, “okay what can I post about today.. It has to be perfect… I need to get my numbers up, etc.”  At the same time, I finally had the courage to come out to not only social media, but everyone in my life. It’s interesting to me that every single one of my friends and family members accepted me without question. Most of them were like, FINALLY! Ha. But the internet was not so friendly.  

UNTIL SOMEBODY GETS HURT…

After I started sharing photos of me with my current significant other, I was devastated by the reaction on my social media accounts. I would watch the numbers drop by THOUSANDS, receive death threats, have DMs full of hate, and y’all can’t even believe some of the comments.

I NEVER second guessed my sexuality, who I was with or what anyone else thought about me until I saw this reaction from strangers on the internet. You’re probably thinking… why? I ask myself this question every single day. Why do I care so much? I really shouldn’t. For every super hateful message I receive, there are 100 positive. I should focus on those, but there’s something very powerful about opening up about something personal and getting verbally attacked. The images of profanity thrown at me seemed to always be there in the forefront of my mind. 

Get this… For about two years, I had a folder in my iPhone photos where I would screen shot every negative thing I received and save it. There were hundreds. For whatever reason, I would go in and read those messages, over and over again. This is absolute torture, right? Yes, it was. I still don’t know why I did it. Maybe I was weak? I was letting them win? I have no clue. But I did and it impacted me mentally, physically, and emotionally. 

During this time period, I was unfortunately introduced to the dark side of the internet– Reddit. I read threads and threads of horrible messages about me that cut deeper than just my classroom makeovers or teaching curriculum. They talked about my physical appearance, how they hate my makeup, my voice, etc. I felt like I was in middle school all over again. 

And then my health truly began deteriorating. This was actually about 2-3 months into when I started dating MJ, my lovely wife. I was having panic attacks and paranoia like I’ve never experienced in my life. The number of times I had to call my mom to spend the night is embarrassing because I was TERRIFIED to be alone. To be clear, I’ve dealt with anxiety forever… but never, ever like this. I haven’t opened up about this online yet, but during one of my panic attacks, I checked myself into the hospital because I couldn’t get myself under control. That’s really all I feel comfortable saying right now regarding the hospital visit, but as if you didn’t already know, mental health is absolutely no joke. I don’t see myself as week in this moment. I see my strength and courage for knowing something wasn’t right and taking action.

I do, 100%, attribute all of this to social media. I do blame myself for some of it occasionally… I was definitely torturing myself by reading things over and over again until I believed them. But I’m confident that had I not read any of those horrible things said about me, I would’ve managed my anxiety in a drastically different way. 

HOW I TOOK A STEP BACK…

After about 6 months of panic attacks, paranoia, doctor appointments, therapy appointments, and scaring the sh*t out of my mom and MJ, I knew something needed to change. I was finally diagnosed with Vocal Cord Dysfunction (VCD) that, for me, is affected by anxiety. I felt like I was constantly choking. It was nuts… and really, the only “cure” was to manage my anxiety.

So I told MJ I needed help. I deleted Instagram and Facebook. I scheduled a few posts in advance, almost never got on my stories, and finally erased the folder of nasty messages that would haunt me every night. We decided to drop everything and travel for 3 months abroad and just escape the cycle we found ourselves in. This trip was either going to make us or break us.

I replaced social media with working out, taking adventures, trying new things, strengthening my true friendships, and learning new cultures. I asked one of my best friends to log into my accounts and respond to comments and messages, because when I opened the apps, I would almost go straight into a PA.  For nearly 6 months, I didn’t open my SuperHERO Teacher Instagram. 

And most importantly, I haven’t been on Reddit since that trip. Occasionally, someone will try to send me a screenshot of something someone said, and I ask them politely not to. I don’t need the negative energy in my life and not seeing those messages is a big part of staying mentally healthy (for me). 

WHAT I NOTICED WHEN I FINALLY DID…

Here’s what I discovered when I took a 6 month hiatus from social media:

  • Did my Instagram reach go down? Yup.
  • Did my followers plateau? Yup. 
  • Were my sales impacted? Slightly. But that has less to do with social media and more to do with the fact that I also couldn’t open up anything related to work without spiraling. 
  • Did I still get hateful messages? Yup. 
  • Did my engagement go down? Yup. 

But…

  • Am I having insane panic attacks? Nope.
  • Am I feeling paranoid? Nope.
  • Am I managing my anxiety? Yup.
  • Did I MISS social media? Nope.
  • Am I happy? Yup.
  • Do I save messages and hyperfocus on the negative? Nope.

I will take my happiness, joy, and calm mind over engagement numbers ANY DAY. 

WHERE I AM NOW…

I post when I want. I hop on my stories if I feel like it. I care less about what I look like and more about my mental health. I just do what I want…. And it’s freakin’ GLORIOUS. By giving up such an enormous amount of social media intake, I’ve experienced an amount of freedom I haven’t had in years. 

Here’s my message to you… If you are active on social media and experiencing anxiety, try eliminating it from your life. I found that I was consuming so much negative energy and it was all because of outside factors, like social media. My friends, my family, my home, my life in general were seemingly beautiful, but I allowed strangers to disrupt that positivity. 

I have eased my way back into social media. I rely on it quite a bit still for my business, but I’ve found a new positivity with it that I didn’t have before. I AM the one in control of it now, whereas before, I was allowing others to control what I posted or how I felt. 

XO,

Britt

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Welcome! My name is Brittany Wheaton, also known as The SuperHERO Teacher, and I am a curriculum designer and classroom flipper. I have a strong passion for helping teachers reach as many students as possible through creativity, engagement, and empowerment!

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