5 ways to better mental health online

Tips on how to look after yourself and others

Online volunteer Arai Bisembina 2020
UNICEF Kazakhstan/2020
10 February 2022

Being online can present lots of great opportunities to connect, learn and share what’s important to you, but it comes with challenges too. If social media or the internet has ever made you feel stressed, envious or lonely, or experience feelings of lower self‑esteem or social anxiety, know that you’re not alone. Here are five tips on how to look after your mental health and be kind online.

1. Avoid doomscrolling

Pay close attention to how social media and online content is influencing your emotions, thoughts or actions. How does it make you feel? Does reading the news make you feel informed or stressed? Does seeing photos of your friends at a party make you feel good or envious? Do you check your phone first thing in the morning to learn about breaking news or out of pure habit?

Identifying why you are online and how it makes you feel can help you set the right personal limits on how much time you spend on social media or other apps. While it’s not always realistic to unfollow or report everyone that intentionally or unintentionally affects your emotions negatively, you could try muting or limiting content from accounts that are not making you feel good. It’s important to remember that not everything you see online is real, even from your friends, but how they affect you is.

2. Be mindful

There are loads of great online tools and content that can help support all aspects of mental health and wellbeing. From meditation apps to help you relax and focus, to platforms that help you develop your sense of identity and self, stay connected and support one another. There are lots of great online learning tools where you can try something new, like drawing or yoga, which can build new cognitive and creative skills, as well as online exercise classes to help you stay healthy and unwind.

Try and find positive and motivating content and creators to follow, like athletes, singers, home cooks, authors or other young people speaking up about issues they care about. Remember, you can also use the internet and social media to seek professional help and mental health information if you need it.

3. Protect yourself and others online

Check the privacy settings on all your social media profiles. Keep webcams covered when not in use. Be careful when signing up to apps and services online – especially providing your full name, address or photo. If you are concerned about something you have seen or experienced online, you should talk to a trusted adult like a parent or teacher, report the incident on the platform in question (remember to take a screenshot as a record) and look up safety helplines and mental health services in your country for more support.

You can help others too, by being mindful of their online experiences, recognizing the signs that a classmate, friend or even stranger, is not well or exhibiting signs of distress, and helping them get the support they need.

Words matter and it’s important to think carefully about what we share.

4. Choose kindness

Use social media for good, by sharing positive and supportive content and messages with your friends, family and classmates. For example, you could reach out to let someone know you’re thinking of them or add a positive comment on a post they shared. If you find yourself responding to a message or post with something negative, pause and consider whether you could frame it in another way or have an in‑person conversation instead. If you see or receive messages or content you consider to be bullying or abusive, you should block and report it. Words matter and it’s important to think carefully about what we share. We all have the power to be kind and make someone’s day – so let’s spread love, not hate!

5. Stay present and connected IRL

The lines between the online and offline worlds can feel increasingly blurred, making it hard to live in the present moment and satisfy our innate need for human contact. Do you ever find yourself interrupting what you are doing so you can post it on social media, or scrolling through your friend’s stories rather than calling or meeting up to see how they are doing? It’s important to try and switch off and take a break from social media every now and then and spend time with friends and family in real life too, where it’s safe to do so.

Try and set yourself realistic and personal goals, for example not picking up your phone or going online for the first hour of the day (it wastes energy and trains you to absorb information unfiltered) or just before bed. Activities such as meditation, going for a walk, or calling a friend will help provide a similar stimulation but leave you feeling more focused and relaxed.