Guest Post

Social Media and Mental Health with Maggie Bowyer

In today’s world, social media seems to dominate every area of our lives. The Layered Onion asked Maggie Bowyer how they balance social media and mental health. Maggie has penned a Guest Blog below with some tips and tricks!

Photo of the artist. Maggie, a writer, talks social media and mental health. 

Maggie Bowyer writes poetry collections.

“I don’t understand!” I cursed into my phone.

Once again, the social media aspect of marketing has gotten the better of me. After a week of well-performing Reels on Instagram, I had another video completely flop. While this seems innocuous, research has found that social media can have true adverse outcomes on mental health, as if marketing a book wasn’t stressful enough on its own. Let’s take a closer look at how likes and view counts can have severe effects on our mental state and how we can take this into account when marketing our work.

Social Media Screen Time and Mental Health

Social media is relatively new in the grand scheme of things and is growing by the day. It seems that every year now, there is a new social media platform rising to the forefront of our screens. Most recently, TikTok has begun to overtake apps like Instagram and Youtube in popularity. With constantly shifting apps and algorithms, constant news updates, and sensationalization, not to mention filters and Facetune, are we protecting our mental health by constantly “doom-scrolling?”

One large study found that increased social media use leads to worse mental health outcomes; in fact, teens who spend more than 3 hours per day on social media may be at heightened risk for mental health problems, especially internalizing. Another study found a link between social media screen time and depression and suicide rates.

I see this as a young adult in the real world. The longer I spend on social media, the more I find myself comparing my work with my contemporaries. The comparison, and occasional jealousy, are not limited to my book sales or skills; I find myself comparing my looks, my relationships, my like counts, my brand deals, my apartment, and so much more. I find myself wanting to create more content, that is better than my previous work, and at a furious pace, which only leads to burnout.

I also have found that social media marketing has changed my poetry, which snapped me back to reality. I have always written very lengthy, narrative poetry, having gotten my real start in spoken word poetry. As I spent time marketing on social media apps, I found that quick clips performed much better. I started writing a lot of micro-poetry. While there is nothing wrong with micro-poetry or its rise in popularity, it did not feel authentic or complete; I began to feel like I was selling out my work in favor of social media clout.

The big question is how do we prioritize our mental health and our unique voice when social media has become such a large part of marketing our work and making a living?

I have several ways of keeping my head in check when creating content.

1. Set Time Limits

The first tip I have is to set time limits on apps. I find myself opening Instagram absentmindedly all the time; it is completely normal as these apps are designed to be addictive and to grab your attention from your home screen. By setting time limits, I can curb the amount of accidental time on the app.

2. Intentional Use

This leads to my second tip, which is intentional use. I use social media for three explicit things and knowing my purpose on the app helps me navigate the ever-shifting landscape of view counts and engagement ratios. I use social media to market my books, draw inspiration, and keep in touch with my friends. Determining that my goal on social media was to sell myself, and my books, and fulfill my brand contracts helped with how overwhelming social media was. How would I know what to post? Instead of panicking at the endless content ideas, I was able to focus on what I was selling that day.

In line with both intentional use and finding inspiration, I began to weed out whom I was following. Not a marketing coach finding trending audio I enjoy? Unfollow. I disagree with your opinions far more than I agree? Unfollow. A poet I haven’t found inspiring for a while, or aren’t pushing me to be better at my craft? Sorry, but that’s also an unfollow.

I am unfollowing people unjudiciously, and it feels nice. I am also blocking people more often than I ever thought possible and for far smaller infractions than before, and it is more freeing than I could have imagined. I am trying to keep my little corner of the internet as safe as possible for me and my followers.

3. Don’t Let Metrics and View Counts Rule You

I am trying to focus less on like counts or being frustrated by low view counts. This one is a lot harder than the other tips, and one I am still navigating. As a business major who loves marketing, I want all the data. I want to know what is and isn’t working for my audience. I want to know who my audience is. But I was beginning to get obsessed with numbers, checking my insights daily, sometimes even multiple times in one day.

Number obsession - it is easy to obsess over KPIs and metrics.

Now, I try to only check it weekly, though sometimes I check certain metrics every few days. I would often get frustrated by low view counts but high engagement rates, wondering why the post wasn’t performing better, and more often than not, I would begin to berate my looks, my apartment, and more. Now, I am trying to reframe my thoughts about those posts. Those posts connect me to my current audience and foster a deeper relationship with people who already follow me, maybe starting a new conversation or retaining more followers. Not every post we create is going to go viral, and that is okay, maybe even better than constant viral content. Try reframing your previously low days and find the positives in your community, content, and self. No one is perfect at this, especially not me, so be gentle with yourself as you begin to reframe thoughts.

4. Be Your You, Without Filters

This next tip might seem silly and simple, but I am surprised by how much it has helped my mental health. I have completely stopped using filters. I want to like my face, or at least be neutral enough about it to feel like I can post it. I don’t want to show the world a fake version of myself. I want to show younger kids on the app what real skin looks like, or at least skin with makeup on it. I want to show that we all have some asymmetry in our faces, and that is okay! I have found that I don’t typically miss filters and only use them in my friends’ group chat on occasion.

No filters, don't be afraid to share who you are. #nofilters

The last tip has quite possibly been the best thing I have done for myself and my mental health. I have created a smaller, private Instagram to keep up with my friends and message with them, which helps with the feeling of constantly performing for an audience or slipping into my “digital self.” I can share an unfiltered opinion, not beat myself up over typos, I can share pictures of my family without fear, and above all else, I don’t have any Insights. Even without the post numbers, I find I don’t even care about the like or view counts on that page. I can be myself, and people can take it or leave it. No brand deals are pending on my perfectly polished presentation. I don’t need to retain my followers to ensure my next book launch goes better than the last. I don’t feel pressured to let creepy people follow me because they could be another client. I don’t feel like I have to create content there; I can just be.

Boundaries are good! Don't be afraid to set them to protect yourself and your mental health.

I can still market my book when doing all of these things. In fact, I have found that I market myself even better with boundaries in place. I feel I can connect more enthusiastically and genuinely with my audience when I have taken the weekend off. I am more confident online and feel like I have true direction. There are endless ways we can take care of our mental health in the digital age. These are just a few tips that have helped me in combination. We are seeing the first generation raised on social media begin to come of age. We are also seeing a mental health crisis of epic proportions, some of which can be attributed to social media (though far from exclusively). Teaching each other how to care for our mental health is going to be vitally important. I hope this begins a conversation rather than feels like the end of a lecture and that you go into your digital spaces with intention today.

Want to hear more from Maggie? Check out their Instagram @maggie.writes or website to engage with Maggie!

Artist Spotlight

Writer Spotlight: Maggie Bowyer

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about them and their work. 

In this post we are featuring Maggie Bowyer (they/them/theirs).

Maggie is a poet, cat parent, and the author of various poetry collections including Ungodly (2022) and When I Bleed (2021). They are an essayist with a focus on Endometriosis, chronic pain, and trauma. They have been featured in Bourgeon Magazine, Capsule Stories, Plainsongs Poetry Magazine, The Abbey Review, Troublemaker Firestarter, Wishbone Words, and more. They were the Editor-in-Chief of The Lariat Newspaper, a quarter-finalist in Brave New Voices 2016, and a Marilyn Miller Poet Laureate. More of their work is on Instagram @maggie.writes.

Maggie did a Q&A with The Layered Onion, talking about their work:

What led you to writing?

I have been writing since I could hold a pencil. I have always loved reading. At first, I was drawn to journalism and essays, but eventually, with the help of some amazing mentors, I found my voice in poetry.

What inspires you most about writing?

Writing is a way to articulate things I can’t describe in the moment. It’s a way to take those dark moments – the moments of overwhelming physical or mental pain – and make sense of them. I can share my words with loved ones and they might understand better; I can share with someone going through something similar and they might feel seen. Seeing other people and their truth is the most magical part of writing, and of my life. 

You write in a variety of ways – including poetry collections. What are your favorite topics to cover?

I write what some have described as “winter poetry.” I tend to write on darker topics – my favorites being chronic pain and trauma. I want the people who feel invisible burdens to feel a lot lighter. While the topics I cover are dark, I try my best to leave room for hope, healing, the disabled joy, finding love amidst it all, the journey, all of it.

What projects are you most proud of?

I want to say my next project, but it’s not even finished yet! If I had to pick one of my current projects, I would definitely have to say WHEN I BLEED: POEMS ABOUT ENDOMETRIOSIS. People have held that book so close and I am honored by the love it has received. I never thought people all across the world would read one of my books. I was even asked to be a part of an exhibition in Whales where words from WHEN I BLEED were put next to fantastic photographs. I was truly in awe. 

What’s the most difficult part about writing for you?

Writing daily is so exhausting, but one of the best things writers can do. I sometimes run out of inspiration or write throw-away poems and half the time I want to give up. But it’s so important to write daily. 

I want to draw attention to your free medical admin templates for communicating with the health system for any folks who need them. Can you talk more about the idea behind it and any feedback you’ve received?

I am so happy you asked! Thank you! I always find that, as a complex patient, it helps to do the leg work for your doctor. I love the body map because it’s been the most effective tool I have used in getting diagnosed and receiving care. I color it in with different colors for different types of pain. The longer sheet is really nice to keep track of meds, new symptoms, updates, and more! It’s one of the most popular things on my website and I am so glad people find them useful!

Any stories you’d want to share with the community?

This is not so much a story, but more an urging. When I first went to college, I stopped writing because I was “too busy.” As my pain and symptoms kept increasing, I didn’t know how to share it with anyone, especially with all the medical trauma I already had experienced. The only way I knew how to share was by writing in the middle of my flares. I spent dissociative days trying to describe the haze. I lied on the bathroom floor sobbing from the pain and wrote some of my favorite poems. I went back to the doctor and fought for my care, using all the strength I had used to write. Then, in 2020, I published my first book. Now? I am almost done with my fourth. If you’re looking for a sign to start writing, or start writing again, or publishing your work, this is it. Please share your story. You never know who needs to hear your story.

What a powerful line! We all have a story to tell or a picture to be seen – you never know who needs to hear your story. You can check out more of Maggie’s work on their website or Instagram @maggie.writes.