Social media Stress as an Artist - My new strategy to cope


a red kite on a wooden pebble created using pyrography and coloured inks

In a recent post here I mentioned taking a break from social media so I could work out a strategy I could cope with. I've been finding it stressful for many reasons to the point I feel it was impacting my wellbeing, especially with feeling utterly exhausted a lot of the time. Even though I tried as much as I could to plan posts I still felt drained. I want to be smiling like the birds I draw!

I've found that at times I struggle to produce enough content for platforms. Short form video making is time consuming, and certainly with Instagram I can't get the aesthetic required. I've felt disheartened about it, that I'm not productive enough, and that my house isn't good enough. I grew up with very little, after my mother left it was a struggle, and I think the whole Instagram aesthetic taps into the same feelings I had as a child - that we weren't as good as everyone else because we didn't have the right stuff.

The current algorithm demands of one post per day to grid, an emphasis on reels (especially those edited in their editor which often crashes), and six stories per day, takes a lot of time to produce. And all for little discernable impact because few people see it. They want you on there as much as possible. 

To improve as an artist you really need to be fully engaged in your work, not distracted by your phone. I have found times I've been away from social media my concentration is better, I'm happier, and I'm able to live more slowly and appreciate things.

I used to enjoy Twitter but now I don't like the atmosphere there. I feel stressed posting anything, no matter how innocuous. I've felt claustraphobic because people can check all your activity on the platform to an unhealthy degree. There's also a culture of arguing, one upmanship, and calling out. Not to mention the sleaze. The "for you" feed is a mental health nightmare, I've seen some awful things I'll never forget. 

Some lovely people have come into my life via Twitter but a lot of those now use the platform much less. Having open dms if you run a business is now also increasingly untenable. Not only with the sheer amount of scammers who deluge your inbox, you can get unpleasant messages from genuine accounts too.

My biggest concern about the demands of social media is that it burns out creative people. If you're authentic and make your own content, ensuring it's quality, it's a big ask to do it on multiple platforms every day. And people literally don't care. If one person disappears their shoes are filled with others, so the stream of free entertainment goes on.

I'm lucky in that I've never felt I need the validation of likes or numbers for what I do. I try to create art that makes me happy and that I enjoy doing. Being an introvert I enjoy keeping some things for myself, that I don't feel inclined to share with the world. I feel it's healthy to do that, but it doesn't make for a good stream of content. I dislike the pressure to share every aspect of your life online.

After a lot of thinking and reading around, it's heartening to know I'm not the only one to have these issues, I decided to focus on quality, searchable, content. So articles here, my newsletter on Substack, and I also decided to try YouTube. I'd far rather put my time and effort into producing a longer video that will stay relevant, and searchable, for a considerable period. The time I spend on things won't be disappearing into a neverending social media abyss.

I will still keep my social media accounts but I'm only going to post when I have something worth posting, rather than feeling pressured to come up with posts. I have notifications from platforms turned off, although annoyingly Instagram still seems to send them if I'm not on the platform for a couple of days. 

Social media shouldn't be controlling us, we should be in the driving seat. I'm also going to set a time limit of fifteen minutes for using any platform. I like to interact with people but it's far too easy to keep scrolling mindlessly, absorbing mental clutter.

Another thing I'm going to do is no social media use at all at weekends. Outside of art I enjoy cycling on Zwift, mainly endurance and big climbing rides. I do longer rides at weekends, and several hours on a bike stresses your body considerably. It can take a while to recover.

I wear a Garmin smartwatch so I can gauge my training and recovery. A few times stressful things have happened on social media after big rides and I've seen the impact of this. Even though I may not feel particularly stressed, it is clearly having a physiological impact on me. More than once this has also led to poor recovery the next day. It took seeing this data several times to make me aware of the deep impact chronic stress from social media has on me.

The fact is we know social media is designed to be addictive, it has negative neurological effects, it can increase feelings of anxiety and depression, yet we still feel pressure to be there and post. My strategy may well mean I miss out on some sales or growing my accounts, however having volunteered in mental health I also know no amount of money can compensate for diminished mental wellbeing. Our emotional wellbeing is also closely linked to physical health, and I'd rather be happy and healthy more than anything else.

Here are some artists talking about their experiences I found useful to read.

where wonder waits - social media is bad for artists

Kristen Sampson - why I quit social media an artist's perspective

My giant strawberry - why I've stepped away from instagram, my problems with social media

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