Today, I want to dive into a topic that's close to my heart and one that many athletes, including myself, have faced: the profound impact of social media and online criticism on our mental health.
Before we get started, let me tell you a bit about my journey. I played college softball, which was a dream come true, but I also battled anxiety and depression during those years. In fact, there was a point in my life when I attempted suicide. Thankfully, I'm here today to share my story and shed light on how social media and online criticism can affect our mental well-being.
The Pressure of Perfection
One of the beautiful things about social media is how it connects us to a global community of athletes and fans. It's incredible to witness the passion and dedication of athletes worldwide. However, with this connectedness comes the pressure to perform, to be the best, and to appear perfect at all times.
Imagine scrolling through your Instagram feed, seeing your fellow athletes achieving incredible feats, always looking their best, and seemingly living their dream lives. It's easy to fall into the trap of comparison, thinking, "Why am I not there yet?" or "I'll never be as good as them." While this can be something that serves as motivation to strive for a particular goal, this constant comparison can be incredibly damaging to an athlete's self-esteem and mental health.
Online Criticism: The Double-Edged Sword
Social media can be a double-edged sword. While it offers a platform for us to showcase our talents and inspire others, it also opens the door to criticism, both constructive and downright hurtful. As an athlete, I've experienced the sting of negative comments and hurtful messages.
I remember a time when a particularly harsh comment was posted on one of my photos by someone I thought I was close with and could count on. It felt like a punch to the gut, and I couldn't stop thinking about it for days. The worst part was that I was only 14. The more we expose ourselves on social media, the more susceptible we become to these types of comments. It's crucial to develop a thick skin, but it's easier said than done.
The Toll on Mental Health
The constant pressure to maintain an image of perfection and the fear of online criticism can have a profound impact on an athlete's mental health. For someone like me, who was already battling anxiety and depression, these factors intensified my struggles.
Social media can create a distorted reality where it seems like everyone else is thriving, and we're the only ones facing challenges. It's essential to remember that people often curate their online personas, highlighting only the best moments. Behind the scenes, they might be facing their own battles.
Finding Balance and Support
So, how can we navigate this complex world of social media while safeguarding our mental health?
Practice Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself. Remember that you're not alone in your struggles, and it's okay to have setbacks or bad days.
Set Boundaries: Don't be afraid to step away from social media when it becomes overwhelming. Designate times for checking your accounts, and prioritize real-life connections.
Seek Support: Reach out to friends, family, or a mental health professional if you're feeling overwhelmed. You don't have to go through it alone.
Promote Positivity: Be a force for good online. Share your own struggles and triumphs authentically. Use your platform to inspire and uplift others.
Focus on What Matters: Remember why you started your athletic journey in the first place. It's about your love for the sport, personal growth, and the joy of competing.
Altogether, social media and online criticism can have a significant impact on an athlete's mental health, but it's essential to remember that you have the power to control how you engage with these platforms. Be mindful, be kind to yourself, and use your online presence to inspire and support others.
We're all in this together, and by sharing our stories and supporting one another, we can create a healthier online environment for athletes and help break the stigma surrounding mental health. Stay strong, stay motivated, and remember that you're never alone in your journey.