It’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that many of us have an addiction to social media. For a lot of people, it’s the first thing they check in the morning and the last thing they see before they go to sleep. The average daily social usage worldwide is around 144 minutes per day, with the average American spending roughly two hours and three minutes on social per day.

But in spite of all that we love about social media, there’s also a dark side to social that we need to acknowledge. The anonymity of social media encourages bullying behavior, and has given rise to trolls who exist to harass, abuse and even dox people across the internet.

Few people experience the same level of verbal abuse that social media managers see on the regular. Social media managers find themselves on the receiving end of everything from customer complaints to racist and sexist comments to straight-up death threats. And unlike the average consumer, social media managers don’t always have the luxury of walking away from the accounts they manage when the abuse becomes overwhelming.

Learning how to navigate the ups and downs of the job is crucial for any employee, but especially for those working in social media. For social media managers, addressing your mental health is about more than maintaining workplace productivity—it’s also about protecting your sanity and overall health and wellbeing.

Acknowledge the good and the bad

There’s a reason why so many people consider social media marketing to be a fun job.

Social media gives marketers a chance to exercise their creativity and create deep connections with their audience. The immediacy of social platforms makes it easier than ever for brands to connect with their followers, whether it’s to answer a customer question or to engage in witty banter. And there’s no greater feeling than seeing a Tweet you published take off and resonate with thousands of people online, or knowing you came up with a trending meme.

At the same time, however, what makes social media so great can also make it difficult for social marketers to fully disconnect from their work. Social marketers who care about connecting with their followers may struggle to shake off negative experiences like when customers take their emotions out on social media. Even though, logically, you know an angry comment isn’t directed towards you specifically, it’s hard not to take what you see on the internet personally. Research conducted by the University of Pittsburgh reveals a direct link between negative experiences on social media and increased symptoms of depression among adult users.

This stress, on top of marketers feeling like they have to be “always on” for their jobs, makes it difficult for social media managers to focus on their day-to-day responsibilities. They may experience side effects like an inability to concentrate, exhaustion and an overall lack of motivation, especially when these mental health issues are left untreated. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the cost of ignoring people’s mental wellbeing in the workplace costs the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity.

Worse still, those feelings of stress and anxiety don’t always disappear once the workday is over, and negative social encounters can carry over into a social marketer’s personal life too. Just because you’ve logged off for the day doesn’t mean you can unsee the Tweets from angry customers blaming you for something entirely out of your control. You should not have to sacrifice a healthy work-life balance or your happiness just to manage your brand’s social media presence.

Take back control over your mental well-being

While we can’t predict how people will respond to the content we publish on social media, we can control how we respond to certain situations. Do you have a plan in place for dealing with trolls or abusive language? Is there someone in your organization you can hand your social responsibilities over to when you need to step away?

When it feels like your work is starting to overwhelm you, pause for a second and take a deep breath. What actions can you take right now to alleviate some of the stress you’re feeling? Even something as small as a walk around the block or a quick meditation exercise goes a long way in protecting your mental health. As you experiment with different coping mechanisms to support your specific needs, consider implementing one of the following actions into your daily routine:

  • Establish a response protocol. One way to alleviate the stress of social management is knowing precisely how to respond to certain users and how to deescalate a situation that could become dangerous. When engaging with trolls, for example, make it a policy to respond once and then move on. Identify a manager who can step in and support you if someone is harassing or threatening you through your brand’s social accounts. Document these steps to ensure everyone knows how to safely respond in various customer interactions and when a situation requires additional support.
  • Leverage the tech at your disposal. With cyberbullying top of mind, social platforms have implemented policies and tools designed to empower users to better protect themselves online. As a social marketer, lean on safety tools like Instagram’s Manual Content Filter or Twitter’s Advanced Muting Options to filter out abusive or harmful content. And don’t be afraid to block social users when situations begin to spiral out of control or when you feel your personal safety is being threatened.
  • Lean on your community. Social media management can feel like a lonely job—but it’s important to remember there are others who share the same challenges and victories as you. Consider reaching out to social marketers directly or joining an online community where you can solicit advice from a diverse group of marketers and ask how others have dealt with mental stress. Or, if you’re uncomfortable speaking to your peers, consider using a site like HeartMob, which provides real-time support to anyone experiencing online abuse.
  • Get up and get moving. No, seriously. Close your laptop, put down your phone, and walk away from your desk when the work becomes overwhelming and your shoulders begin to tense up. Make it a point to block off time on your work calendar to take an uninterrupted 20-minute walk or do some light stretching. Exercise has been shown to help alleviate the tension we feel under stress, and physically removing yourself from your workspace can help you clear your mind.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remind yourself that you are not the brand. You may speak for the brand on social media, but comments directed towards the brand are not a reflection on you as an individual.

Watch out for scope creep and other internal stressors

Sometimes, the mental stress social marketers experience has little to do with the conversations happening on social media and more to do with their colleague’s perceived expectations.

Misconceptions around the role of the social media manager can lead to unrealistic asks from team members who don’t work directly with social media. Requesting social marketers create something that goes “viral,” for example, can place unnecessary stress on an individual and quickly lead to idea fatigue. Likewise, asking social marketers to juggle all aspects of social media—such as content creation, ideation, reporting, customer service—can accelerate feelings of burnout.

Avoid running into these stressors by level-setting with other teams on your strategy and what is actually feasible for social media. Educate your colleagues on the ins and outs of your responsibilities so they’re aware of all the things you do and what you don’t have time for. When your colleagues understand just how long it takes to create content, for example, they may be less inclined to ask for and expect spontaneous requests.

Give yourself permission to log off

While it’s easy to focus on the lows of managing social media, it’s equally important to remember there are plenty of bright spots across the internet. And it’s those positive experiences that make working in social media worthwhile.

Because social marketers tend to see the best and the worst of human behavior online, prioritizing mental health is a must in order to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Make it a point to take time off when you need it; set your notifications to “Do Not Disturb” when you sign off for the day; lean on your peers for support when times are tough. Give yourself permission to unplug completely from your work—your mental, physical and emotional health will thank you.

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