Creator mental health: What Instagram therapists want you to know

August 2, 2022
Nicole Tabak
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It’s no secret that social media has an effect on our mental health. From the dopamine reward we get every time our phone lights up with a notification to the FOMO-induced depression that comes when we swipe through Instagram stories, we all know that social media can impact our moods and our minds.

But we also live in a world in which being a content creator is a dream career for many. Being a content creator means being online often, crafting a career on addictive social media platforms, and subjecting oneself to 24/7 scrutiny. The negative mental health implications that social media has on users is even more amplified for content creators.

We’ve seen many recent examples of content creators finally talking about the mental toll the career can take. The New York Times published a piece in the summer of 2021 about TikTokers and YouTubers experiencing extreme burnout. In June 2022, TikToker Elyse Myers posted a heartfelt message about falling into the career and the challenges of seeing negative comments online.

The mental health decline of content creators and influencers is exacerbated by the fact that they cannot simply “unplug” like the average social media user. When things get to be too much, there are still brand deals and business expectations. Content creation and influencer marketing are viable careers—so, why aren’t there the same realistic mental health resources being provided to these professionals?

There’s no one better to navigate this space than therapists turned content creators. 

The therapist is in (your screen)

In recent years, “Instagram Therapists” have taken social media by storm. With the increased conversations around mental health on social media, many have taken to social platforms to encourage productive conversation. Some are questionable cult leaders. Others are actual licensed therapists simply trying to reach more clientele or grow their businesses. Regardless, this special niche of content creators is faced with a specific challenge: knowing social media can be both beneficial and harmful.

To start to uncover how content creators are supposed to protect their mental health without sacrificing their career, I spoke with some so-called Instagram therapists to get their unique insights.

“I personally have a love/hate relationship with social media,” says Dr. Emily Anhalt, Clinical Psychologist, Co-Founder, and Chief Clinical Officer of Coa, a mental health startup that provides classes for proactive mental fitness. “So much opportunity and so many authentic relationships have come into my life because of it, but I also know I spend too much time on it and I sometimes let other people's reactions to what I post influence how I feel about my own thoughts and content.”

Dr. Anhalt is in the collection of therapists who deeply understand the challenges content creators are facing, because she herself is one. With more than 56k followers across her social networks, she creates content multiple times a day across Twitter and Instagram that resonates with both therapists and patients alike.

I also spoke with Jeff Guenther, a Licensed Professional Counselor, Owner of the Portland Therapy Center, and Co-Owner of Therapy Den, a mental health directory for finding a therapist. Jeff is better known by his TikTok and Instagram handle, @TherapyJeff, where he’s garnered a following of more than 1.3M followers from his raw and honest takes on relationships and family trauma.

“I think that we can talk about all these different ways on how to prepare mentally and emotionally, but if you're gonna go into this career of being a creator, it sort of all flies out the window when you start to get in there and create,” Guenther shares. “All the things that one should do in order to protect themselves from burnout or getting addicted to the dopamine rush—it all goes out the window when you start to actually get traction. I quickly went into the space of, ‘I need more, I need more validation’ and I'm willing to kind of create as much content as I possibly can in order to do that.”

And he does. Jeff posts two videos each day on TikTok, usually about a minute each, with dense topics from dating advice to familial trauma to social justice issues. It’s not surprising that both Jeff and Dr. Anhalt both feel the dopamine rush and heavy weight that being a very online person can bring—no one is immune to the impact of having a social media following.

@therapyjeff If you typically felt really sorry for a parent growing up, you were likely too enmeshed with them. #peoplepleaser #mentalhealth #therapy #therapytok #relationshiptips #dating #family #parents ♬ original sound - TherapyJeff

How to protect your mental health as a creator 101

So, what can you do as a content creator (or aspiring content creator) to offset that pressure?

Unlike other therapists, therapist content creators know better than to recommend turning off your phone.

“Something that creators have to think about is if taking mental health breaks or going offline could affect your bottom line or how many views you get,” notes Guenther. “You’re worrying that the algorithm isn't gonna like me or TikTok isn't gonna display me if I'm not constantly creating at least once or twice or three times a day. It’s hard to figure out how to balance that.”

With that in mind, it’s important to set realistic expectations for how to support your mental health as a creator. Here’s what Dr. Anhalt recommends:

  1. Keep an eye on burnout, which is much easier to prevent than it is to fix. Learn your early warning signs and recruit support to make sure you’re taking care of yourself.

  2. Remember that your mental health is your greatest asset. If you’re overwhelmed and exhausted, your work will suffer.

  3. The only way to sustainably create is to invest in ongoing wellness, so take care of your physical health and make time to rest

  4. Creative people need time to do nothing.

  5. Explore what you're hoping to get and feel from social media and consider that it might need to come from elsewhere. We all want love and validation, but the kind we get from social media engagement can end up feeling a bit unsatisfying. Make sure you’re investing in your IRL relationships, hobbies, and pursuits.

In essence, it’s not just about muting notifications or limiting your online time—it’s about reframing how we think about our lives both online and off. These tips transcend social media or content creation, and we could all benefit from taking them into our daily lives.

Embracing your value beyond social media

We may still be in the early days of mental health benefits for content creators and influencers, but by embracing psychology practices and positive boundaries in general, we can start to move the industry forward. We can start to live our lives fully—recognizing why we’re driven to pursue more likes and more engagements but understanding that our value in life is more than those metrics.

“I know many therapists that start making content and don't hit it big. They don’t get many views or follows or engagement, and they start to question their worth and who they really are and what they have to offer. They’re a successful therapist of 15-25 years and they're putting themselves out on social media, and now it's like, am I even good enough?” notes Guenther. 

“I don't think that's talked about, or that we can really prepare for that. Even though maybe we intellectually can understand that would happen. You can really doubt yourself and think that you're like the worst ever just because you don’t get a viral hit or trend on a certain topic that people are talking about that minute.”

This concept of having a viral hit or being in the right place at the right time is the driver for both the dopamine high we ride or the depressive low we fall to. But neither should be the determining factor for our value in life. A successful career is not negated by the lack of ability to win the algorithm. Contrarily, one successful TikTok video doesn’t make a successful career. The value each content creator brings to their career and their lives is multifaceted.

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