LANCASTER, England — Spending too much time on social media could be harmful to your mental health, but taking a few minutes to post a photo on Instagram every day may actually be good for you, according to a new study.
In fact, plenty of users do just that, with more than 1.5 million photos on Instagram tagged #365 or #365project to represent a user’s daily photograph. Researchers from Lancaster University and the University of Sheffield say that snapping a daily picture and then sharing it online offers “complex benefits” that improve one’s well-being.
For the study, the authors followed eight adults — five men between the ages of 20 and 50, and three women between 50 and 60 — who regularly used Instagram, Flickr, or the photo-a-day site Bliphoto. The participants were monitored for two months, with researchers recording the content they posted, the text they used, and how they interacted with others on the site. After the two months, the authors interviewed each participant about their use of the sites and the photos they posted.
The researchers say that the participants’ well-being improved through self-care, interaction with others, the potential for reminiscence, and/or simply taking time to look around and seek out something unique for the picture — a practice likened to mindfulness, in a sense.
In terms of self-care, one participant explained: “Photography has been quite good for me over the years because I think it forces me to look at the world again. And also there’s a postural thing. If you’re only looking down, when you’re depressed and hunched over, it encourages you to look up or at least squat down and look at something different and to stop and smell the flowers … So I find it to be a very versatile self-care technique.”
Other participants found the practice of taking a daily photograph gave them a pause from the stressors of work. “[My job] was a very highly stressful role … Oh, God. There were some days when I’d almost not stopped to breathe,” they said. “And just the thought: oh wait a moment, no, I’ll stop and take a photograph of this insect sitting on my computer or something. Just taking a moment is very salutary I think.”
And some found it helped get them on their feet and even gave them some much-welcomed exercise: “It encourages me out of the house sometimes when I could just sit on my backside with a cup of tea. I’ll think maybe I’ll take a walk down on to the seafront and before I know it I’m two miles along the coast.”
As for being able to reminisce, individuals found that going back and look at different snapshots provided them a boost of positivity, particularly on harder days.
“If I’m ever feeling down or something it’s nice to be able to scroll back and see good memories,” said one participant. “You know, the photos I’ve taken will have a positive memory attached to it even if it’s something as simple as I had a really lovely half an hour for lunch sitting outside the [location] and was feeling really relaxed.”
And finally, seeing comments and interacting with others about a particular photo gave the participants a sense of belonging to a community.
“If it was just a photo site putting a picture up and a title I would probably have dropped out within a month or two. But it was the conversations,” said another participant. “That’s when you realized that it was something different and that was possibly at least as important as the photograph that you were taking. It could be a rubbish photograph but if somebody commented on it, it made it worthwhile.”
The authors say that communicating with others through the sites helped some deal with loneliness or grief, while others were able to make new friends who shared similar tastes.
The full study was posted April 7, 2018 in the journal Health.