Lots of things in life make me feel shitty. Shopping at Forever 21, buying jeans, and phone calls with my mother where she tells me how successful all the children of her friends are. But when I’m feeling blue, I have a surefire way to cheer myself up: my Instagram account.
Yes, I know that social media is the proverbial wicked witch these days, cited as the reason for rising rates of depression and a spike in self-harm and eating disorders. I’ve seen the studies: frequent use can increase psychological distress and loneliness, and distract people from exercise and sleeping.
But what’s not talked about is that Instagram’s power cuts both ways. For many — myself included — scrolling through Instagram alleviates those feelings of misery and FOMO. Here’s the trick: I scroll through the photos I’ve posted.
Look at it this way: my Insta-stream is a curated feed of my happy moments. I only upload photos from memorable events — camping with friends, adorable corgis on the beach, nerd conventions, and so on. When I feel down and think that life is worthless, and that I have nothing to get out of bed for, my Insta-feed shows me that my synapses are clouding reality. There’s a scientific explanation for this.
Focusing on happy memories is a well-known therapeutic trick for battling the blues. In 2015, researchers at MIT found they could reverse symptoms of depression in mice by reactivating happy memories formed before the onset of the disorder. Positively reinforcing past good times helped build new ones. Mice may not be ideal for human comparisons — but the scientists’ findings help explain why reminiscent therapy (commonly used for people with dementia) is so successful at treating depression. The MIT researchers long-term goal is to light up the sections of the brain where those memories are stored, bypassing the need for drugs that indiscriminately target cells.
A study from Cambridge University published earlier this year investigated whether recalling positive memories could alleviate two signs of depression: negative thoughts and high cortisol levels in the morning. Their…