It will come as no surprise that I spend a large majority of my time online, as most of us do these days. There are apps that tell us how long we spend on our phone, and I’m actually too scared to download it as I don’t think I’d want to know the answer! It’s a crazy time for all of us trying to manoeuvre our way through life with the added pressures of Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. Being in the public eye isn’t just the reserve of bloggers or celebrities anymore. In the social media age we are all exposed, all the time. I recently met up with pop-star and mental health campaigner Ananya Birla to talk about the pressures and pleasures of the internet and Instagram, and exchange some tips on staying sane throughout it all.
1. As a mental health campaigner, how do you feel social media and the internet can affect our emotional health?
A trend exists for individuals to use social media to show off their “perfect lives” and you can’t help but compare yourself with them. People strive for this unattainable level of perfection which can be terrible for emotional health. It exacerbates depression, anxiety, eating disorders and issues with body image.
Instead of pressuring both ourselves and others to conform or to measure up to impossible standards, we should use social media as a positive channel to promote authenticity.
I also believe that it can be an incredibly powerful force for change. For people with mental health issues especially, there are amazing support communities and influential people talking openly about their issues and making massive progress in getting rid of the stigma that exists around the world.
- Do you ever get Instagram fatigue, or generally exhausted from being in the public eye? If so – how do you ‘switch off’ when needed?
Since I signed my first music deal, I have been kind of thrust into the public eye in India. It has been an amazing experience, but it can also be draining.
Instagram has always been my favorite platform but sometimes the fantasy of all of it is consuming, like an addiction. You can spend so much time looking at stuff that’s not important, or reading negative comments and letting it affect you.
Sometimes, I just duck out for a while. Taking a digital detox every now and then is great. It’s refreshing and helps you to enjoy the ‘here and now’ a little more.
- How do you make the most of the internet personally, and make sure it is a positive force and experience?
I have started writing longer guest blogs and articles about issues I feel strongly about, from gender equality, to encouraging people to follow their passions in their career, or giving advice on self-care. It helps me connect with people more deeply, and to get my point across with more context. It’s tough to say everything you want to say in 280 characters or an Instagram caption!
I’m talking more openly about my own battles with anxiety and panic attacks too. I think it is important for people in the public eye to come forward and talk about difficulties they have faced. Particularly with mental health, as it encourages open conversation and inspires others to get help
Recently, I’ve also been vlogging to give an insight into my daily life and personality – and the people that matter most to me – above and beyond the level that followers get to see through photoshoots and interviews. I want people to be able to connect and relate with me directly. It’s nice to have a sense of ownership over what’s being put ‘out there’ but mainly I like that it gives me a space to be silly and have fun and communicate in my way.
- Why do you think some people want to be in the public eye and others shy away?
For some people, it is about identity. If you don’t know who you are, becoming famous makes it easier because people start telling you who you are, or at least who they think you are. It can give you the illusion of validation and self-discovery. But of course, true self-knowledge is about how you feel internally, not just how others react to you.
What I have realised over time is that when you are in the public eye, it either makes you more of who you are or makes you go into a shell. Luckily for me it is the former.
- Does your persona online match up with how you are in real life?
Keeping it real is the most important thing. I am no different to the person I put out there online. Sometimes I share images from a photoshoot but they don’t represent my whole self and it’s certainly not the level of glamour I aspire to on a daily basis! It’s fun and fantastical and I hope people realise that.
One of the main reasons I started vlogging was to really show people who I am and what I am about.
I have a few rules for social media, that I think also apply to life:
- Always be true to yourself
- Be positive and spread love
- If you don’t have something nice to say, say nothing
- When you want to talk about something important, know what you’re talking about.
- Celebrate the success of others. Be grateful not envious.