Nowadays, a day gone by without using any social media, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat, can be hard to imagine. It’s where we keep track of our connections, friends, and networks. We use them for daily communication, keeping track of events, posting pictures of our delicious meals and social outings with friends or cute selfies with a filter overtop. You can even shop marketed items on social media, run a business, or have it be your career entirely.
Most notably, it’s a place to which we can escape during uncomfortable moments or even during mundane activities, like waiting in lines, or riding the bus or subway to work. Along these lines, there is a negative narrative about social media and how it’s ruining our attention spans, increasing our narcissism, lowering our self-esteem, and decreasing our overall wellbeing. And even if that’s all true, it’s may be unrealistic or increasingly difficult to imagine our lives in the Western world without this technology.
You may have even had urges, like me, of completely removing yourself from social media - but this comes with the loss of connection to the highly interconnected social media world. That being said, social media is what you make of it - it is not inherently bad nor good; what matters is how we decide to use it.
Social Media and Mental Well-Being
Just like with anything, balance is crucial. For example, watching your favorite show on Netflix can be an amazing way to wind-down at the end of the day, but binge-watching episodes for hours to the point of neglecting other important responsibilities or even your sleep can be detrimental to your wellbeing. The same goes for food, alcohol, and social media, among many other things. Social media, however, is slightly more complex and I believe it takes more work and conscientiousness to have a healthy relationship with it.
I’ve been guilty of being in the habit of opening Instagram or Facebook mere moments after I wake up, disrupting a beautiful time that can be spent setting my intentions for the day, collecting my thoughts, meditating or overall starting my day off right. Instead of setting a positive mood for the rest of the day, by checking social media first thing in the morning, my day begins with almost unconscious self-comparisons, negative self-talk, and removing myself from the present moment.
Our urges to constantly check and update our socials can not only remove ourselves from enjoying beautiful experiences in the present moment, but it can lead to an over-inflation of positivity on social media. To compete with this over-inflation, we tend to post only our highlights to either impress others or even ourselves, adding to the problem. Not to mention, social media can be filled with highly altered images with perfect poses against pristine backgrounds on pages that are entirely tailored to perfection, distorting our perceptions of reality and lowering our self-esteem.
Social Media for Good
My personal goal is to be as honest and real of a human being as I can on social media to balance out the over-inflated positivity. For me, this means being vulnerable and open about personal things, but this doesn’t have to be true for everyone. You don’t necessarily have to use social media to share all your thoughts and experiences; simply being mindful that we are all real humans, going through our own unique, yet shared experiences, can help keep your experience on social media a positive one.
Social media can be an amazing way to share ideas, create opportunities, and build communities. For example, the biggest community I engage with on social media is the yoga community. My feed is filled with real people, moving through this practice while sharing their experiences, inspiring others, coming together to raise money for charities, sharing honest experiences with mental health, and building animal shelters. Following accounts that inspire me and are in line with my beliefs ensures I am not comparing my life to those around me and creating false expectations. Instead, I can use social media to reinforce my identity, feel a sense of community, engage in creative exploration, spread love, and be genuinely happy for others’ achievements instead of tearing myself down, feeling like I’m missing out, and causing myself more anxiety. There are many other communities that exist on social media, including various support groups.
Ever since I started using social media in a way that brings me joy and inspiration, I’ve been able to do the same for people who follow me, and the responses have been amazing. Almost every time I share something difficult or personal, I receive at least one message from someone saying that they feel the same way, or it is has helped them move through something, which helps me connect with people on a deeper level than I may have otherwise.
How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Social Media
I myself am constantly fighting the urge of mindlessly overusing my social media. I’m not perfect by any means, but here are some ways I try to ensure a positive use of social media:
Delay checking your socials in the morning. Begin your day by connecting with the present moment and reminding yourself that there is life outside of your social media. By avoiding this initial checking it will be easier to reduce your usage throughout the day.
Avoid using it right before you fall asleep: consider meditating, journaling, or reading a book before bed. Using social media late into the night can cause sleep disturbances, which can lead to depression and anxiety.
Check with yourself before opening an app: are you doing this as an intrinsic habit or do you genuinely want to go on to post something mindfully?
Remind yourself that you don’t have to share everything. Your life is yours to enjoy and not sharing does not make it any less important.
Follow accounts that actually make you happy and feel good about yourself rather than accounts that cause negative self-image and self-comparisons. Unfollow those that don’t make you feel good about yourself.
Being mindful about what you post: does it bring you joy to post something or are you posting just for the sake of posting or for validation?
Turn off push notifications.
Keep your phone a distance away when working or sleeping.
Remind yourself that social media is not a replacement for real social interaction.
Reduce overall usage with the help of apps like Moment, which helps limit your daily usages. Over-usage can lead to increased stress from having your brain processing more information than is needed.
Most importantly, be kind with yourself. We’re not perfect - if you slip or overuse social media, it’s okay. Focus on acting from a place that makes you feel good and stems from self-respect and love.