Let’s get real for a few seconds here. I love social media. I’m on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Pinterest all the time. And I’m not in the minority here. Millions of people are with me and on other sites I don’t use. Literally millions.
So it can be a tad, okay extremely, alarming to see how many times news outlets tell us that social media is ruining our lives or that Instagram is actually the worst. It isn’t just social media and video games, even smartphones are getting blamed for a downgrade in our happiness and overall mental health.
The fact is social media isn’t going anywhere. News stories focused on the downside of social media talk about all the potentially negative side effects of being online, only to promote the article on social outlets because they know that’s where all the fabulous people (like me wink, wink) are getting the news.
How can those of us who live online maximize the positives of social media and minimize the negatives?
Set some boundaries
Social media actively uses the pleasure and reward center of our brain, so why not use it to your advantage? I enjoy telling myself that I need to finish a certain number of specific tasks before I can do a scan of social media as a 5 minute break.
Boundaries like this will allow you to take a step back and take a deep breath. Boundaries are also good for a lot of areas in life. Starting with social media may be a good first step to incorporating boundaries into other aspects of your life… i.e. work-life balance.
Another good one is to log off an hour before bed. Struggles I know, but no harm in giving it a go.
Attempt some phone-free activities
I can feel that mild panic setting in already:
“Tyler, are you telling me to leave MY PHONE behind?!?”
No way, homie. I’m talking baby steps, like eating dinner (at home) without your phone or when you watch a movie (still a screen, but bear with me for a moment). Since it’s already best practice to not use your phone when you are in a movie theater, extending the rule to at home may make it easier to implement.
If someone is talking directly to you, put the phone down. I’m so guilty of not doing this, but it’s the best place to start phone-free moments. Having meaningful conversations side-steps the downside highlighted by the “social media is bad for your mental health camp,” which says that engaging online detracts from your ability to engage in person.
And, let’s be honest, how many of us can actually avoid face-to-face conversations? Nobody! And how do you feel when the other person is looking at their phone the whole time you’re trying to tell them what your department is working on or how your soccer game went?!
Which leads me to…
Be a different kind of social
There’s a little song I learned as a child and it goes like this:
“Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.”
Precious right? But there’s a point. It isn’t always enough to be in communication with your friends via social media or texting, it’s important to see them. It’s equally important to make some new friends too.
Introverts, I hear you in the back and I would never tell you to change who you are to meet new people. I am letting you know that your mental health needs some in-person interaction when you can handle doing so. I promise not to rub my extrovert-cooties on you.
Become an advocate
From cyberbullying to Photoshop-ed photos that no real person can live up to, there are numerous ways that social media can inflict damage to your mental health. While many people are speaking out about these topics, there is something each individual on social media can do to facilitate change.
And I’m telling you now, solely targeting social media as the bad guy is not going to help. Social media will only reflect the society we live in. I believe in order for social media to have positive impacts on everyone’s lives, the goal for change is helping society improve so everyone person has empathy for each other and love for them self. So no matter your passions, you can be part of the solution.
Social media has a big impact and it’s important to discuss it. No matter if it’s a light-hearted convo with friends, a heart-to-heart with your partner or an internal monologue, a common understanding of how to set boundaries with social media and make it work for you is essential so being social can be part of your overall health and well-being.