The negative effects of social media are well documented and there’s a lot of evidence from a variety of studies about it being detrimental to our wellbeing causing issues such as anxiety, depression, loneliness and low self esteem. However, I believe it is perfectly possible to have a positive and rewarding experience online if you moderate the time you spend and are mindful of how you engage. Today’s Monday Matters post focuses on things to consider and strategies to adopt to help you get benefit from social media whilst sheltering yourself from the more negative aspects of exposure.
Limit your time
I think most of us will agree that we spend far too long on social media each day and that a lot of that time is taken over by mindless scrolling. A study I found online suggested that 30 minutes a day is ample time to spend catching up on various platforms yet a different study found that the average is nearly two hours! If you think social media is taking up too much of your precious time then it probably is and it might be a good idea to schedule a specific time to check in. So, for example, you could decide 6.30pm until 7pm is a good time but make sure you check in again and decide if this amount and time is working for you.
It’s also a good idea to avoid social media later in the evening as it can affect the quality of your sleep. The light on your phone or tablet has been shown to reduce melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep cycle. Also, some online content can cause something called ‘cognitive arousal’ which basically means you get wound up when you should be winding down!
Try turning off your notifications
A good idea for controlling the time spent is to turn off your notifications for the different platforms, as I find, when they pop up on your phone or tablet, particularly if the notification is accompanied by a sound, that’s often all that’s needed to send you down the social media rabbit hole! For example, I recently changed my notifications for YouTube as I was getting so many messages about new videos on channels I subscribe to and suggested videos I should watch that I was totally developing FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) syndrome. Now, the only time I’m notified is if someone likes or loves a comment I left or replies to it. I may even turn the likes and loves off at some point too!
Be wary of emotive language
Since starting my own business, I’ve become super aware of the use of emotive language to get you to click. You may be familiar with ‘click bait’ which can be defined as ‘content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page’ but there are more subtle ways of getting you to click too. Just two minutes on Pinterest and you will see pins containing phrases such as ‘Must have…’ ‘…you’ll definitely want to bookmark’, ‘…beyond brilliant’, ‘How I tripled my blog traffic…’, ’31 lazy ways…’ etc etc. Again, this plays on your FOMO to make you want to click and save the pins for later. I wrote a blog post about avoiding Pinterest some while ago and my time away was due to the fact that I felt it was having a detrimental effect on my wellbeing and making me feel really overwhelmed.
I’ve recently become really aware of how my local newspaper use language on Twitter to get you to check out their webpage. A lot of their tweets start with ‘Shocking’, ‘Exclusive’, ‘Disgusting’ and other similar emotive words and when you click to find out more, it’s just the same old stuff that you really didn’t need to know about. I know they have to sell their stories, but again, it’s another way of getting you to spend time interacting with content that has the potential to wind you up or makes you feel overly anxious or get you feeling down about the state of the world or your locality.
We can all do without too much negative press right now and in my opinion, reducing your exposure or at least being wary of its affect should be a top priority, particularly if you are prone to anxiety or depression or are currently struggling with your mental health. There are a lot of articles online and in magazines about the affect of watching too much Coronavirus news and The WHO (World Health Organisation) have some great advice related to social media and news in relation to mental health.
Be mindful of your personal experiences
To have a happy social media experience, I think it’s really important that you are mindful of how much time you are spending and the effect that it has on your mood and your general productivity levels. If you often find yourself feeling a little bit rubbish, lacking in motivation, tired or completely down, then you may need to evaluate what you’re looking at and why it’s making you feel like this. For example, if looking at beautiful bullet journal spreads on Instagram leaves you feeling like your own BuJo is completely inadequate and that you are rubbish at drawing, lacking in creativity or doing it all wrong, then maybe it’s time to take a break or stop the mindless scrolling – remember the most popular content will be at the top of your feed and as the platform is mainly about aesthetic beauty you’re going to see flawless images which are likely to be highly edited. On the other hand, if you are left feeling highly motivated, creative or on a high, then you might consider social media to be a good mood booster and a wonderful way of helping you to be productive.
Stop the comparison
We all have issues with comparing ourselves to others at times, often in an unfavourable way, but social media often makes things worse, particularly for young people. Not only are you exposed to a huge volume of information from different posters but what you’re seeing is often only half of the picture (or maybe even less) and often heavily edited to show things in the best light. The ability to follow, like and love may also contribute to feelings of self doubt or worthlessness as you reflect on why others have more followers than you or why some friends are getting more likes and loves.
In order to break the comparison habit I think the first step is to recognise that you are doing it and then to realise that it isn’t helpful and is likely to be having a really big effect on you mentally and not in a good way either. When you begin to realise this, you can start to make changes to what you choose to view and your perception of the content that you consume.
A lot of what is presented on social media is advertising and presents an amazing lifestyle, glossy hair and flawless make up coupled with a perfect body, bang on trend outfits and stylish accessories to match. The danger with this is that we start to beat ourselves up as we don’t meet the same standards. What I try to do is reflect on how ads work and remember that they are very good at persuading you to want what is presented and feel that you are incomplete until you have it. I like to assess how clever they are and how far from reality they are. I’m not saying that I don’t get swayed by adverts, we all do but I think being more mindful helps.
It’s also good to remember that what you see online is in digital format and is often altered using filters, photo editors and Photoshop. In fact, the photograph may have been taken literally hundreds of times until the right angle and best lighting conditions are achieved too. So basically, what you are seeing is not really as it seems. The people in these images may seem full of confidence and joy but underneath they might be struggling with lack of self esteem and loneliness or finding aspects of their life really difficult right now.
Evaluate what you get out of being present on social media
There are lots of benefits of using social media such as keeping in touch with friends, being part of an online community, learning new things, hearing a range of perspectives on a topic, keeping you informed, getting help and advice, and fun or entertainment. In fact, being present on social media has been shown to help people feel more connected and useful as they feel they are positively impacted on the lives of others. It’s a good idea to sit down and think about what you personally get out of your experience and the impact it has on your life.
If there are particular apps that you feel aren’t doing you any favours, don’t be frightened to delete them or take a break until you are in a better headspace or in a different mood. I know that my social media experience depends a lot on how I’m coping day-to-day and if I’m struggling with anxiety and depression, I tend to keep my distance from Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest as they only make me feel worse. When I’m feeling happy and in a good place mentally, I enjoy looking at a range of content and it makes me feel motivated to make changes and improve my life. However, I still need to be mindful as I can start to feel overwhelmed and try to change too much all at once in a bid to get a perfect life (which by the way is completely unobtainable)!
Social media plays a big part in our modern lives and there’s no changing that. Having a happy experience is all about developing your awareness of the positive and negative aspects and being mindful of how your time online is affecting your wellbeing. I hope today’s post has given you some things to think about and will bring about some changes for the good if you feel that is what is required.