Is social media running your life? It’s a fun way to pass the time and can help to keep us connected with our friends and loved ones, but is social media having a greater impact on you than how you spend your free time?
Presence in Society
Today, our businesses, culture, and relationships are structured around the presence of social media in our society; it’s nearly impossible to escape it! While it can be an incredible tool to help build a business, connect with friends, get support from others, or even gain education on current issues, it can also become addictive and negatively affect relationships and mental health.
Social media is designed to be addictive. Push notifications keep you constantly aware of everything that is happening on your different platforms. Receiving “likes” triggers dopamine releases. Scrolling through reels and hours of TikTok videos provides an escape from stress, sadness, depression, anxiety, and other negative emotional experiences. It is not surprising that many people experience increasing amounts of time spent on these platforms in their everyday lives. All of it is designed to keep you engaged, loving it, and coming back for more.
Along with its addictive nature, we have also seen in the research a connection between social media engagement and negative impacts on mental health. Many individuals report increased depression, anxiety, loneliness, and poor self-esteem. Comparison runs rampant in social media and mental health takes a beating. Teens and adults viewing photos of impossibly perfect people, vacations, homes, and lives, most of which are not even real, often find themselves with lower self-esteem and sometimes falling into depression. With news of catastrophe and hardship from all over the world available to us constantly as we are online, it is not surprising that anxiety is at an all-time high for adults and children. Plus, with the existence of cyber bullying and predators stalking popular sites such as Instagram and Snapchat, social media isn’t always the safe refuge from daily struggles that we would like for it to be.
So, is there a way for it to just be a useful and fun tool for us to use? Absolutely! In order to get back to that place of social media working for us, to serve us in our lives and not influence us negatively, it may be time to do a check-in. If anything that you’ve read so far resonates with or concerns you, it may be time to see how social media is affecting your life, if at all, and how to use it differently. Here are some exercises which can be used to get started!
Sometimes we use social media to help us cope with negative emotions. Sometimes we feel stressed, angry, sad, or upset after using social media. The next time you choose to scroll through Instagram or hop on TikTok, try this exercise:
- Before you start scrolling, liking, or commenting, do a feelings check. Are you bored, sad, angry, happy? Just notice this and hold onto it for later.
- After you’re done on social media, check in again. How do you feel now? Are you relaxed, angry, sad, guilty, joyful?
Maybe you’re using social media to avoid the way you feel after an argument with your significant other. Maybe you get off of Instagram and feel depressed because you don’t look like the influencers. If you notice any emotional patterns connected with your social media use, maybe it’s time to make some changes.
What do you value most in life? Write down the five most important things to you in order of importance. Ideally, these should be the things on which most of your time and energy is spent. Now, look at your list and ask yourself, “Is my social media use helping me to engage with my values the way I want?” If the answer is “no” or another neutral answer, consider modifying your social media use. Time is short, and there never seems to be enough of it. Choose to spend your time on things which support your greatest values and the things you want to get out of life.
Time to take a look at what you’re following on social media! Like Marie Kondo and her organizational process, we can evaluate the influencers, channels, friends, businesses, groups, etc. that we follow on social media and get rid of the pieces that are not serving us. Try asking yourself, “Does this bring me joy?” the next time you are reading a friend’s feed, scrolling through pictures, or watching a reel or TikTok.
If the answer is “no”, then it may be time to PURGE! Stop following everything that does not serve you in your life, build up your relationships, or improve your mental health. Unfollow/friend anyone who is negatively impacting your mood. When you notice negative patterns, take action! Maybe you need to step away from a platform or two for a couple of weeks and reevaluate. Ultimately, social media is meant to be used by you, so let it enhance your life.
When engaging in social media, be conscious and discerning of what you consume. Choose to follow uplifting influencers or businesses which advertise tools and techniques for improving mental health. Instead of spending extra time on Instagram looking at your friends’ photos, give a friend a call or meet them for coffee to catch up; face-to-face interaction can’t be beat in relationships! Get outside or move your body in the gym instead of scrolling through TikTok. Put your phone away at night and read a book before bed instead. Institute “phone free” family dinners or activities to engage with your kids and get them engaged with you too (they may complain, but they need that time with you). Whatever it is, choose to put mental, physical, and relational health before social media.
There are many ways that we can engage with social media consciously and with improved health in mind. Ultimately, if you find that you are struggling with issues of depression, anxiety, or other mood issues, reach out and find a professional who can help walk with you through this time.