Do you remember Facebook's 6-hour outage on October 4, 2021? There were a wide variety of reactions and if you were among the people who panicked or felt cut off from the world, you might also be among those who need to take a look at their relationship with social media. Going for less than a day without being able to check your likes, follows, and other updates shouldn’t be that big a disturbance, and this week’s brief and mandatory break from one major social media source revealed, once again, that some of us need to take a hard look at how social media plays into our identities.
Before we get started, it’s absolutely worth noting that quite a few people were more than mildly inconvenienced by the Facebook outage, especially those whose businesses and personal communications rely on Facebook or its affiliate apps. In no way, is this article meant to shame that kind of dependence on sites like Facebook. Our intention here is to talk specifically about the recreational uses of social media, which have been proven to negatively impact mental health in certain cases.
Not All Bad
It’s important to establish that, from the beginning, social media has brought many positives into our lives. If it hadn’t, it probably wouldn’t have caught on like wildfire. It went from a fun way to stay in touch with friends and share funny stickers, to an internationally utilized tool for networking on many levels. You can send a funny meme to your mom (who definitely knows what a meme is) and run your e-commerce shop, never leaving sites that fall under the social media umbrella.
For years, social media has also been an incredible platform for activism and promoting social change through the years, and especially during the pandemic has helped many of us feel connected to the world in a time of forced isolation.
There are also ways in which your online community can provide significant support, whether that be through validation and appreciation, being able to find someone to talk to when you feel alone, fundraising for someone in need, or sharing both critical information and fun life updates. All told, it’s a pretty incredible thing, and we’re allowed to appreciate it as such!
When It Takes a Turn for the Worse
Unfortunately, as with many of life’s “good” things, humans have managed to ruin social media by overusing it and using it inappropriately. For as long as this millennial writer can remember, parents have been wary of allowing their kids to use social media, a battle that’s extremely difficult to win in the age of almost constant access to personal technology devices. Those parental concerns are valid, and experts have long joined them in regaling us with reasons that social media is, in fact, pretty detrimental to our development and mental health when it’s used improperly, linking social media to increased rates of depression, anxiety, sleep deprivation, poor communication skills, low self-esteem, and impulse control problems. Some have even begun to compare the impacts of excessive social media use to those of drug addiction. Then there’s cyberbullying, social anxiety, digital addiction…
It's difficult to count the ways in which “social media” has become the enemy when it comes to talking about our health.
And for good reason! So, what are those of us who don’t want to lose out on the many positives of using social media supposed to do?
How to Maintain a Healthy Relationship with Social Media
It is possible to use social media and have good mental health practices. You just need to be mindful of your digital life and careful about the habits you build around it. Here are a few ways you can keep social media from controlling your every move and maintain a real-world identity outside of the internet:
1. Set limits. Use technology to your advantage! Set up usage limits on your devices. Figure out what a healthy amount of time per day is for you, and make sure your phone, tablet, or computer kicks you OFF of Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, etc. when you go beyond that time limit.
2. Always have a reason to check your accounts. If you’ve developed the habit of hitting those app buttons every time you have a chance to glance at your phone between classes, on the bus, or during commercial breaks, you’re mindlessly scrolling. Break this by making sure you always log on with purpose. Establishing a goal for your social media accounts, whether that be keeping up conversations with friends, building your following, or running your business, will help you determine whether you actually need to check the app or whether you can wait a while.
3. The golden rule… if you wouldn’t say or do it in real life, don’t do it or say it on social media. Don’t be mean. Don’t be petty. Don’t spread negativity or misinformation. Remember that nothing about social media is private and that it’s actually a platform from which you have incredible influence over others, and your online “paper trail” will never disappear. Use it kindly, wisely, and responsibly.
4. Take a deep breath before you post. There’s no rush. Whatever you’re commenting on will be there five minutes from now, and by that time, you might not feel what you were posting was necessary. And let’s be honest with ourselves: if you find yourself typing in all caps at any point, you probably need to take a moment to calm down and process what you’re saying before you hit “post.”
5. Turn envy into inspiration. So many of us end up comparing ourselves to what we see online. It looks like everyone out there is having a great time, constantly on vacation yet still making a million dollars a day, maintaining a flawless beauty routine, rocking the trendiest fashion, and never taking a break from being awesome. When you feel yourself getting jealous, ask yourself, what parts of their life would I like to incorporate into my own? What actions can I take toward the life I want? Get inspired to make changes you desire instead of hating on someone else for appearing to have what you want.
6. Take breaks. Not just fifteen-minute breaks. Every so often, hit the reset button and take a break from all social media for a week, a month, 3 months, a year… however long you need. If you think it’s necessary or helpful, you might even want to take an occasional break from all things digital, not just social media. Reconnect with your in-person life. Social media won’t disappear while you’re gone.
7. Schedule in-person hangouts. If you’re relying on DM’s to keep in touch with your friends, family, and support network, make a point to ask them out for coffee or invite them over for a movie night every couple of weeks. It’s awesome that you’re able to use tools to communicate, but don’t forget that your relationships need quality time and attention to thrive. Plus, relegating your social life only to on-screen interactions can lead to feelings of social isolation and depression. Disconnect from the internet and connect with your loved ones.
8. Follow & unfollow mindfully. Pay attention to how you feel when you’re scrolling. If there are people or accounts whose posts inevitably shift you into a bad mood, it might be time for an unfollow. You’re in control of what you see online, and you have to make sure your mental health is a priority. It’s not mean to stop looking at a particular friend’s posts if that’s what you need to make sure you don’t spiral into a negative mindset after five minutes of scrolling. Also be wary of “doom scrolling,” when all you’re doing is taking in is bad news. There’s a fine line between staying informed and torturing yourself, and if you realize that scrolling through horrible headlines leaves you in a bad place, it might be time to unfollow those sources and choose a different way to keep up with current events. And by all means, never forget that there are also accounts or profiles that always make you smile! Follow cute puppies, kittens, toddlers, comics… whatever brings you a moment of joy or a chuckle is worth including in your potential scrolling experience each day.
9. Log off before bed. Sign out. Close the app. Seriously. Not only will the simple act of removing yourself from your social media platforms help you develop a practice of keeping your identity separate from your online presence and keep you from scrolling way past your bedtime but having to stop and sign back in tomorrow will hopefully help you be more mindful of your social media use the next day. Sleep is crucial to your mental health, so at the very least, set your phone out of reach from your bed. It will still be there in the morning.
Mindfulness and Moderation
It’s okay if you just choose some of the things from this list to practice. We all need to pursue mental health in ways that work for us, and our circumstances sometimes demand that we use social media more often than we’d like. The idea is to be mindful that social media isn’t getting in the way of your health, identity, or peace.
As Christians, we all have access to peace in Christ. Even when the world becomes an overwhelming mess around us, we can rest assured that the Creator of the universe sees us, cares for us and will provide for our needs. If you think you have a problem with social media use or digital addiction interrupting your peace of mind, reach out to someone at TheHopeLine today. We’d love to talk to you about how you can improve your mental health and have a better relationship with the internet in general.
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