As millennials, social media has had a strong presence in our lives for the past decade. It helps us stay in touch with friends, organize events, meet people that share our hobbies, and network. It shares content that makes us laugh, distracts us from life, and inspires us. It connects us with people from around the world and the latest news, keeping us aware and informed.
Despite these positives, social media also has a dark side. A quick Google search yields numerous studies about the dangers of social media use, including this one from the American Psychiatric Association that found that “the use of multiple social media platforms is more strongly associated with depression and anxiety among young adults than time spent online.” And it’s really no wonder this is the case. If not used in a healthy way, social media can wreak havoc on our mindset.
But how can you go about protecting your energy? What steps can you take to make social media a force for good versus a harm to your mental health? Here are some ways to use social media the right way.
Recognize the Dangers of Social Media
While there are several things that make social media a danger to our mental health, there are a few that really stand out to me.
We tend to compare our normal to someone else’s best.
In other words, we compare our view of ourselves with someone’s curated feed. We’re comparing ourselves to something that isn’t even the full picture. Don’t believe me? Take a look at your own feed. Have you been sharing makeup-free selfies? Did you do an Instagram Story documenting the last fight you had with your partner? Have you posted a Facebook update about your greatest fears and insecurities? For most of us, the answer is a resounding “no”.
And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Certain things should stay personal. The problem is that social media can quickly take what we present to the world to the next level. Filters, photo editing, and extreme curating create a false sense of what our lives are really like. And the more we put that type of facade out there, the more these platforms become only distantly related to reality.
We tend to see people on social media as more “attainable.”
Have you ever flipped through a fashion magazine and looked at the beautiful models with perfect bodies? Most of us know that these pictures are heavily edited and photoshopped. And we know that the models who are posing in the pictures have the help of an entire team to look the way they do. Yes, they may look perfect, but there’s an element of understanding that it’s not reality.
Instagram, on the other hand, is a different story. I mean, we signed up for an account, and anyone can. We typically take the pictures we post on our phone without any fancy lighting or editing. So we just assume that the fitness models and bloggers on our feed are doing the same. They are “average” people with above-average lives.
Do you see the difference? It’s like we hold ourselves to the same standard as other people on social media because we “should” be able to be like them. We think: “There’s no way I could ever look like Gisele, but why can’t I strive to look like that Instagrammer?” The sad part is, in many cases they are using lighting and filters and editing to get the photos the way they are. So our sense of them being “average people” is completely false.
Unfollow Accounts that Make You Feel Bad About Yourself…
Once we’ve recognized the dangers of the environment we’re working with, it’s time to start unfollowing accounts that make us feel less than.
If you take one thing away from the post, let it be this challenge: go through the social media platforms you use, and unfollow any account that makes you feel bad about yourself.
This includes people you know, people you don’t know, celebrities, companies, and brands. And it includes accounts you may have found inspiring in the past.
Even seemingly innocuous accounts may need to go on the chopping block: a food blogger’s perfect feed may make you feel bad about not preparing delicious home cooked meals every night at your house. A home decor Instagram account may make you feel like your home isn’t good enough. By no means should you be seeking out reasons to unfollow accounts, but as you browse through the list of who you follow, do so with an open mind to unfollowing any account that causes a negative mindset.
…and Consider Unfollowing Everyone on Facebook
Last Spring, I took a productivity course. One of the very first modules was about eliminating distractions: anything that could pull us away from getting work done. While I was expecting social media to be mentioned, I figured the course would tell us just to log out of Facebook and put our phones on silent.
I was wrong. The course asked us to unfollow everyone but our business accounts on Facebook. Yes, that includes family, friends, and even companies and brands. This didn’t mean unfriending people or unliking pages, but simply unfollowing them to stop seeing them in our News Feeds and reducing the number of notifications we receive.
While I kept following a handful of accounts (mostly blogging and Etsy groups I needed for work), I unfollowed about 99% of the accounts I had been following. It sounds crazy, and initially I thought I’d be completely out of touch with people, but that wasn’t the case. First, I follow a small group of close friends on Instagram, so I still see some of their updates. Second, I now only use Facebook intentionally for work. And third, I no longer scroll through Facebook looking at other people’s curated lives. I keep a tiny personal Instagram account and that’s it.
This may seem like a radical suggestion, but consider pulling back from one or more platforms. Your confidence (and productivity!) will thank you.
Only Follow Accounts that Bring You Joy
Next, switch your focus to accounts that are a positive force. Like Marie Kondo shares in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, we should surround ourselves only with things that spark joy. So why should our social media accounts be any different?
First, if there are any accounts left on your list that don’t bring you joy, eliminate them.
Next, look at what types of accounts do inspire you and bring you joy. Is it inspirational quotes? Baking bloggers that share pretty desserts? Comedians? Meme accounts that totally get you? Friends? If you’d like, go ahead and follow more accounts like those! Pretty soon your entire feed will be a place of positivity.
Spend Less Time on Social Media
This post is all about protecting your energy, which goes beyond simply who we follow.
As much as possible, spend less time on social media. Here are some easy ways to do this:
- Put your phone on Airplane Mode (no distractions!) when you’re working, for even an hour at a time.
- Charge your phone in a different room.
- Close all social media browsers on your computer. If they’re not open, you’ll be less likely to check them.
- Edit your notification settings on social media apps so that you’re not constantly being notified of updates.
Also, as much as possible, spend time on energy-boosting activities. I share a bunch in my blog post about how to get more energy naturally. Some things that can also counter-act the negative effects of social media usage are meditation, going for a walk, exercise, and reading.
By implementing some of these strategies, we can take back our power over how we feel and create a more positive social media experience. If you try any of these suggestions, please let me a comment and let me know how it goes! Have any additional suggestions? Leave them in the comments.