Today is Social Media Day – a day to mark and celebrate the global impact that social media has had on the lives of all of us.
What an incredible tool it has proven to be for all of us! Social media has hugely impacted the way we communicate: we’re able to instantly share photos with friends, stay up-to-date about the lives of our family members across the world, reconnect with long-lost classmates, receive up-to-the-second news, and share our thoughts with millions of people in the blink of an eye.
It enables us to create and find communities of like-minded people who we can reach out to for support. Today, I’m thinking especially of the people in the mental health community on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram who I’m so grateful to have connected with.
But social media can also be a big detriment to our lives – if we let it take control. We might compare our lives to the perfectly curated snapshots that we scroll past and feel that our lives are not as glamorous as everyone else’s.
Maybe you use social media as a means of procrastination. Before you know it, 10 (or 20 or 30) minutes of pointless scrolling have gone by, and you’re late for whatever task you should have been working on during that time. It can be big time-waster.
Another risk is that we might even become victim to harassment and mean remarks from people who disagree with us (or who just have nothing better to do with their time). Singer Selena Gomez recently admitted that she deleted Instagram when she realized how much she was fixating on the negative comments from body-shamers. It was making her feel depressed.
Social media makes us lonelier
A recent study from Psychiatry Research has shown that the better the support system that a person has IRL, the more likely they are to use social media in a healthy way (not spending too much time on it, not relying on it for all their emotional support and gratification). On the flip side, those who don’t have a positive support network IRL end up depending on social media far too much to create the same sense of support and friendship that they should be getting IRL, and that’s when it turns into an addiction. So, the more stressed or anxious a person is in their life, the more they’ll turn to social media for validation and comfort, which will then make them even more stressed (from FOMO and/or envy), which will cause them to spend even more time on social media… and so the cycle continues.
What does this mean for those of us who have a mental illness?
It means that if we’re not careful, we’ll get sucked down the social media rabbit hole and make our situations worse. Social media may seem harmless compared to other coping mechanisms we may use to deal with our stress and feel better in the moment (like drugs/alcohol, emotional eating, self-harm, money-spending, etc.). But it’s important to remember that it is still a type of addiction – and there is not a single addiction on the planet that is healthy for us. And allowing virtual connections to replace real-life connections can have a very real impact on our mental state.
So how do we find balance?
These are some tricks I use to stay balanced. See what might work for you!
When I feel my mood going down, I push myself to engage in real-life interactions, rather than sitting at home and isolating myself on social media. (Remember the study I mentioned: people who have a support network IRL use social media for fun and they don’t obsess over any aspect of it – so strive to be one of those people and emulate their behaviours.)
I schedule time into my day where I turn off my phone (or at least my notifications) and use that time to re-center myself – ideally by doing some meditation, walking in nature, or spending quality time with a loved one.
I am disciplined about how frequently I allow myself to check my social media. (See if you can bring it down to just twice a day: once in the morning and once in the evening. Maybe even take a full day off from it altogether! Try a Sunday Social Media Sabbatical.)
I am mindful about how being on social media makes me feel. (For many of us, it drains our energy, or makes us feel envious or anxious. We spend so much of our days on autopilot that we don’t check in with ourselves to see how certain activities make us feel. What a waste it is to allow ourselves to spend our precious time on something that doesn’t make us feel amazing.)
When I do go on social media, I focus on the positives. I engage with positive people, aim to learn something new, or to support others.
Social media is a tool, nothing more. It is a means of communication. It is not your life, nor is it an accurate reflection of anyone else’s. We all put our best face forward on Instagram!
When you’re old and wrinkly and reflecting back on the incredible life you’ve lived, I guarantee the highlights will have nothing to do with the time you spent scrolling on social media. They will be about the real connections and experiences you had. You will never regret having spent less time on your phone.
With all that said, happy Social Media Day, everyone!