Let’s get it straight out of the way – we’ve all had bad experiences with social media.
Whether it was induced anxiety over your own appearance or stressful thoughts fueled by the lack of attention. Sometimes it’s the lack of focus due to constant checking the feed. Sometimes it’s a depressive thought brought up by happy and friendly communities that you are just not a part of.
So many things may go wrong when it comes to using social media.
Why do we stay then? Why keep these love-hate relationships with apps and websites that bring these small (or already big) negative moments into our lives?
Because at other times they make us feel good. Because that’s the place for modern communities to be created and grown. We like to be in touch with other people, be that your sibling from behind the wall or a stranger from the other side of the planet.
Social media mean a lot to us, residents of the 21st century. They mean connection, closeness, understanding of the world and other people. Right?
Sounds good – but where all this anxiety comes from then? Why do we feel lonely while being connected to the whole world?
You can find many answers for this one – and even more questions following.
Why Social Media Make Us Lonelier
Some researchers say it might not be the SNS’ fault. It’s just the people using it are more likely to experience the feeling of loneliness or mental health issues. Negative feelings push them in the direction of social media, where they can look for connection and understanding.
Others report that social media in itself is a reason the users feel worse. That it’s not about the “why” people decide to spend more time on the apps, it’s about the fact that they do. The more time we spend online, the higher the risk to meet depression and loneliness.
“So what now?” you might say. It’s not like you, or anyone else for that matter, can just leave Facebook or Instagram for the better.
No, it’s not an option, I agree with you there – and that’s why I want to show you how to deal with the negative effects of your time online.
I’m sure you’ve already heard about the limits you should put on your social media usage; you might know it from self-care ideas or articles about anxiety-reducing techniques. It’s all about the perks that come from taking control of your SNS presence.
You may choose just one from the ones I’m going to describe or take the whole pack, whatever suits you best.
Set Your Notification Right
Do you really need to know about every like you get? Does it matter who shared the post you shared? Is that account important enough for you to keep track of each of their posts?
Phone notifications are the biggest distractions in the modern world.
Have you ever had this moment? When you are just on the right track, when a wonderful memory or idea is just there, on the tip of your tongue, just a second to catch it, just- Beep.
And that’s it.
No ideas will come to your head now, not when all you can think of is who shared your post. Maybe, they even have a bigger following? Oh, then more people will see, and like, and – you got the point.
The first step is to get rid of those.
I don’t ask you to turn everything off – it may be helpful, but you have important things to be reminded of as well.
So, limit wisely. Think about what social interactions matter and if they’re important enough to distract you from your thoughts.
After all, you can always come and check your notifications manually, in the app. You will be tempted to do so quite often, at least at first – but try to keep your wishes at bay. For example, decide on the time when you will do it, how often, and for how long.
Soon enough it’ll stop bugging you. Until then, control your temptations – and your notifs.
Keep The Distance
And I don’t mean social distancing (though you know, keep that in mind too).
How many people do you follow?
Okay, now, how many of them do you know personally? How many of them did you talk to?
I imagine that Facebook or LinkedIn don’t have that problem, at least not as much as Twitter or Pinterest. We use some platforms mostly for talking while others – for sharing interests. It doesn’t mean they don’t overlap though, but the reason behind creating an account is one or the other.
Or is it only me who likes to keep my social interactions separate?
Well, you may come across that problem with both types: Wasting your attention on accounts that don’t need it.
Of course, you follow your friends and family members. Surely, you keep up with bloggers, online journals, or other big accounts that post about stuff you’re interested in. Maybe you have a few accounts in your feed purely for memes and news.
But do you need to know where that girl from your pre-previous job spent her summer? Do you want to be bombarded with new COVID-19 cases from the other side of the world? Do that cat pics have- Yeah, well, no, these are crucial, we can all agree on that.
But apart from the cat pics and updates from accounts that matter, how much junk is there in your feed? Photos and headlines that steal your focus and bring up good ol’ FOMO and stress instead?
Think about it. Go through your following list, watch who pops up in your timeline.
You don’t have to unfollow every single person that doesn’t interest you. Sometimes we find good friends and positive feelings in the most unexpected places, especially on the Internet. Just remember to not get attached to the people that will never do the same.
Clean Your Inbox
Alright, enough of the feeds and timelines, let’s check your DMs now.
We all have different preferences when it comes to chatting online. You may be a part of dozens of group chats, stick to a few close friends, or have just a few messages from the past couple of years. It’s all good.
But you have to be clear with yourself about who you want to talk to.
Don’t push yourself to keep in touch with people you don’t enjoy talking to, be that online friends or a girl from that Christmas party. Remember about your borders.
Especially with group chats.
They may be comfortable and easy-going, but they also may be loud and overwhelming, including people you don’t know, sharing jokes you don’t understand. It’s like being at a party you joined in the middle of the night – but, just like in real life, you don’t have to stay if you don’t like it there.
You don’t have to laugh and be active only because that’s what’s expected of you.
You are still you, even online, and you have to stay true to yourself.
Likes Don’t Really Matter
Yup, I’m laying all cards on the table.
You may feel good – temporarily, thanks to others’ approval – but for how long? And what is left after?
If you’ve ever had one of your posts, or tweets, or photos “blow up”, i.e. receive more attention than average, you know what I mean. After the first few dozens of likes, they start to mean less and less. It’s still nice to know that someone recognized the idea or efforts you put into the post – but nothing else changes.
You just have a post with a lot of likes that eventually gets lost under new posts and impressions. Not as fun as it sounded at the beginning.
Does it even mean that the post itself was good?
Not to be harsh, but not necessary.
There are tons of popular accounts that get likes for the most mundane and random posts. At the same time, unique but rather unknown accounts may struggle to gather the same amount of attention for years.
Social media are well-known for their shallow interactions and quantity over quality preference. No matter how breathtaking your photos are, it’s the number of followers that will be the source of approval – and growing insecurities.
Get rid of that mindset now.
Don’t look for evaluation in the number of people that clicked that “Like” button. Instead, pay attention to those who recognized the true value – at least by sharing or leaving a meaningful comment.
Keep Track of Your Time
Believe me, I know how easy it is to get lost in social media. To log in “just to check the latest news”, and then find yourself 2 hours later, watching another cat video and refreshing the feed for the fifteenth time.
I know – and that’s why I put this as a separate point.
You may not even notice how much time you spend on social media every day. Or maybe you already know that the answer’s “too much” but just don’t have enough motivation to do something about it. I’ve been there too.
Turns out it’s not that hard.
The first step is to install an app that tracks how much time you spend in every app on your phone, especially social media. There are plenty of these on both App Store and Google Play, just search for a social media tracker and choose the one you like.
Most of these apps have the option of notifying you or blocking an app. You don’t have to go that far – unless you feel the need to. For me, it was enough to keep track of my time on my own. You should try it as well!
Focus on Your Social Network IRL
All of these tips may be good – but if you don’t have something to do in real life, soon enough you’ll be dragged back to the world of social media.
And I’m sure you have something to do, even in lockdown.
You still have your friends and family to talk to. Chatting with your online friends is also possible in messengers that don’t distract you as much.
Start with self-care, find a new hobby, go out (if regulations in your country allow), try DIY, read new books, watch movies with your pets, take care of your garden, literally do whatever you like with your free time!
Social media may even become a source of inspiration for indoor activities – just remember your goal.
Don’t waste your time on mindless scrolling through the timeline. Neither your mind nor your body will benefit from it.
So, can social media ruin your life? Probably not. Can it weaken your self-esteem, spike anxiety, and lay a path for depression? Yes, yes it can.
You may feel like you’re connected with others online – but only genuine, two-sided connections count. Everything else will quickly turn out to be an illusion. Everything else will make you feel only worse about yourself.
Loneliness may be healing – but not when it’s induced by feelings of rejection and needlessness. Depression and anxiety feed on these.
Remember that you matter, both online and offline. Take care of yourself.
Your life is more interesting than your feed – but it’s up to you how to organize both.