Over three-quarters of the U.S. population currently has an active social media account. Of the giants out there, Facebook and YouTube dominate users’ phones, desktops, and notifications––Instagram and SnapChat are not far behind.
Social media can be a valuable tool for nearly any need, from digital marketing to professional networking to communicating with international besties.
Yet, studies are flurrying forth about social media’s relationship to our health and well-being. We’ve all said “ugh, Facebook” or “I’m sick of Instagram,” but there may be more truth behind these statements than most realize.
Such studies point to social media’s capacity to “waste our time,” elevate anxiety levels and even impact our sleep. Some people alleviate these symptoms by taking a brief “social media detox” or eliminating accounts altogether. Others, however, stay in its grip.
As one who recognizes social media’s capacity to instigate change––cultivating awareness of key issues, connecting family members and loved ones, uniting communities in common causes, helping people find jobs––I can’t so easily step away from it.
But I can build a healthy relationship to it, and so can you. Here are some tips from someone who cares.
Write down what it does for you
This may sound old-school or even tedious. When I dreamed up this solution, I even rolled my eyes at myself. I felt like a prudish sort of counselor telling myself to start journaling to plumb the depths of what’s inside.
Yet identifying how something is serving you can be the first step to defining (and sometimes changing) your relationship to it.
In fact, begin by jotting down anything and everything that social media offers you on a daily basis. This list can include both positive and negative things. Write a different one for each platform (this is crucial, as each platform really is distinct).
For example, my list for Facebook looked something like this:
– Feeling anxiety / fear of missing out (FOMO)
– Experiencing depression (sometimes), particularly when seeing a friend’s “successes”
– Connecting with international friends (easy)
– Getting free photo storage
– Participating in writer’s groups (otherwise inaccessible)
– Monitoring my blog’s main page
Once you craft your list, you can start to redefine it.
Define social media on your terms
When you have a sense of how social media is serving you––what it gives you, what you get on a daily basis––you’ll also likely have a sense of how you want to change this.
I’m all about advocating for things that help me act in my highest good. It can be difficult to let go of things that aren’t fully serving us, for various reasons: addiction, lack of self-awareness, sheer habit. Yet if social media is not helping you be your best self, it’s time for a change.
I recognized that I truly didn’t want a social media platform to influence my daily mood. I have enough sources of anxiety and depression! I also don’t like to feel as if I am “missing out” on something. FOMO, for me, merely perpetuates my anxiety that I am not doing what I should be doing (and “should” is a nasty word.)
Define social media on your terms. This may precede eliminating it altogether. It may also mean defining how you wish to use this tool. Because, yes, at the end of the day, it is merely a tool.
I decided I wanted to use social media solely for connecting with international contacts and building a following for my writing. Period.
Set the boundaries you deserve (actually)
This can be the hardest part of building a healthy relationship with social media. We can talk about boundaries all day long, but when it comes to setting them, we are often a bit more reluctant.
Yet creating boundaries give you, ultimately, power. You should be in the power seat, after all––not Instagram.
I decided that I no longer wanted to head to bed with Instagram images floating behind my eyelids. So I created the plan of turning my phone on airplane mode from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m.
Additionally, I created a social media hour. It’s a small window of time in which I’m allowed to do all the social media things I need to do: catching up with friends, posting about my blog on Instagram, messaging a contact about those birthday party details.
When I’m finished with this hour, I physically log out of my apps (and commit to staying away).
Lastly, Chrome has an extension for users that enables them to block the Facebook news feed itself—and replace your feed with an inspiring quote of your choice!
I installed this and I can’t recommend it highly enough. This enables me to use Facebook for what I need it for: spare communication, inspiration and occasional blog promotion.
Set your boundaries. And stick to them.
Replace that social media tic with something else
We all have it: that tic that surfaces when we’re waiting in line, sitting on the subway, bored before bed. Our fingers snatch up our phones and navigate to Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp. We scroll. We fill the time.
I don’t know about you, but I’m uncomfortable with this tic. I noticed I had it even once I set some social media boundaries.
I committed to becoming more aware of it and not satisfying it with social media. Instead of opening up my Instagram app on my phone at the grocery store, for example, I opened an e-book. Sometimes I reach for a physical book, a shopping list or my planner, instead of my phone itself.
If I have a lot of time on my hands, I’ll write someone a letter or give them a call. I may even send an email or look up directions to a restaurant.
Eventually, you’ll get better at replacing that social media tic with something more constructive, such as authentic, non-digital communication, healthy eating choices, or getting comfortable with being alone, waiting in line at the grocery store.
I’ve called my relationship to social media and technology an addiction in the past, and navigating a healthy connection with it can feel like trying to get sober. For this reason, be gentle with yourself.
The first step to any change comes with kindness. Don’t forget to shower yourself with it.
And don’t forget to repeat some of the steps in this post. Rewrite your boundaries and your needs according to where you wish to land. Always remember that you have the power to choose what serves you–no one (or platform) else.