The middle picture in my gallery this week features the irresistibly cute, Luna, our family dog. My husband posted this pic on Facebook and, much to my dismay, it only received one like. One like! What is wrong with a society when an adorable puppy-tongue-hanging-out-as-she-sticks-her-head-out-a-car-window picture only procures one like? It is sheer madness. Okay, not really, but that rant does lead me into this post's topic about social media and the negative impact it can have on an individual's mental well-being.
Years ago, when Facebook was still quite a novelty, I signed up for an account with my husband. It enamored me from the get-go. To be able to delve into the daily lives of people from my past and present seemed quite miraculous. As a stay-at-home mom, Facebook was a means for me to stay connected to the world at large without leaving the comfort of my living room couch. Years later, when I purchased my first smart phone, I uploaded the Facebook app to my phone. What had been a tool I could check once a day to keep up with friends and, at times, share my own celebration moments, became an obsession. In fact, when my mental health took a steep nosedive this past winter, one of the first steps I took to bring myself back to center, was delete social media apps from my phone.
There were two main reasons I chose to remove social media from my smart phone. One, I became aware of how every post I shared was a litmus test for how well I thought others liked me. Whether I shared a link to my website, posted pictures of my family or simply re-shared an article I found interesting, hyper-vigilance over how many reactions my post received was in overdrive. Each time a notification popped up on my app, I immediately clicked it. How many likes did I have now? Did anyone comment on it? In a sense this experience became a game of how relevant I felt in the world. The other reason I chose to delete my social media apps was that when I viewed posts from friends, I found myself comparing my life to theirs. Nine times out of ten that was a bad thing. My friends' posts seemed cooler, their family relationships more solid, their pets infinitely cuter than my own. The comparison game left me feeling bad about myself and how is that helpful?
After I removed the apps from my phone, I had a period where I had to readjust to getting on my computer if I wanted to view any social media. Despite the inconvenience, the benefits were almost immediate. First and foremost, I did not critique every moment of my life as to whether or not if felt shareable. I was able to practice being present for important moments rather than impulsively snap photos to make a collage worth sharing. Secondly, I stopped comparing myself and my life to others'. I recaptured gratitude and contentment rather than foster any longing for my life to be something different than what it was. Third, my emotions were kept in check. Negativity over posts that made me angry was nonexistent. When I did get on social media, I simply skipped over posts that tended to raise my heart rate.
My advice is simple. If social media affects you in any of the ways I described above, or in ways you know are not good for your mental well-being, consider limiting your time on these apps to once or twice a day. Other things to try would be to silence notifications or try deleting the app altogether. As with most things in life, balance is key. In the end, social media should benefit you more than it harms. Remember that social media platforms are, in the end, businesses seeking to make a profit, and if they profit at the expense of your mental well-being that just is not okay.
Today, I have a much healthier perspective of social media platforms. I still get on once a week to see what the rest of the world is up to. I also enjoy sharing my own special moments with people, though now I do it in moderation. I will be the first to admit that social media platforms have been instrumental in getting out the message that mental health is health. Far be it from me to discount that. Realizing the opportunity it affords, I choose to use social media for its benefits while limiting the amount of time I spend on any one platform. In other words, I make social media work for me, not the other way around. 'Til next time.