We all know social media is not a true account of life. And yet, we still view other peoples’ highlight reels and compare them with our reality. Despite its name, social media can leave us feeling more isolated than connected. But if we don’t engage with it, are we ostracizing ourselves?
I believe passionately that social media should facilitate our social life, not replace it. After trying several different ways of interacting with social media, I have found the sweet spot. At one stage in my life, I was a slave to social media. Now, I don’t allow social media to take over my life. It doesn’t negatively impact my psyche. I make it work for me.
If you come away from social media feeling irritated, lonely, disconnected, envious and inadequate, you should know that you can use social media more positively. Read on to discover how you can use social media to promote your own happiness.
Positive aspects of social media
When used effectively, social media is unparalleled:
- I have built several communities through Facebook groups.
- I have relied on a Facebook page and Instagram and Twitter profiles to build a business.
- I have developed friendships and connections through sharing images of my adventures on Instagram.
- I have enjoyed fitness-related banter on Strava.
By our very nature, humans seek and need connection, even the most introverted of us. Social media allows us to find this connection. When we follow topics we are interested in and join discussions and groups that vibe with us we experience a joyful sense of belonging.
When used optimally social media can help us seek out social rewards; approval, reciprocity, and acceptance.
Social media can also help us to:
- Stay connected with family and friends.
- Build a business.
- Express our thoughts.
- Offer support to those struggling.
- Share news.
- Find friendships.
Heck, that short-term dopamine rush we get from social media is delicious. But be careful, as it can lead to dark places.
The ugly side of social media
Addiction to social networking sites is real. It has been compared to substance and gambling addiction. Not only that, but heavy social media users have poorer cognitive performance.
Over half of the world’s population spend almost 2.5 hours on social media a day. That is mindblowing if you ask me. Just think of all the other things we can enjoy, achieve or experience during this time.
Social media has also been linked with negative mental health.
In fact, this help guide explains the vicious cycle of social media. It suggests we turn to social media more when we feel lonely, depressed, or anxious. But our use of social media can leave us feeling inadequate, left out, isolated, and dissatisfied with our life.
Is it all even worth it? What happened to the good old days of just phoning someone up?
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How I changed my relationship with social media
I have felt gut-wrenching anguish seeing photos pop up on my social media accounts. Photos of my friends on a night out I wasn’t invited to. I have felt deeply sad and disconnected seeing big news announced on social media by someone I considered a close friend.
Social media has helped me achieve some of my highest highs and greatest connections. But it has also kicked me down into the gutter. Maybe it isn’t such a bad thing as it has helped me see who values me.
I have been on an interesting journey with social media. I want to help you find a happy medium with social media too.
Just yesterday, a new friend made a comment about how I don’t really do social media. This made my day. I have gone from someone all over every social media platform to someone with a very small social media presence.
And you know what? The less I use social media, the stronger I feel within myself.
6 tips to change your social media usage to promote happiness
Do you want to use social media more positively like I did? Here are the steps I took in order to change my relationship with social media.
1. Delete accounts
While this may seem extreme, you should realize that you don’t have to permanently delete your accounts. It may simply be for a specific time period to cleanse your soul and change your habits.
Once I was no longer managing several Facebook groups and pages, I didn’t need to be on Facebook. This goes for any platform. I was “friends” with some people who I politically could not delete. I made full use of the “unfollow”, “mute”, or “block” buttons. But I still couldn’t shake it entirely.
I found myself craving recognition. I noticed when various “friends” didn’t interact with my content. And yet, I had an overwhelming sense of obligation to interact with all my “friends” content. It was tiring.
When social media is causing more drama and upset in your life, you know it’s time for it to go.
Your true friends will still make an effort to stay in touch.
2. Build a dummy account if needed
Now, this is probably one of the greatest things I did. After having no Facebook account for several years I was well and truly over my addiction.
But then, I moved to a new country and really struggled to meet people. I knew that the best way to find like-minded people was through interest groups on Facebook. But the idea of going back on Facebook filled me with dread.
So, I created a dummy Facebook account. I set up my own rules. I would not be “friends” with anyone. It was to be used with the sole purpose of linking with community groups I could engage with and then join in person.
This worked a treat. All the positives of social media with none of the negatives.
3. Delete the apps from your phone
This is a game-changer.
We all turn to our mobile phones automatically. Next time you are in a waiting room for anything, look around you. Everyone is on their phones. And what are they scrolling through? It’s most likely social media.
But when there is no social media app on your phone, you have to be present. As a result, you won’t be drawn into drama and your brains won’t be overloaded with content, images, politics, and thoughts.
Restricting my social media use to the laptop means I am less likely to get drawn into mindless scrolling. The social media accounts I use are a bit cumbersome on the computer. They are designed for smartphones, so they don’t draw me in as much when I’m on a desktop. This in itself helps me limit my time.
4. Allocate specific times to check your accounts
Most smartphones allow you to put time limits on your social media. If you manage to stick with this, you are effectively taking control.
Decide a time slot where you give yourself permission to use social media. It may be that you allow yourself between 8:30 am and 9 am in the morning and then 6 pm and 6:30 pm in the evening.
You dictate when social media is allowed in your life. Don’t let social media seep into every waking moment of your life. It is distracting, consuming, and overwhelming. Only let it in if you have the capacity for it.
And please, for the love of your own wellbeing, if you are feeling rubbish and low, do not look at social media.
5. Unfollow, unlike and unfriend
This may be political and difficult, but remember, this is your social media account.
You can choose who you follow or who you are friends with. You can ignore friend requests. You can delete and unlike to your heart’s content.
Start off with an easy one. Unfollow various pages or businesses. That doesn’t seem so personal, does it?
Now, whilst you are in the swing of things, unfollow or unfriend all the people who don’t bring you joy. You will know the ones I’m talking about. The people that leave you feeling pessimistic, inadequate, and dissatisfied.
There are certain people in my life who have become consumed by parenthood. All they post are images of their children. No more ideas, adventures, opinions. No more cute dogs and profound thoughts.
I used to engage to show love and support. But I realized they didn’t interact with my content. I felt I was in the audience of their children’s upbringing. Some people may like this. Some people may not.
Of course, they can post whatever they like. It is their account. But I don’t need to be part of it. I can choose to opt-out. And that’s okay!
I still have a few final accounts to unfollow. These are the accounts of old friendships. I recognize this is the final step in severing ties, which causes a bit of anxiety. But I will do it. And you can do it too.
So get unfollowing, unliking, and unfriending. If an account doesn’t bring you joy, get rid of it!
And you know what? You are not responsible for someone else’s feelings. You have to do what is right for you and your own wellbeing.
6. Use social media on your terms
There are no rules to social media, so create your own rules.
For a long time, I was a slave to my social media accounts. I felt an overwhelming sense of obligation to engage. To comment and like as a way of showing my support. But where did that take me? To anxiety and a sense of inadequacy.
I am still bitten occasionally by my sense of obligation. But I have it under control.
The first 5 steps of this article are all centered around using social media on your own terms. The key thing is that you recognize this. Shed away any sense of “should”.
Let social media work for you, instead of you working for it.
Yes, you will lose some connections. But let me ask you something. If friendships require you to interact with them on social media to keep them alive, are they real friendships?
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Less social media means your focus and attention can be kept inward instead of diverting it externally. Remember, you only get one life. Don’t waste it scrolling on social media. Take those pictures, but instead of posting them on social media, send them to a friend. Connect with loved ones on an individual basis. Go out and live.
Do you have a positive relationship with social media? Do you consider it an asset to your happiness, or a liability? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!