First, a confession: I have several forms of social media open in front of me as I write this. So, I’m not going to say that you must take a complete vacation from all forms of social media in order to derive any benefits for a healthier mind (but if that’s your style, go for it!). Instead, I want to suggest three major ways you can maintain a relationship with social media while making it less toxic in your life.
1. Let go of the need to know everything
Much of our obsession with social media stems from a desire to be in the know all the time. There is the sense that, because we can know what’s going on via live news feeds 24/7, we should stay updated on the statuses of our friends, family, and even the organizations we follow. This feeling, though — the feeling that we might miss out on something if we stop checking updates — can quickly become an obsession that, when fed, causes feelings of anxiety.
So, how do you break the cycle? First, know that everyone and everything in your social media life will go on existing whether you see their updates or not. Way back in those dark days before social media, people kept in touch with each other via other methods — face-to-face encounters, phone conversations, and other seemingly antiquated methods of communication (remember letter writing, anyone?) that, believe it or not, still exist today.
Second, consider your own state of wellness (or lack thereof) when you are sucked into the obsessive-compulsive behavior of constantly checking up on people and entities that don’t really serve much of a purpose in your non-virtual life. Think of the time you spend throughout each day that you dedicate to social media and what you could do with that time if you decided to give it back to yourself. Does knowing the happenings of distantly connected people and places truly give you any peace of mind? Or does it perhaps take away from your sense of calm, of fulfillment?
Try letting go of the desire to know everything about everyone, recognizing that this knowledge adds little value to your overall well-being.
2. Filter out the negative
While I don’t mean to admonish advances in technology, as they certainly have their place in our society, there’s a healthy balance we must achieve for optimum quality of life. I am grateful to be connected to far-away family and old friends in ways that were not possible before social media.
On the other hand, I found that following the status updates of a local cupcake shop and the news feeds of “friends” with views I found offensive was not serving me well. Instead, the pictures of cupcakes actually drove me to consume cupcakes when I otherwise wouldn’t have, and the insulting opinions of others produced feelings of irritation inside me that I simply didn’t need to feel. So I filtered out the people and things that I noticed were causing me to experience negative feelings.
Maybe you have one too many news organizations in your feed that seem to only report the worst aspects of humanity; or perhaps you see triggers for purchasing things that aren’t necessary in your life and instead cause guilty feelings about spending; and maybe you’re still holding onto relationships that have gone bad and only bring you sadness or frustration when you see “happy” pictures or statuses of former friends or partners. Remove these elements from your social media streams. Don’t torture yourself. There is something to the truism, “Out of sight, out of mind.”
3. Allot time for social media
Remember TV time when you were a kid? For the most part, I think most of us can look back and appreciate this parental intervention and see how it contributed to a healthier childhood, even though at the time we viewed it as an evil, draconian measure. Make a similar rule for yourself and social media. This can be as simple as designating 15 or 20 minutes per day for social media viewing, or making rules for when not to use social media: at work, during meals, or when visiting with friends and loved ones. And if you’re able to leave it behind sometimes, all the better.
Smart phones and tablets — and soon watches and glasses — are designed specifically to be mobile and to go with us everywhere. But that doesn’t mean you have to actually take them everywhere. Rebel against the system a little bit. When you’re exercising, spending time outside, or otherwise engaged in an activity that brings you pleasure, take full advantage of the time you spend participating in that activity by leaving your devices behind and keeping your mind focused in the present.
Finally, take back your mornings and evenings. If you’re like me, you have at some time gotten into the nasty habit of waking up, reaching for the phone, and going straight to your social media apps to see what happened while you were sleeping. This can detract from a healthy morning routine, filling your mind with often unimportant and sometimes negative information before you’ve even gotten out of bed. The same applies to bedtime: don’t let the last thing you look at before closing your eyes consist of a social media feed. Research has shown that engaging in social media before bed diminishes the potential for quality sleep. Instead, read a book or listen to relaxing music.
Take back control over the messages you send your mind. Don’t get stuck in the all-consuming world of social media; use it for what it’s worth, not all the time, and only when it serves you well.
Image Source: Allesandro Valli/Flickr