I get asked by a lot of people about the ‘dangers of social media’ to our mental health (this applies is general, but especially applies during this current pandemic). There are a lot of studies that have shown the harm that can be caused by social media and there are also a bunch of studies that have shown that it doesn’t negatively impact people’s mental health at all. You can argue the efficacy of the studies and their methods till you’re blue in the face, but here’s the reality for you;
It’s not going away. Probably ever.
Good luck completely getting yourself off social media (if you think that’s what’s best for you), you’ll need even more luck if you think you can get your kids off of it.
But here’s the thing, we don’t need to use social media less, we need to use it differently.
This is true with most things in life; we need to start turning unconscious choices conscious.
If you are blindly using social media, then yes, I think that is bad for you. You end up in a comparison culture, in an echo chamber of like-minded opinions served up to you by an algorithm that tells you only what you want to hear, screening out alternative views, listening to people who don’t have your best interests at heart and are negatively influencing you. No, of course, that’s not good for your mental health.
I love social media. It provides me with immense value. ‘Value’ is something that comes from my branding and marketing background. Quite simply, If you are not providing ‘value’ then no one will consume your product. Value means different things to different people. Value can be inspirational content, something that makes you ‘LOL’, something that inspires you to become healthier, or wealthier, or it may be as base level as admiring a nice bum or 6 pack abs.
So, first, we have to understand what we value. You can figure that out all by yourself pretty easily, or, here are a couple of great resources that helped me understand that more; one from Clearer Thinking & one from VIACharacter. (Both are free and will take about 20mins to complete). When you understand what you value, then you can understand how social media can work for you, instead of against you.
It then just becomes conscious choices. Who are you going to follow? Do they inspire, motivate or teach you? Or do they negatively influence you, make you feel bad about yourself or less than what you should be? Engage with experts that you can learn from. People who are going to help you become who you want to become. Reach out to people, use the ‘social’ part of ‘social media’ to connect with inspiring people who lift you up, make new friendships, create new opportunities. Slide into some DM’s and add value to others, they are looking for genuine connections as well.
Stop mindlessly scrolling (read my previous article).
Stop engaging in hate or trolling. Stop the comparison culture that makes you feel horrible.
Start careful curation of what you ingest.
I have about 4000 ‘friends’ on Facebook. At a guess, I ‘follow’ about 50. I don’t really use Facebook anymore though. I follow exactly 345 people on Instagram. These are either people I know and wish to see what they are up to in their lives or they are accounts that provide me with some sort of value to who I am as a human. I periodically go through and audit those 345 and am pretty ruthless in who I allow to spend time with me in my mind. On LinkedIn, everybody I have connected with is in my feed (99% added me, 95% I wouldn’t recognise if I saw them in the real world), but if I see a post of theirs that doesn’t add value to my life or detracts from that I will unfollow them. Reddit is a perfect example of curation. If you use Reddit with the default subreddits your feed will be filled with all sorts of randomness. Unsubscribe from all default subreddits and then subscribe to what provides value to you. For me; Learning (positive psychology, mental health, get motivated, self-improvement etc), lifestyle (DIY, Artisan Videos, Bodysurfing etc) and entertainment (oddly satisfying, humans being bros, boomers being fools). You see what you choose to see. Consciously choose.
Everything I’ve just spoken about was concerned with what you ingest on social media, you should also be conscious about what you create for social media. Tasha Urich (author of the wonderful book ‘Insight‘) said; ‘The main thing that we share (on social media) is information about ourselves, which is often called ‘self-presentation’. An interesting pattern has emerged suggesting that as self-presentation increases, empathy decreases.
One of her studies showed that we spend about 60 percent of our time talking about ourselves, but when we’re on social media that jumps up to above 80%. And another discovered that people who use social media generally fall into one of two categories, 80% are ‘meformers’, 20% are informers. Informers have more friends and enjoy richer, more satisfying interactions than ‘meformers’.
That’s obviously not a concise summation of the research, but the sentiment to me was clear, I would like to be more of an ‘informer’ than a ‘meformer’. Before I post anything, I ask myself if this is going to provide value to people. Will this make the world a better place (even if it’s by 0.0000000001%) or will it have the potential to cause harm? In fact, in order to figure out if I was providing value, I actually asked my social media followers what would be of value to them. There were they pretty standard answers that I do know create value, but a bunch of people also wanted to me to post more stories about my life in Mexico because it was of interest to them in the grander notion of ‘mental health’ or maybe just curiosity.
What you put out into the world matters, it affects (or influences) people whether you know it or not, whether you have 1.5 million followers or 15.
Start making conscious decisions about what you put our there and especially what you let in.
You don’t have to use social media less, you just have to use it better, and more consciously.