You'd be hard-pressed to find someone under the age of 40 that does not have some form of social media. Most Americans take part in it. And we do it for various reasons - whether it be to share our unique experiences, to connect with others, or both. In the very early stages of its existence, the internet served direct purposes. Sending e-mails. Keeping up with news. Watching dogs do human things like this.
All important and life-enhancing tasks. Somewhere along the line, though, these tasks became embedded into how we connect in everyday life. Social media, in particular, has substituted how we receive and verify information as well as how we keep up with people. It has its advantages, for sure. For one, it's relatively affordable - as long as you have some form of device and access to internet. It's incredibly convenient and instantaneous. There's a wide range of outlets and subgroups to choose from, which gives variety to a shared voice. Multimedia allows for different formats, whether it be text, videos, or pictures (Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, etc.). Up to this point, we've never been more connected with one another. So why is social media a concern to mental health?
Well, there's a few reasons, but the focus should be more on the how than the what. These social media platforms aren't intrinsically unhealthy like a box of Popeye's biscuits. It's how they are integrated into our facilitation of needs. If we utilize these tools with a healthy balance and keep in mind its limitations, we can increase the likelihood of not being sucked into the distorted reality presented. But if we are constantly preoccupied with being "connected," it can deter us from true and intimate connection and also take away the chances for us to be satisfied with ourselves.
We must also take into consideration how these platforms can substantially impact the construction of our internal and external world. Three factors contribute to this:
- We are, most often, presented with a sanitized narrative. Rarely, if ever, do people share photos, ideas, or videos that do not run congruent with their self-image. This can be taxing, especially to those who use these platforms for the purpose of primary connection and comparison.
- Almost all social media platforms incorporate algorithms based on your individual online activity. These algorithms, though sometimes useful, can also generate powerful echo chambers that filter out contrasting thoughts and ideas. For example - if you spend an hour on WebMD looking up Cancer-like symptoms, you are very likely to be flooded sponsored ads and news regarding medical concerns on your news feed for weeks. Very anxiety-inducing. This can also, surely, have an effect on politics, current world events, social stances, etc.
- We usually add and share these online experiences with "like-minded" people. Though comforting, it can also stunt our growth in building perspective. Such developmental plateauing can be divisive and even potentially dangerous.
If we are to largely base our connections to social media, we are surrendering opportunities for intimate interaction. Below are some tips for healthy usage of social media:
- Limit your daily usage. I stick with 30 minutes maximum.
- If it's hard with that flashing icon located on your phone docket, create intentional obstacles to make access to your social media more difficult. For example, my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook icons all sit on a folder on the last page of my phone so I don't have to deal with the temptation of checking it every time I look at my phone. You can also set your accounts to not log you in automatically so access would take a little bit longer. Be creative.
- Keep the desire for a sterilized online-image-of-the-self in check.
- Avoid long-standing debates. Discourse isn't a bad thing. Getting involved in a two-week-long twitter war can be consuming and toxic. Maybe this can be hashed out through a 30-minute phone call. Or you can just block them.
- Make a rule to not check social media while you're with company. Not only does it dilute interaction, but it's also just straight-up rude.
- Before you make broad generalizations such as "it seems like everyone is ____________," take the online echo chamber concept into consideration.
- Take some breaks here and there. Unplug and set a goal to not use it for a few days. Think of it as a "stimulus cleansing."
- If all else fails, maybe just stick to watching the dogs do human things again.
Here are some wonderful and helpful websites I found while writing on this topic:
Social Media and Young People's Health - MentalHealth.org
Mental Health and the Effects on Social Media - PsychologyToday
Here's Why Social Media Harms your Teen's Mental Health -Huffington Post
Heavy Social Media Use Linked to Mental Health Issues in Teens - Huffington Post
The Reason Your Feed Became an Echo Chamber and What to do About it - NPR
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