Over the last decade, social media use has become an essential characteristic of the modern world, particularly for younger generations. Each of us uses social media to different degrees, depending on our preferences, but many of us have a presence on at least one social media platform. This isn’t surprising, considering there are many positive aspects to using social media: it can help us rekindle old relationships, make new friends and find communities, connect with people around the world, and can even lead to tangible social change, such as with the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo political movements.
Regardless of all of its positives, though, there is also a negative side to social media, exemplified in social media addiction, comparing ourselves with others online, and engaging with social platforms that are emotionally draining rather than rejuvenating to use. Like many people my age, I have used social media for most of the last decade, and I’ve had an account on nearly every major social media platform out there at one point or another. I’ve learned a few things during my time on these sites, and would like to share some important guidelines that have helped me develop a healthy relationship with social media, which I hope will help you as well.
Cultivate Positive Influences
With the variety of social media today, we have a seemingly infinite number of choices when it comes to deciding what we want in our social media spaces. Though it may be easy to follow any number of people and pages, it is important to consider the impact that these people and pages may have on our own wellbeing. This seems straightforward. However, there may be any number of reasons why we may hold onto negative influences in our social media space. For example, we may avoid unfollowing or unfriending someone who frequently complains on their timeline because we like the person or have a history with them, even if the complaining itself is emotionally draining or dispiriting to read. We may also continue to follow important groups or individuals even while their messages raise our stress level without leading us to take effective action.
That is not to say we should never allow negativity of any kind on our social media feeds, nor that we must be happy all the time on social media. Rather, it is only to say that our social media accounts should bring value to our lives, and that we should cultivate an online sphere with people and pages that have a positive impact on our lives.
Use Social Media Mindfully
No matter what your schedule, almost everyone experiences a few ‘lull’ moments in their day where nothing at all is happening, such as when we are waiting for class to start or waiting for the bus. During these moments, we are often quick to reach for our phones, taking these quiet moments to browse our social media feeds and check notifications, instead of taking the time to center ourselves, check in with our feelings or reflect on something important to us. There is nothing inherently wrong with using free moments in our day to catch up on social media; rather, the problem is that in these moments, we are often checking our phones or laptops automatically, more as a reflex than a genuine desire to check our accounts. In other words, we sometimes don’t use social media mindfully.
Mindfulness, at its most basic definition, is “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.” When we use social media, it is important that we use it because we really want to and because it adds value to our day, not because we think we have nothing else to do or are afraid of missing out. Developing mindfulness when using social media has led me to feel less compelled to check my feed and to access social media only when I really want to. This frees up my time to do other things that are more important to me.
Recognize that when you browse social media, you are only seeing one side of a person.
When browsing our social media feeds, it’s important to consider we are often not seeing another person’s life in its entirety. That is not to say that we are presenting a false version of ourselves when we post on social media, because that, of course, isn’t true. Rather, it is simply important to remember that we often share the best parts of ourselves and our lives, without mentioning the struggles or insecurities we may be going through. We may post photos of a fun night out with friends, while we may not talk about the anxiety we’ve been struggling with earlier in the day. We may post selfies without talking about body image concerns we may be experiencing. We may have hundreds or even thousands of friends or followers, but still feel very lonely. My point is that social media often lends itself to comparing ourselves with others, and we may compare ourselves to more perfect, more air-brushed images of those whose posts and pictures we peruse. To quote an anonymous social media user, “The problem with social media is that we compare our behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.” Whenever I start comparing myself to others online, I keep this quote in mind; in all likelihood, the person on the other side of the screen faces just as many struggles and insecurities as me, whether they post about them or not.
Limit Your Screen Time
No matter how frequently you use social media, there is something to be said for simply unplugging once in a while. Even when I used social media more regularly than I do now, I still took periodic breaks from social media, which made me more grounded in my offline life and freed me to do other activities. Unplugging can have a number of other benefits for different people, such as improved focus and increased productivity. For those like myself who have struggled with overuse of social media, there are even desktop and smartphone apps to help towards this aim: ‘Moment’ tracks my screen time and allowed me to see just how much time I was spending on social media and to adjust my priorities accordingly. ‘News Feed Eradicator’ for Chrome replaces my newsfeed with an inspirational quote, which prevented me from endlessly scrolling through my newsfeed and encouraged me to only check my Facebook for the notifications and messages that were important to me. Though most college-aged individuals are not completely ‘off-the-grid,’ that doesn’t mean you can’t be: if you don’t find value in a given social media platform, you don’t have to use it. What matters is that you use social media in a way that brings value to your life, while taking breaks as long or short as you please.
Social media use will always vary from person to person, as we all have different values, habits, and preferences. We can all benefit from taking a healthy approach to social media: we can use it mindfully, without making comparisons between ourselves and others, and we can fill our online spaces with the positive influences we should likewise be seeking in our offline lives. We can also take breaks from our social media accounts when we choose to. Social media, like many things, can be good or bad depending on how we use it. It is important for all of us to approach these platforms with our core values and personal well-being in mind, so that our online spaces can improve, rather than detract from, our daily lives.
Kelsey Lee, UO Senior
Kelsey studies English & Planning, Public Policy, and Management, with plans to study history abroad after graduation. As a member of the Counseling Center’s Student Advisory Board, Kelsey has a particular passion for helping others build good habits and connecting students with resources that can help them become their happiest and healthiest selves.