I’m lying in bed and need to “settle down” so, by habit, I pick up my phone and open Instagram. I begin to mindlessly scroll through my feed, “liking” almost every photo and post that I scroll past. Sometimes I pause to comment on a photo, either offering sympathy or LOLing or relating. I pass by a video montage of a girl I taught in church getting married and I cry a little out of happiness.
Then I pass a photo posted of several of my daughter’s friends at school together, goofing off, and I wonder why my daughter isn’t in that photo? Was she not included? Did the friend who took the photo deliberately not include her or was she not there when the photo was taken? Suddenly, I’m not “settling down” but getting riled up, worrying about my kid being excluded and wondering if her little feelings were hurt? Or am I the only one aware of this gathering that happened without her? Am I making a big deal about this? I’m having FOMO (fear of missing out) for my kid!
I have a deep love-hate relationship with social media. Maybe you feel the same way? I honestly try to be conscientious about what I fill my day with and strive to mostly fill it with things that are edifying and uplifting. I don’t mean only including things that are Pollyanna in nature. I love to think deeply about things, learn new things, and challenge my assumptions. But those things that challenge me, I want to be productive in nature; things that will challenge me in positive ways. Did seeing a post of my daughter’s friends challenge me in a positive way? Or did it spin me down a rabbit hole? Sure, I could’ve seen it as an opportunity to be mindful instead of reactive. But let’s be honest, who is good at being mindful at 11pm?!
There are so many posts out there that can activate me in similar ways. They may not activate Protective Mama Bear, but rather Insecure Mama who doesn’t do enough compared to that mom; or who’s kids aren’t as well behaved, or perfectly coifed, or as “successful” as her kids. Or it might be a personal comparison as I see others running races and achieving PRs when I am still desperately out of shape. Or going on epic vacations. Or celebrating wedding anniversary with an ooey-gooey tribute to their spouse and wishing I had that level of romance in my life. Or, or, or.
Then there are posts that make me so happy, like the one I mentioned before of the young woman getting married. Sometimes posts help me feel connected to those I love as I get to witness glimpses their lives. I don’t always react to people’s vacation posts, anniversaries, and successes with jealousy. I also react from a place of genuine happiness for them. I also follow some people that I respect and love to read their opinions in their area of expertise and I find those posts edifying and inspiring.
The problem is, I never know before I open social media, if I will come away feeling connected, edified, and inspired… Or jealous, insecure, and disconnected.
In a TED talk about addiction, Johann Hari, said, “It might sound weird to say…I’ve been talking about how disconnection is the major-driver of addiction, and it’s weird to say [addiction has] grown, because we’re the most connected society that’s ever been, surely… [and yet] We’re one of the loneliest societies that has ever been.”
Studies are coming out that indicate we are more depressed than ever before. People are ten times more likely to suffer from depression today than in 1945, with women and teenage girls, twice as susceptible as men. (Kardaras, 2016, p. 84) Suicide rates have increased 60% in the last 50 years. (Kardaras, 2016, p. 84)). And The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that by 2020 depression will be second to heart disease as the leading cause of disability. (Kardaras, 2016, p. 84).
But we are more connected than ever! Every second, 7,500 tweets go out, 1,394 Instagram photos are posted, over 119,000 YouTube videos are viewed, and 2 million emails are sent! (Kardaras, 2016, p. 82). According to a 2015 report by Digital, Social, and Mobilethere are more than two billion people who have active social media accounts.
So what is going on? “Being social creatures, we find purpose and meaning and bolster our emotional states largely through the social and cultural context created by contact with others” (Kardaras, 2016, p. 85). Are these connections we have through social media real or sufficient to meet those needs? As Hari, in his TED talk continues on to say, “I’ve increasingly begun to think that the connections we have—the connections we think we have—are like a kind of parodyof human connection.”
In fact, there is a phenomenon being studied called Facebook Depression (Kardaras, 2016, p.94). Research has found that the more time people spend on Facebook the more their life satisfaction declined. Further, the more “friends” they have on facebook, the less happy they are.
When we “like” each other’s posts on social media, that isn’t connection in the traditional sense. Witnessing glimpses of my friend’s and family’s lives on social media is vastly different from sharing experiences with them. We need to connect and share experiences, in real life.
So what do we do? Do we delete social media all together? I know several of my friends are going this route. But I’m not one to “Throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Rather, here are some guidelines I am implementing and may be helpful for you as well, if you want to change your experience with social media:
- Limit how much time you spend on social media.Set a timer if you need to. If we don’t limit our time, we can get sucked in the dark vortex and emerge hours later, wondering how the time passed! I try to limit my time to 15 minutes a day.
- Cut down who you follow. This will help you limit your time because your feed won’t be so extensive and long! But besides the time-factor, choose wisely whose life and opinions you want to follow. Do they feel authentic? Do they have messages that make you think in different and important ways? Do they share your values? Or do you notice that you compare yourself and your life to theirs and leave their posts feeling insecure or deflated? There are friends and family I follow, especially, who live far away, and I love seeing parts of their lives. But do I really need to follow the friend of my friend, who I met and talked to once? Or that woman who advertises herself as a foodie and health advocate but I suspect she has an eating disorder?
- Be mindful of how and why you post. Set an intention. Why are you posting that photo? No one would ever admit that they are posting to “brag” and I think most people’s intention is to share their joy. But I notice a lot of friends and family will almost become addicted to posting every-moment of their daily life! And, ironically, in the process, they aren’t really present in those captured moments! Then, after posting, they spend enormous amounts of energy checking social media throughout the day to see how many “likes” and comments they’ve received. This “liking” phenomenon gives us little dopamine (feel good) squirts in our brain, and becomes reinforcing and even addicting. There is nothing wrong with wanting likes or comments, but we need to be mindful and remember that “likes” are not the same as real connection. Which leads to my next guideline.
- Never substitute social media for real life connection. I am increasing my efforts to have more face-to-face contact with people in my life and those connections are paying off! I have a goal that I must do something social each week. Maybe that sounds like it’d be easy but in how busy life can become, it’s something I definitely have to prioritize. I’d encourage you to do the same.
- Take a social media fast. Turn off and put away your phone and electronic devices. This can be half a day, a full day, or a full week. Take time during that fast to be present in your day, with your family and friends. Even try to get out and savor new experiences. Research has found that those who can savor the small moments, and share their joy with others, IRL, are happier throughout their day.
Kardaras, N. (2016). Glow kids: How screen addiction is hijacking our kids-and how to break the trance.St Martin Press
The science of happiness: New discoveries for a more joyful life. (2018) Special Time edition