Quick poll - how many times have you taken a picture of your meal for social media before digging in or even ordered something just because it would look good on your Instagram story? I’m guessing it’s happened more than you’d like to admit. The really crazy part is that before 2010, when Instagram was created, this wouldn’t have been a thing at all. That’s only eleven years and yet social media is now so embedded into our society that many of us, particularly those in the younger generations, can hardly imagine a society without it.
Sometimes at the end of a long day, it feels like all you need is a good long scroll through Instagram or Facebook or perhaps both. It’s a passive activity that requires you to do nothing more than sit back, take in other people’s lives, viewpoints, and jokes, and occasionally tap the like or comment button as you go. And while it’s good to take a load off and relax, you may have noticed that spending time on social media doesn’t always leave you feeling rested and rejuvenated. You may believe that vegging out on Twitter is a form of self-care, and perhaps, in limited doses, it is. However, it also has some negative impacts that you should also be aware of.
Social media does an incredible job of connecting us to the lives of others, making communication - and comparison - easier. For instance, your Friday night on the couch watching Gilmore Girls suddenly looks oh-so-boring compared to a friends’ cruise ship dinner with her significant other. Now your evening feels blasé (even if you were previously enjoying it) because you are lost in the appearances of someone else’s evening. It can also have negative effects on body image as social media often presents flawless, airbrushed, and filtered photos that don’t line up with reality. That’s why it’s important to realize you aren’t getting the full story or seeing the big picture of someone’s evening based on one perfect photo. That can be hard to do though when you are inundated with content.
Social media can also easily overwhelm us with details we really didn’t need to know. After all, why do you really care about your high school best friend’s boyfriend’s sister’s kid’s back-to-school pictures? (Spoiler: you probably don’t, but you look and like anyway.) Nevertheless, social media can become so powerful that we feel indebted to it and to making our lives look as fabulous as the pictures on the screen from friends and acquaintances.
So, is social media self-care? Well, no, not normally, in the traditional sense. However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for it in your life; it simply means that you need to set boundaries in order to maintain your mental health and well-being, both of which are important parts of self-care. Below are some ways to get started on that journey.
Admit that it’s addictive.
I first got a social media account at the age of 16. Thrilled with the novelty of Instagram, I rarely picked up my phone without checking Instagram for the first few weeks. Then, the newness sort of wore off. But, as time wore on and I amassed more and more followers, my obsession with Instagram began to sneak back into my life. However, I didn’t realize just how addicted I was to Instagram until I tried to take a break from it (ironically enough, I got the idea to take said break from an Instagram post itself). It was near impossible! My finger kept finding its way to where the little camera icon was placed on my phone. I felt like I was missing out on everything even though I doubt anyone noticed the 72 hours I spent offline.
Similarly, you may not realize just how addicting social media can be until you try to quit it. Plus, it’s not just you; it’s truly addicting. Social media addiction is akin to drug or alcohol addiction. And even though it is more socially acceptable doesn’t mean that you should let yourself be addicted. The first step to breaking the addiction is understanding the hold that social media has on you and recognizing your level of addiction.
Watch your mood.
Perhaps you don’t believe you are addicted or even overusing social media. If that’s the case, congratulations! However, even if you are perfectly capable of setting Instagram aside for a few days (unlike 18 year old me), that doesn’t mean that social media doesn’t have an impact on your mood. The next time you get off a scrolling session, ask yourself how you are feeling and compare it to how you felt just a few minutes earlier, before you hopped onto Facebook. If social media starts to bring you down or you are thinking more pessimistic or self-deprecating thoughts, that’s a sign that social media is bringing negativity into your life. You may feel like you aren’t doing enough, that you aren’t good-looking enough, or that you simply aren’t interesting like the people that you follow. These sorts of thoughts can tell you a lot about your relationship with social media.
Setting boundaries for yourself is almost always a good idea. Remember, these don’t have to be hard and fast rules but rather guidelines to keep yourself accountable. A solid place to start is with a time limit. You can determine how much time you are currently spending on social media either by visiting the Screen Time tab in Settings or try looking in the individual app. Then, set a goal for how much time you want to spend. Perhaps you currently spend roughly one hour on Instagram but would like to trim that to 30 minutes. You can set a limit on Instagram itself to cut you off after 30 minutes. Employing the “down time” option on your phone in general can also help cut down on late night scrolls when you should be sleeping. And remember, it takes 21 days to create a habit so don’t be alarmed if there’s an adjustment period as you get used to these new initiatives to curb excessive screen time.
Consider a break.
You may also want to take a complete break from social media. I try to do this at least once a month for just a few days, and it really realigns my perspective of how much time I still use social media. This can be a great opportunity for a reset of your habits as well as a wake-up call as to how much extra time you have in your life without social media. Those minutes add up! However, if you use social media in your work or as part of a volunteer position, this may not be possible to do completely, but you can still take a break from your personal time and see how it goes.
Challenge yourself to be authentic.
Most of this article has viewed social media negatively. However, that isn’t the full picture. Social media can also be used for good: for mass communication, sharing about your life, keeping in touch with extended family and far-flung friends, and getting tips, inspiration, and motivation related to topics you’re interested in like faith, workouts, or fashion. When you do use social media, one way that you can remove so many of the toxic influences it has is by being authentic. Yep, that’s right, just be yourself. Resist the urge to only post perfect pictures. Acknowledge struggles that you’re comfortable with sharing. Just be you. (Side note: you can also go overboard in this direction as well, so just remember that moderation is key.)
It doesn’t look like social media will be leaving our world anytime soon, so rather than being mindlessly addicted or hopelessly ensnared in comparison, choose to take self-caring steps to avoid dependency on it, set boundaries, and create an authentic and positive voice on social media. You’ll unknowingly inspire others to do the same.