Social media has become a professional and personal communication tool so much so that most of us wonder how we ever got along without it. This week, Joan talks about how it can affect us, sometimes negatively, particularly around the holidays, and what we can do about it.
Q. What’s your take on social media?
Joan: For most of us, checking our social media accounts is as much a part of our daily routine as bathing and brushing our teeth. A touch on a screen instantly connects us to people we may not have spoken to in years.
It’s easy to get caught up in the social world. Popular sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, plus a host of many others, provide the opportunity for us to witness family vacations, a friend’s momentous occasion, and even traumatic situations such as divorce, sickness and death.
Q. So how can this turn into something negative?
Joan: While viewing photos of a friend’s precious new baby, a relative’s recent exotic trip, or a co-worker’s romantic wedding may not appear to be an activity that can bring a person down, research suggests otherwise.
Recent studies have shown that social networking is linked to depression and social isolation, and it has been shown to create feelings of envy, insecurity and poor self-esteem. One study reported that one in three Facebook users feel more dissatisfied with their own lives after browsing the social-media networking site than they did before logging in.
Q. What has been your experience on social media?
Joan: While not scientific, if I was to conduct a study of my own life and experience, I would say that I couldn’t agree more.
Over the course of the past eight years, I have experienced tremendous highs and debilitating lows. And, each time, whether high or low, that I spent time on a social media site, I left the site feeling sad.
I can recall many times throughout the past few years that I would be sitting home alone, whether it be on a Saturday night or during a holiday season and felt tremendous anguish after seeing the posts of others. I compared my life to the stories that were being portrayed; the stories that I longed for … the stories that I believed to be true.
Viewing the lives of others through a social media lens provides a distorted view of reality. But, when a person experiences the emotional results of such a projection, the view appears very real.
Q. You do need to have a regular appearance on social media, so how did you handle it?
Joan: It took me awhile, but I finally figured out that what was being posted is not every day reality, but rather someone’s “highlight reel”. The high points of their life. And, we all have one of those!
A clearer picture of what social media really is has helped me immensely. I am now able to scroll through with a less believing eye. I understand that what is being posted is the highlight of someone’s day, week, month or year. It is not their average moments.
But, even with that realization, I had to discern why I was spending so much time on social media. What was I gaining or losing, and was it helping or hindering my connection to others and my overall emotional health. This analysis has helped me balance my time and adjust my expectations. This self-analysis can help you gain insight into your behavior and motives and perhaps, will enable you to create a more positive experience.
Q. Give us an idea of how we would go about this assessment.
Joan: First, ask yourself why you are spending time on social media. Are you lonely? Do you want to build relationships? Is it for professional reasons? Are you procrastinating? Are you longing to connect with old friends or to stay in touch with those that live far away? Once you determine what you are looking for you can then set realistic goals.
Then, analyze how using social media makes you feel. Do you feel left out when you follow someone on Twitter and she doesn't follow you back? Do you feel unloved if you do not receive “likes” or “comments” on a post? Does it make you feel jealous of others? Do you think less of yourself? Does it make you too wrapped up in world events?
Q. No one wants to feel bad when dealing with social media, so what do you suggest?
Joan: If you determine that social networking may not be the best thing for you or that it may be causing you social media depression, here are a few suggestions that may make it a better experience:
Remember that you’re seeing a person’s “A game”. Resist the urge to compare your life with those of other people in your social networks. It’s a cropped, photo-shopped image of a highlight moment.
Remind yourself that it may not be all that it appears to be. Sometimes the person posting is trying to meet his/her needs by creating an image of a reality that doesn’t exist. Ask yourself: is the person creating a fantasy because his/her life isn’t as great as it seems. Are they lacking something? I always wonder why a happily married couple has the need to publicly profess their undying love to each other via social media and not just roll over and quietly say, “I love you.” Is the relationship that great or are they trying to make it appear great?
Limit your time on social media. Control the amount of time you spend in the virtual world. Engage in activities outside of the digital world.
Cultivate intimate relationships. Increase your interaction with people directly. If social media causes you to feel disconnected, depressed or lonely, spend more time with people. Get out of the house and get moving. Online communication is very different from face-to-face interactions. Talk over the phone or meet in person. Having positive, secure relationships is associated with high levels of self-esteem and resiliency, fosters feelings of connectedness, and decreases depression and anxiety.
Social media can be a great way to stay in connected to others, but when it makes you feel less social, it may be time for a detox.