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Are your social media habits healthy?

September 25th 2016 / Anna Hunter

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Phone making you anxious? Here’s how to inject some positivity into your social media experience…

According to a poll of 2000 adults by tech21, a third of us would rather ditch our friends than forfeit our phones. It’s fair to say to say that something is very much awry here. There’s now a name (and probably an app) by which to refer to compulsive phone checking (nomophobia), while 20% of those surveyed described their phone as their most precious possession, a figure that rises to 34% amongst 18-34 year olds. For 27% of us, our phone is the very first thing we see and interact with in the morning, with a shockingly poor 15% of us turning face to face with our partners over our smartphones. Also, apparently misplacing our phones is deemed as more traumatic than losing a wedding or engagement ring. I sense it’s time for some perspective, but giving your social media activity a check up needn’t equate to total denial. There’s a positive way to engage with the multiple networks we’re entwined in (the average person has five social media accounts), and much like yo-yo dieting, binging and purging on our post scrolling is unlikely to result in a fruitful relationship with our feeds. Here’s how to ‘feed’ yourself in a more nourishing manner…

Diagnose your dependency

It may be that you really do use Facebook as a tool to organise and facilitate your social events in real life. If that’s the case, go forth and mingle. Unfortunately, most of us succumb to the less constructive elements of social media, be it futile and unrealistic lifestyle comparisons or a social media stalking episode here and there. Leading psychologist Chireal Shallow advises to watch out for the following situations in terms of analyzing your social media usage:

“Some people are more likely to get anxious due to a feeling that they are missing out if they don’t stay connected. Depression and low mood can also set in if you perceive that others are leading a better lifestyle than you.”

“Social media checking can also mean that you’re more likely to worry about ‘staying in touch’ in other areas of your life, for instance being available for work emails and calls, which leads to increase in stress in the short and long term. Another outcome it that people find it easier to maintain online friendships, but as a result feel isolated and disconnected as they lose the art of real communication.”

If any of the above rings true, it’s likely time for a social media health scan, which can be testing for man, as Shallow highlights:

“It can be quite challenging for people to reduce their dependency on their digital devices, more so when it is tied into our work, social and leisure activities, plus taking into account the need to stay in touch for family emergencies. Today’s world is geared to high mobile phone and social network usage, so the ‘need’ for us to stay plugged in can become overwhelming. Games and the tones when our messages can fuel the addiction too. You will need to make a real effort to change your habit or dependency, but it can be done.”

Practical magic

We hear you Chireal, but seeing as some of us genuinely do need our phones on us, how can we make our online communication a force for good? Shallow suggests adopting a practical approach to kick start the process:

“Try to actively limit your ‘dependency’ on social media updates. It’s a simple step, but charging your phone downstairs or in other room can make a big difference to how, and how often, you process social media information. Definitely leave your phone out of the bedroom to. Talk more with friends on the phone (phones aren’t always the problem) and make plans to meet, leaving your phone at home at least once or twice a week when you legitimately can. If it’s got to be with you, turn your phone upside down when in company so you don’t get distracted by notifications that pop up on the screen.”

Spread the love

You’ve edited down your usage, but how do you make the time that you do spend on social media productive and enjoyable? Without wishing to sound like a cheesy Instagram quote, posting positive, insightful and supportive imagery, captions and statements could change your social media landscape for the better. A study conducted on the topic of contagious emotions by medical geneticist and political scientist Professor James Fowler found that, after analyzing 100 million Facebook users in 100 US cities over a three year period, positive content not only fueled more positive content, but that the positive posts were the most impactful and far-reaching. We’re not suggesting that your feeds should be all rainbows and unicorns, and woe betide you veer into bragging or narcissism territory, but humour and a glass half full attitude can help you to seize back the social media mic from trolls and the like. They’re outnumbered by us reasonable, decent folk anyway.

Get active

Not the physical kind of active, although that will help you to disconnect no end. Using social media for a worthwhile cause, be it a charity, to raise awareness for an important issue or simply a more local form of activism (arranging a get together for a friend who’s under the weather, for example) is not only galvanising and useful in real life, but chances are you’ll stop noticing (or torturing yourself with) the negative aspects of social media, as a pleasant side-effect. Tweaking your social media strategy from envious onlooker to active, positive partaker will mean that checking in is no longer a problem or source of anxiety. Instead, it can become a place to genuinely connect, rally together and make sh*t happen.

Find your people

Sometimes support and opportunities lie beyond your physical doorstep or peer group, and for such times, social media can be a kind of cyber fairy godmother, introducing you to groups, events and key figures or organisations that can help you to get where you want to be. Unfriend or hide the people that aren’t serving you, and embrace a smaller but tighter circle of influencers and friends. The personal payoff is boundless, and it can be a rewarding way to reclaim your social media space if you’ve suffered with cyber bullying or other negative online experiences in the past. Of course, this approach isn’t for everyone, and you should never feel the need to conform to an expectation of maintaining a social media presence, but getting yourself out there can feel good, especially if you’re forging links with open-minded souls/ causes/ potential future business partners from all over the world.

Chase inspiration, not perfection

Measuring yourself against the yardstick of other people’s curated social media personas is always going to end in tears, but finding inspiration in other people’s hobbies, style, creations and interests is a whole different ballgame, and it can ultimately lead to fulfilment in that you pursue your own passions as a result. Compare and contrast can switch to ‘create’ with a change of perspective, and taking staged/ Facetuned posts with a gigantic pinch of salt will help you to avoid the former situation occurring in the first place. After all, if you’re constantly doctoring your life online, chances are that the real one isn’t quite what you hoped it would be. Achieving real happiness, and sharing it all warts and all now and again, is far more rewarding than spending hours editing and airbrushing posed selfies. Do what you love, share it with others if the mood takes you, but make sure it’s what you’re doing that lights your fire, not the act of projecting a certain image or impression to others. Chances are they’ll see through it anyway, just as you do others. Keeping it real, hard as it may be sometimes, is the key to making peace with social media.

Explore how to use social media to improve your career here

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