Whether you love social media or feel ambivalent about the platforms, you can benefit by learning how to use it as a force for good.
Social media does have a bright side. We can learn about the world, seeking novel experiences and discovering fascinating content off the beaten track.
I also love that social media is used to subvert authoritarian regimes. People around the world are sharing what life is like under governments not tolerant of individual freedoms. An act as simple as dancing in the privacy of your home can become a cry for reform.
There is also a dark side to social media, and its negative impacts are now well documented. . .
The Impact on Us as Individuals
- Frequent users of social media are 2.7 times more likely to be depressed than those who use it more moderately throughout the week, according to a study at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health Sciences.
- A study by Tel Aviv University found that using Facebook makes you more comparative. With each post you read, you ask yourself, who is happier – you, or your friend?
This constant comparison leads to feeling isolated and unhappy. When Millennials see the “proof” on social media that their friends are doing something fun without them, they experience what they call FOMO – the Fear of Missing Out.
The irony is that the fear actually does lead to missing out. . .
- Research by Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield shows that 58% of the respondents missed out on life experiences to capture that perfect image for social media, and many admitted to behaving in immoral or bizarre ways during their trophy hunt.
- “Travel bragging” on Instagram has become the norm, according to research by Hotels.com. Sixty percent of Millennials admitted to posting on social media in order to brag while on vacation.
Two out of three Millennials said they’d rather upload a selfie than a photo with their loved ones.
- All of these selfies are having an impact, according to researchers at Boston University School of Medicine. Plastic surgeons have spotted a trend in patients wanting to look – not like a movie star – but like their own (highly-edited) selfies. Dubbed “Snapchat dysmorphia,” it negatively impacts people’s self-esteem and can lead to body dysmorphic disorder, a mental illness.
- Using screens raises our dopamine levels. (Dopamine is a feel-good neurotransmitter that plays a role in addiction.) It may be no surprise that teens average over six and a half hours of screen time a day, excluding time for school and homework.
Sobering stuff. Especially when you consider that social media also impacts our society with the spread of false news, and that Russian ads have stoked political and social unrest, threatening our democracy.
Thinking about all of this, I find myself hunched in a little ball of sadness. I do believe, however, we’ll eventually find thoughtful, helpful, and complex solutions to our social and national crises.
So let me unhunch myself and remind us both that there are powerful things we can do as individuals to improve our own wellbeing. Let’s focus on that! And let’s use a dog in the next picture, because dogs make everything better. . .
Five Ways to Use Social Media as a Force For Good
1. Embrace Authenticity
When we’re authentic, we’re probably in touch with our core values – the values we were born with. If we align ourselves with these values, we’ll feel happy and fulfilled.
Some of my core values include creativity, self-expression, and meaning. When I post things aligned with these values (such as posts about photography, or wellbeing) I feel really good.
Keep in mind that we also adopt other values along the way, perhaps from our family, social media, or our generation. While this is perfectly normal, these acquired values may not always serve us.
It’s challenging to remember that we’ll be happiest when we align ourselves with our core values, rather than acquired. As a coach trained in Values2Wellbeing, I help my clients identify their values and understand which ones serve them best.
One of my own acquired values is “acceptance,” so you can imagine how uncomfortable I’d be if I focused on the number of likes I receive on social media, rather than the quality of the posts I share.
What do posts that are more authentic look like? Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle suggested in a webinar that we include personal stories that help friends understand our world isn’t perfect. We show there is value in our struggle.
Images can also be more authentic. They’re taken during real-life moments, not re-created for Instagram. Also, you’re not missing these real-life events (such as your baby’s first steps) in an attempt to capture an image for social media.
2. Gain Awareness of Your Emotions – Be Mindful
When we focus on the present moment, we’re more mindful.
Meditation is a great tool. You can also be successful with a simple exercise like this one, suggested by Deepak Chopra:
• Consider your intentions as you open your favorite social media site. Are you more interested in connecting with your friends? Or are you trying instead to disconnect and distract yourself?
• As you read the first post, ask yourself how you’re feeling emotionally. Identify the emotion, and where in your body you feel it.
• Decide how you want to respond to this post, if at all.
I realized early on that I felt unsettled after reading certain posts, similar to the way I used to feel anxious after seeing the ads in women’s magazines. Long ago, I stopped buying fashion magazines, and in a similar way, I now limit my time on social media.
I believe that you’ll also be able to make better choices about how often to visit different sites, and the specific ways that you want to interact, as you become more aware of your emotions.
3. Share Portrayals of Hope
Are you sharing posts that will inspire, encourage, and motivate? In a world where 24-hour news spews images of suffering around the world, how can we promote kindness and integrity?
Witnessing acts of goodness helps us to feel connected to each other. Witnessing acts of violence creates distance.
Research shows that portrayals of hope and gratitude have a high likelihood of being shared. . . inspiring posts can go viral as well!
4. Recognize False News and Refuse to Share It
You can help reduce the spread of false news. How can you recognize it? Ask yourself questions like:
• Is it so salacious, it’s probably clickbait?
• Is the web address real? Or is it designed to appear real to fool me?
• Are there lots of spelling errors?
• Did I find the article on social media?
• Is the information also on reputable news sites?
Fact-checking websites are a great place to probe further. Some options include:
5. Limit Your Screen Time
Staying constantly connected leads to overwhelm and burnout. Taking a break from our screens helps us to rejuvenate, and to connect with each other in real life.
We should limit our smartphone use to two hours a day or less, according to Dr. Jean Twenge at San Diego State University. Remember how important it is to model healthy use of your smartphone for your kids.
Are you wondering if you might be addicted to social media, yourself? Click here for an online quiz.
What do you think of the following ideas?
• Always keep your phone away from the meal table
• Turn off your phone in the evening
• Create a contract with your teen about acceptable use of their smartphone
• Change your wi-fi password daily, and then share it with your kids after they’ve finished their homework and chores
• Take the weekends off from social media
• Enjoy a tech-free vacation, leaving behind your screens – and your work!
In addition, limiting screen time will improve your sleep. Be sure to turn off all screens 90 minutes before bedtime (to avoid the negative effects on your melatonin), and also turn off your phone so the notifications don’t disturb your sleep.
One of the most important outcomes of limiting screen time is that we can deepen our connections with our favorite people.
So Here’s a BIG, HUGE TIP. . .
When you’re with other people, don’t use your phone. Give them your full attention, instead.
You see, there’s this unfortunate phenomenon called Phubbing. This is when you’re snubbed by someone in your presence who uses their phone, instead of talking to you.
It’s no surprise that research at Western Washington University shows that phubbing lowers the quality of your interaction with this person.
You feel unheard.
And that feels yucky. The same is true when we phub another person – they don’t like it either. Yet we convince ourselves that no one will notice, or care, if we use our phone.
But they do care, just like we do when it’s reversed.
So during meaningful conversations, keep your phone out of sight. Research at the University of Essex shows that just having the phone on the table – not even in use – reduces empathy and trust.
The phones make it harder for us to give our undivided attention.
I challenge you to not grab your phone during the empty spaces of your life.
When you put your phone away, you can fill these blank spaces with the unexpected. Instead of browsing social media, you can deeply listen to a friend. Or pay attention to your breathing, and experience your five senses, one by one. Best of all, you may hear your own inner voice.
If we can change our own relationship to social media and smartphones, we’ll give our family, friends, and co-workers permission to do the same. We’ll hold ourselves in the highest esteem, seeking wellbeing, peace, and genuine connection.
We can do it!
P.S. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and would like to rejuvenate, a coach can help. For a free strategy session, click here. Thank you!