After the pandemic hit and stay-at-home orders were put in place across the country, many of us turned to one of the most popular modern ways to stay connected — social media. Whether we were sharing articles on Facebook, tweeting updates, or snapping ways to make it through one of the oddest times in our lives, social media allowed us to stay in touch and entertained through a time of uncertainty and isolation. For a lot of people, it was a saving grace.
Although life is far from back to “normal,” three major vaccines have been rolled out, and many of us have slowly been making steps toward in-person socializing. And according to Katie Augustyn, LCSW, the clinical director of Augustyn Family Services, now is a good time to reevaluate our relationship with social media.
Although there are many positives that come from being able to keep up with the activities of almost anyone from anywhere in the world, there are also some downsides to be aware of.
Augustyn explains, “A lot has been said about comparing your reality with somebody else’s highlight reel, or the internet creating a fear of missing out. And although I think about those things, what I worry about most with social media is how often it’s used as a way to disassociate. It’s a way for us to check out, just like any other maladaptive coping mechanism.”
Some common concerns around social media include:
Let’s face it, for a lot of us, scrolling can become addicting. You sit down on the couch to take a break, hit your favorite social icon, and the next thing you know, two hours have passed. (No shame here, we’ve all been there.)
In addition to taking up your time while you’re actually on social media, it turns out you can actually be less productive throughout the day because you’re thinking about getting back to your feed.
Social media is designed to be addictive. Positive social activity causes the brain to release a small amount of dopamine — the feel-good neurotransmitter. Likes and comments on your posts, and even notification sounds on your phone, can come to represent positive social activity and therefore have a corresponding dopamine hit. The more you use social media, the more your brain looks for that response, and the more you’ll keep checking your phone.
Although most people head to their social media account to feel connected to others, overdoing it can have the opposite effect. This may have been less common during the pandemic, but looking at pictures of friends gathering and people taking trips can actually induce feelings of disconnection and isolation from others. Essentially, it’s the ultimate FOMO (fear of missing out) inducer. According to Augustyn, it’s important to remember that “social media can pull us out of our own social engagement cycle. The truth is, it can keep us updated, but isn’t a replacement for true connection.”
There are many ways to escape reality, many of which can be a refreshing break, like a great book or a favorite movie. However, it’s important to recognize when endless hours of scrolling and screen time become a way to escape our own lives. Augustyn’s concern is that “just like drugs and alcohol, constant scrolling is another way for us to not feel our feelings.” And just like any other poor coping mechanism, this can lead to bigger problems down the road.
Let’s face it, most people don’t post pictures of themselves fresh out of bed or having a hard day. Our social media accounts are often filled with fun trips and major accomplishments. And that’s great, but it’s also only a snippet of a person’s real life. It’s important to take a step back and remember that. In Augustyn’s experience, the constant absorption of other people’s lives can lead to comparison and negative self-talk, which can hurt our mental health and self-esteem.
Social media isn’t all bad. There are still many positive things social media can bring into our lives. When it comes to looking at the way you use it, it’s all about quality over quantity.
Augustyn explains, “The antidote to our problem with social media is to be intentional and mindful, because it is designed to be mindless. Finding ways to engage in social media in a healthy way can make a difference in how we are affected by it.”
Try these tips for a healthier relationship with your social accounts:
This can look like:
• Designating a time of day for social media — Set a time of day that you’re allowed to check your social media accounts, and try your best to stick to it. This can be during your lunch break or after you get home from work.
• Setting a timer — If you find that it’s still difficult to walk away after designating a certain block of time for social media, set an actual timer. Once it goes off, it’s time to log out.
• Creating rules for your phone or tablet — Creating rules for your device can help limit time on social media. For instance, you might set rules like no phones at the table or no devices in the bedroom before you go to sleep.
There are a lot of places where you can’t control who shows up, but your social media account isn’t one of them. It may feel intimidating at first, but that person who’s always being negative? Block. That Instagram account that makes you feel bad about yourself? Unfollow. You’re allowed to choose who you see and interact with.
When you’re out and about, try to live in the moment. It can be so easy to get caught up in getting the perfect picture that the perfect moment slips right by you. Snap that selfie with your besties, but don’t let it be the center of the evening. Enjoy being in the present moment.
Sometimes, the best way to create healthy habits is to do a reset. Set an amount of time that you think is reasonable, a few days or maybe even a week, and do a full detox from social media. During that time, notice the things you like and don’t like about being disconnected, and then try to adjust your regular habits accordingly when you sign back in.
When it comes down to it, you know yourself better than anyone else. But if you find yourself spending too much time on social media, or noticing that it has a negative impact on your life, now may be a good time to evaluate how, or how often, you use it.
If you’re still struggling to cope or connect during the pandemic, you’re not alone. And at Carbon Health, our team of mental health professionals are standing by to help (virtual mental health appointments are now available in California).