My phone’s home screen is crowded with apps. And the majority of them are my social media platforms: Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Reddit… and on and on and on. It’s always bothered me that I can’t see more than an inkling of my background photo. But have I done anything about it? No. Those social networking sites take centerstage. And the cute picture of my friends and I remains hidden.
Connected or Disconnected?
This dilemma I have with the background photo of my phone represents an interesting dynamic that is social media today. While sites like Instagram and Snapchat are designed to keep us all interconnected, they sometimes overshadow or have an otherwise negative effect on real relationships—key word being sometimes. Social media also has the enormous potential to connect us in a way we’ve never been able to before. Let’s take a look:
Your best friend might live on the complete opposite side of the country, but these apps make it feel like they’re in arms reach. This can be great for long-distance friendships or other relationships, but as I said before, there are adverse effects of this click-of-the-button design too. One being the comparison game we all involuntarily play. “Social media invites comparison. Often, we’re comparing our everyday life to the staged Instagram life of another, and we don’t realize it isn’t a true representation of who they are,” Dr. Julie Gurner explains.
Additionally, while we’re technically connected with others thanks to social media, these platforms can cause us to feel as lonely and disconnected as ever. “People can feel alone in their struggles, as well as not truly connected,” Gurner says. “A crying emoji is hardly a substitute for in-person contact with a real friend who connects with you and is there for you during a hard time. Social media is detached, and we inherently understand that it just doesn’t fill the same need we all have for true meaningful connection.”
So, can we sign on and not suffer from these negative effects of social media such as increasing feelings of disconnectedness and loneliness? The answer is yes—the key lies not in whether or not we use these platforms, but how we use them.
Now is the time to decide how you can best utilize social media for your health and your benefit. To do so, start by asking yourself the who, what, when, where, and why’s. Who am I engaging with on social media? What is social media engagement doing for me? When am I engaging? Where am I engaging? And why am I engaging? Here’s an in depth look at how these questions might signify healthy or unhealthy social media use:
- The Who: You should only engage with those who have a positive impact on your mind and wellbeing. Think: those who you truly care about, those who motivate you, and those who serve an otherwise worthy purpose. Delete or unfollow all of the people who don’t meet these requirements.
- The What: In addition, you should think about what your social media engagement is doing for you. How do you feel after logging on? If you don’t feel all that great—even after you’ve done some spring cleaning on your accounts—you probably need to make additional changes.
- The When and Where: Then, to further analyze your habits, ask yourself “when?” and “where?” When are you scrolling through your feeds and where are you? If you’re at work or out with friends, that’s also a sign you might be engaging in some unhealthy habits.
- The Why: And finally, think about the drive behind your social media use. Is it to stay connected with your friends and family, or have you veered off that path into more dangerous territory?
Now, if you have identified some not-so-great habits, then you could probably benefit from a taking a social media hiatus or just cutting back on your social media use. Doing so can help to combat those feelings of loneliness we talked about—as long as you’re utilizing that new time well and maintaining connection/communication with others, as explained by Gurner: “If you decide to volunteer at a local pet shelter or spend more time with your family or friends instead of all those hours on twitter, then absolutely it will help to improve loneliness,” Gurner explains. “But for an increasing amount of people, social media is their primary social network, so withdrawing without alternative plans can backfire. They can feel further isolated and forgotten when individuals don’t reach out, or simply ignored.”