We love social media.
It’s become one with the fabric of our collective cultures around the world. It brings friends, family, and like-minded strangers together in a way that wasn’t possible before. We’re able to see what people are doing with their lives, what their thinking, and what they care about.
But there’s another side to social media.
A side that may have a negative impact on our mental health.
The Negative Impact of Social Media
When we open an account on a social networking site, that account by extension acts as an online representation of ourselves. We are asked to reflect who we are online, and that means putting ourselves out there.
The problem with that is that sometimes, that can backfire.
We put ourselves out there – and might receive negative feedback. We might say things we regret. A split-second decision might end up in a post no one will forget, and a very personal look into who you are. We forget that the Internet isn’t really a trusted place — everyone can feel free to say what they want, but there will often be times when we or others won’t like what’s being said, and when you’re out looking for support, you might not find it on Facebook or Twitter.
We grow attached to our online persona, and when it’s attacked, it hurts us. We might try to change the way we look online to get better feedback – or just more feedback – and it changes us. Like a mirror, if you distort it, you begin to think of yourself as differently than you really are. You start to lose touch with the reality. Or, you can’t get over the difference – and you prefer to communicate online than offline, and seek an Internet life over a real social life.
One case of a jealous ex-lover, or someone with a grudge, can quickly ruin your online reputation. Rumors fly around, people gossip, and lies quickly seem like truth. Unnecessary drama explodes and travels faster than ever in the 21st century, and emotional bullying has never been as effective as today.
Even for those who scarcely put themselves out there, social media can develop a bad habit of media overconsumption. Scrolling through an endless feed of videos, ads, little clips and time wasters – oftentimes, today’s feeds look less and less like an extensive list of family announcements, relevant status updates, and friendly comment chains, but instead are made up of a lot of paid media, low-quality reposted content and a metric ton of memes.
Social media is fine. In moderation. It’s entertaining, and it’s a great way to stay in touch. But to use it responsibly, we have to make sure never to forget that – real life matters more than how we capture it online. Sometimes, that may mean putting down the phone to not take that picture and instead, focus on the moment. Or it might mean to avoid posting that status and keep a private moment to yourself. To settle in with your own emotions, and preserve the mystery rather than report on yourself on a daily basis.
We All Need Friends
Social networking helps us make new friends with minimal effort – but the people we meet online are a different sort of emotional support than the people we may meet in real life. I’m not saying you can’t have a good friend, despite never having physically met them. It’s definitely possible to meet people online, and use the many tools we’ve got at our disposal nowadays to share memories and talk about life. In fact, that’s one of the biggest boons social networking has to offer – the ability to share insight and perspective between two completely different people, in completely different places, leading completely different lives.
But we still need physical contact. We need people to go out with, and do things with. And we need to open to meeting new people, making new acquaintances, even if we don’t plan on becoming best friends with them anytime soon.
The key, of course, is to put yourself out there. And that’s something that a lot of Internet media prevents. We create substitutes for activities we could be doing outside with others, and we begin to rely on virtual media as a means to avoid the outside. Of course, to those of us struggling with real social anxiety issues, social media can be an interesting way to continue to interact with others without having to force yourself into physical situations. And with time, you can better get to know people online before deciding to make that big step to meet them in person.
But to most of us, the outside world isn’t as scary as you’d think. All you need to do to start meeting people is go where they go. Forget the bar or the grocery store. Go to a club – learn how to play a sport or an activity you never cared about, like squash or chess, and get to know people who might just happen to vibe perfectly with you.
Never let the Internet become a substitute for the real things in life – let it be a supplement, at best. A tool, a useful thing. Not the biggest focus of your emotions and feelings towards others.
Use Social Media to Support Yourself
The best use of something like a social network is to use social media to support yourself.
Now first off, let’s cut a swathe through the confusion between social media and social networks. Networks are sites of communication like Facebook, Twitter, and even content sharing-focused sites like Reddit or Tumblr, where you have the ability to connect with others and interact socially in one way or another. Social media is the personal content shared between people on a social network – the photos, the clips, the statuses and even the opinions of others in the form of likes, reactions, and comments. Social networking is using social networks to connect with one another, specifically new people, for some purpose like making new friends or meeting new business prospects.
These social networks nowadays can be designed and tailored to help you, rather than affect you negatively. Use your Instagram to follow people who inspire you, who remind you to do the things you need to do to take care of yourself. Support them by showing them your approval and love for what they do, and let them support you through their content.
Use your Facebook to chat and communicate with people you truly care about and follow groups and pages that share the kind of content that makes you happy, rather than content that might make you mad or visibly frustrated. Facebook isn’t supposed to be a source of serious journalism or political commentary – filling your feed with cat pictures or dog videos will give you something nice to look forward to when it’s time for a little allotted social media scrolling.
Contain your private life.
Limit how much time you spend on these networks and limit what kind of content you share. You don’t have to share every picture opportunity you take – it’s fine to take pictures, but keep them for yourself more often than not, so you always have a little something to remember cherished memories by. It’s also not just a question of emotional or mental health – without a clear schedule and limited browsing time, social networks can probably negatively affect your work performance and steal away your time. You could be using that time to treat yourself, do something for your own good, take care of an errand or concentrate on work.
Media competence and responsible consumption of content are now more important to our mental and emotional well-being than ever. We’re constantly surrounded by news and information, and we have to consider how that information affects us.
With careful use, the Internet can be a wonderful way to keep yourself emotionally secure. You can use it to educate yourself, to entertain yourself, to inform yourself, to motivate yourself, and to promote yourself professionally. While it’s on us to protect our children and teach them to behave responsibly with information online, it’s also on us to control the way the online world affects us in the real world, and make a clear line between how much we let our phone’s screen change the way we feel, and just how much we’ll tell the entire online world about our more intimate selves.
There’s More Out There
Social media usually implies that you’re connecting with others socially, in a manner that requires some sort of trust that you are who you say you are. This is especially true for Facebook, which requires you to be a real person when signing up for an account.
But some of the Internet’s beauty lies in its anonymity – another double-edged sword, but one you can use for the better. There are countless forums and places of discussion dedicated to staying anonymous while talking about stresses and problems. If you’re looking for a place to vent, someone to talk to about your issues, or someone to listen to what you have to say, then the Internet can provide you with some relief and therapy through these places. Instead of venting through your real profiles, rely on anonymity if you want to be heard without being identified.
In fact, some people openly encourage doing so. Some people may not want to be open towards other with the fact that they’re diagnosed with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, or another disorder. The Internet gives you the chance to keep that information private, and still speak your mind, hear other people’s experiences and learn more about how you can cope with negative thoughts in a positive way without involving names or personal details.