Initially, this was going to be a single article about using social media more mindfully to improve relationships and your own mental health. As I began to research and deep-dive into the topic, though, I realized there was way to much to cover in a single article. In part one of the series, we focus primarily on using the platforms less often.
I've had a long day. I taught eight classes, wrote, printed new marketing materials, and planned my next workshop. I fall into bed, ready for the sweet embrace of sleep, but without a thought, I grab my phone and click on Facebook. I either scroll mindlessly or follow a rabbit hole of infuriating articles. When I realize what time it is, I'm too wired for sleep, and only get a few hours of shuteye.
Can you relate to the story above? Perhaps social media isn't affecting your sleep, but you're losing chunks of your day to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tik-Tok, and whatever else the kids are using these days.
Social media does not have to be a time suck and can be a useful tool. For one, it is an easy way to keep in touch with friends and family. I have tight relationships with friends around the world that would not be possible without these platforms (now, they can also lead to superficial relationships, but I'll cover that in a later blog).
Another benefit to social media is that it provides a microphone for voices that are often unheard. Years ago, one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Jerry Joseph, said (and I'm paraphrasing; forgive me, Jerry. It was at a show 15 years ago), "For everyone witnessing a war, there's some asshole tweeting about his sandwich."
Now, I'd flip that. For everyone posting about their lunch, there is ALSO someone witnessing a war, or police brutality, or some other social injustice. In the days of ink and paper, this person may not have had an opportunity to share what they've seen. Now, they need only pull out the computer in their pocket and hit record. That is powerful stuff, and without moving too far afield from the topic, you can probably see how this witnessing is starting to lead (granted, at a glacier's pace) to a more equitable world.
So, how do you use social media without ruining your sleep or cutting into productivity? The key is mindfulness
1. Have a plan. Before I changed my social media habits, the example that opened this article was a frequent problem. My two favorite platforms were Facebook and Instagram, and I would open the apps on my phone and begin the scroll. There was no plan. It was an automatic behavior (like a cigarette after dinner for smokers).
Before you open social media, ask yourself why you are doing so. I'm not saying it has to be something deep. It can be as simple as, "I want to see what my pals are doing." Just asking the question will add mindfulness to the experience so that when you have completed the task, you're more apt to leave the site.
Your plan may also need a time limit, particularly if you are getting on to check-in with friends and family (or your favorite Insta dog). Set a timer on your phone for how long you can spend scrolling, and when that timer sounds, close the app and move along.
2. Create physical distance. Real talk? Step 1 did not work for me. I am a Questioner (more on this label in a future blog), and I refuse to follow any rule that seems arbitrary: even if it's one I give to myself for my own good. I even hate that phrase, "For your own good."
(If you like visuals, imagine me, hunched over my phone. The alarm sounds, and, like Bilbo Baggins being parted from the One Ring, I growl at the phone, "It's mine. Mine. Why shouldn't I stay on Facebook? I pay the bill. It's mine! My PRECIOUS!")
Thus, I had to create physical distance between myself and social media. Since I could not stop myself from clicking the "Facebook" app on my phone and scrolling mindlessly, I deleted it. Now, I can only use Facebook on my computer, and since I don't like sitting in front of a computer, I can more easily follow Step 1 (hop on, do what I need to do, and hop off).
(As an aside, for some reason, Instagram does not have this pull on me. I can easily check out cute dog pics for five minutes and close the app. You'll need to observe yourself to figure out your own habits and adjust them accordingly).
If you need social media on your phone for work, I would suggest moving your phone to an inconvenient location when you don't want to be on social media. Instead of having your phone on your nightstand, put it across the room. When you're enjoying dinner or family time with loved ones, put your phone in another room.
3. Delete and detox. If you have tried the first two steps, but you still find yourself sitting in front of your laptop scrolling social media, do not beat yourself up. Sometimes, a habit becomes so ingrained you need to take more extreme measures to break it. There is also a growing body of research that shows social media can be addictive.
Chemically, social media is like any other addictive substance. Every time you use it, your brain is getting a little burst of dopamine that says, "Oooh. I like this," especially when you're getting likes and mentions from others. Just like chocolate and gin, your brain may become dependent on these little bursts of feel good brain chemicals.
Whether your social media consumption is truly addiction or simply problematic, it may be a good idea to delete your accounts entirely for at least a month (though it may take longer to detox). When you stop feeling the impulse to check social media, it may be okay for you to re-establish your accounts. However, if you think your social media usage is addictive, please talk to a medical professional. The purpose of this blog is to help you examine your own behavior in a mindful way and should NEVER supersede or substitute medical advice.
Mindfulness and social media is a massive topic that we will cover in-depth over the next few weeks. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, feel free to comment below.