We all see a lot of stories lately around social media and its effects on our health, particularly our mental health. It’s an interesting topic, social media itself is very much in it’s infancy and we are all in an experimental phase in how we process this time of constant connection.
Now the invention of social media platforms themselves are revolutionary and like anything in life they have potential for good and bad experiences dependent on how you interact with them. What social media does well, is provide a more connected world than ever before, a place where you can keep in touch with friends and share your own life experiences. This is great and can actually support in people feeling less isolated and lonely, but it can also have the reverse effect and cause these issues too.
I’m a big lover of Instagram and Linkedin, these are two platforms where I share a lot of my work and connect with people. But sometimes (and I’m sure a few of you can identify with this) I get lost in these apps, I can lose 3–4 hours or even more of my day sucked into content on these platforms and generally it doesn’t always make me feel great.
There’s a big trend of fake news and fabrication across many social media platforms, Instagram is an interesting example where many users report feeling sad from seeing a huge amount of posts where people are portraying the perfect life or so it seems.
It’s very easy on these platforms for people to portray the life they want the world to see, but not necessarily the life they are living and this can have a negative effect on others who see this content and feel like they arn’t enough.
It’s an interesting predicament we find ourselves in as a community, how do we handle the day to day impact of so much content and connection? like anything, it’s all bout balance — just like work, food and fitness, we need to manage how we interact with social media and not become dominated by it.
Goodbye Instagram, hello vacation time
I’ll share a little insight to how I manage the madness of social media and make sure that I’m being present and living in the moment as much as possible. You see if you let your social media use become a borderline addiction, not only do you have an unbalanced view of life which can affect your mental health, but it also takes away those little moments of beauty in life that pass us by so quickly.
During 2017, I started to find my interactions with social media was becoming unhealthy. I’d find myself spending hours consuming random content which quite honestly was only 10% enjoyable and the rest was complete trash with no value add to me. The last straw for me is when I found myself in social events and I was more immersed in my phone than the people around me — something had to change.
It was around this time I was reading a story from basketball superstar Lebron James around what he does to maintain complete focus on the end of year NBA playoff’s. His philosophy was that to be completely focused and be immersed in his goal of winning the championship, he took a complete blackout break from social media and only spent time with friends and family in the real world — 6 weeks of no content consumption across any platform.
This story about Lebron got me thinking, could I use the same process to manage my own social media use? I wanted to do something that would give me a break from some of the content that wasn’t great for my mental health and also to make sure I spent more time being present with the ones who are important to me. At this time, Christmas was a few weeks away and I made a decision to take the Christmas period to engage in a total social media break for nearly 3 weeks.
So it began with a short post on my feeds wishing all a merry time over Christmas and informing them I was off the grid for the next 3 weeks. For the first few days I felt some withdrawal symptoms, but once these passed the next 3 weeks showed me this:
- I didn’t use my phone as much, I think my usage went down about 60%
- I had more meaningful interactions in the real world, some of the best conversations, moments and learning moments came over those 3 weeks.
- I had way more energy, I felt light and refreshed — I wanted to do more.
- I went outside more than ever, that might sound odd but even when you’re outside and you’re still engaged in your phone, you’re not really even aware of your surroundings. Being out in nature is always hailed as a great support for mental health and I had some great walks in the beautiful countryside.
- I moved more, went to gym and was eating better — did you know high social media use is also linked to mindless eating?
- My productivity 10X without all the distractions and time spent checking my feeds, I was able to ramp up my productivity. I produced more work than I can recall in the last few years, which made feel great and allowed my positivity to flow.
The real eye-opening moment came when my scheduled 3 week blackout was over, I would have expected to be running back to my social feeds but the reverse happened — I didn’t look at any of them until a number of weeks after this. I realised that I wasn’t missing anything, I didn’t have an urge to lock myself back into all these feeds and you know what? I felt great actually living in the real world.
What can you learn from this?
Simply, it’s all about balance and moderating what you allow to dictate your time and the content you wish to consume.
As we’ve heard, social media is a great invention but how you interact with it will ultimately decide your experience with it. Mental health is so important and like we hear from a physical perspective that what you eat affects your performance, this rings true for the mental aspect with being selective on the content you read and watch.
You don’t need to avoid social media, but what we all need to do is create a healthy relationship with it. Engage and have fun, but take breaks and make sure you step out of that world to engage in the environment around you.
You might just find that not only will your mental health benefit, but so will your relationships, productivity and your ability to stay away from that cookie.
Before you go… 👋
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