– Building a healthier relationship with Social Media Networks
This 17min. read is giving you the insights of why it is so hard to change our relationship with Social Media and how we can take the first steps to create a healthier relationship and use of Social Media on a daily basis – I am so excited to share it with you!
If 2020 and 2021 (isn’t it actually the same year though?) has shown us one thing, then that most of us (if not all) who are active on social media, are in a toxic relationship – with social media.
Don’t get me wrong, I want to preface what’s to come in this article by saying this:
Social Media is amazing. It has brought together our world from about 7 degrees of separation to maybe 3. It has helped us become aware of happenings in this world that else, we would have never heard of like the Military Coup in Myanmar, the Black Lives Matter Movement in America and soon many other countries, the daily struggles of our Trans and LGBTQIA+ friends as well as the outrageous treatment of Indigenous People who were forced into and died in Canadian residential schools. There is A LOT going on – and Social Media helps us to inform each other, share opinions, build communities and movements and create waves.
Social Media has given us more freedom, more power, more influence and more visibility than ever in any lifetime before.
But, Social Media has also creeped into our minds, hearts and souls, too. And this article is here to show you what’s going on with this and how you can go build a healthier relationship with Social Media.
Social Media – Our Toxic Friend
In the past couple of years we have become much more aware of the ways how people gaslight, manipulate, use and straight up emotionally abuse others.
Our language has been expanded and enriched with words like Sealioning, which Wikipedia describes as “Sealioning (also spelled sea-lioning and sea lioning) is a type of trolling or harassment that consists of pursuing people with persistent requests for evidence or repeated questions, while maintaining a pretence of civility and sincerity. It may take the form of “incessant, bad-faith invitations to engage in debate”. The term originated with a 2014 strip of the webcomic Wondermark by David Malki.”. These words show us that we are going much deeper now into describing and reflecting our experiences. And that’s a good thing.
Maybe you have experienced this before (and I guess most of us have): You had a really rough day, everything that could go wrong went wrong:
Your car broke down, you spilled your hot coffee over your white shirt. Later in the day a stranger came up to you out of nowhere yelling at you for seemingly no reason. If that wasn’t enough yet your phone died on you just when you needed to call your partner and tell them you will be late because you still had to wait for the car to be fixed – and when you were finally home not only was your dinner cold but your partner pissed. What a day.
All you want to do now is to vent – so you decided to call your friend and share what happened during the day. Your friend though is neither much impressed nor supportive. They say “Really? Aren’t you exaggerating a bit with all of this? I am sure you are making this up in your mind! Your day wasn’t possibly that bad” – Ugh. A punch in your face. Why doesn’t your friend believe you? Why do they invalidate how you feel, what you experienced and make you feel like you are crazy for how you feel and what you experienced. You just experience gaslighting.
We all had these types of experiences before, in one or another way. In Germany we say: If you have friends like these you don’t need enemies.
This friends’ name though can easily be: Social Media.
How often did you post something, whether it was an experience of a rough day, a win you shared or simply a story from your life, and some know-it-all came along to invalidate it? Or maybe they came to discuss it and keep asking you for evidence and proof of the described experience. Or they even took your post and blasted you on Social Media and shared their opinion on your life, to cancel you at the same time.
But Chad, no one fucking asked you about your opinion on my life!
Social Media has become the toxic friend we are in relationship with but don’t realise how it drags us down. It has become that friend we go to to vent, share our life & experiences – and in return we are being invalidated, gaslit and dragged down.
And yet, here we are, spending more time with this friend.
(At this point, there will be readers thinking exactly these type of thoughts about this article: “Eh what is she talking about, this is crazy! She’s a victim, she’s making this so dramatic. She’s making this up in her mind! This is definitely not true” – and if you are one of those readers – This is a textbook example of gaslighting. You just gaslit me/this article in your thoughts. Thanks for proving my point not far into the article)
Why it is so hard to change our relationship with social media
Change has never been easy, but when we feel very attached to something, we feel like we can’t live without that thing and – it is time to do exactly that!
1| It feels like a toxic relationship
A lot of people unfortunately have experienced being in unhealthy or abusive relationships before. They know that there is an invisible force that keeps people stuck for way too long in these toxic relationships. But how come this is also possible when we relate to Social Media?
I personally believe it has to do with the perceived relationships and community as well as the seemingly belonging it creates for us when we engage in Social Media. We form a very similar
attachment to the network of people we have created on Social Media, as we do in personal relationships. Social Media has the power of making us believe that we indeed have intimate connections with other people that we often do not know in person. When those relationships are being “tested”, meaning we need help, support or any other form of investment that is provided in in-person relationships, the online community often can not deliver on it’s premise of belonging and intimacy.
Yet, we feel the attachment to these people and create a sense of loyalty, care and bonding to the people in our network.
So what makes it so difficult to leave this community behind? Well looking at in-person relationships that are unhealthy or even toxic, the dynamics are very similar.
In an article for Bustle, the therapist Jordan Madison says “Leaving an unhealthy relationship can require a healthy dose of self-esteem. And yet, if you’ve been belittled or worn down by a toxic partner, it can be difficult to come by. (…) Having low self-esteem can play a role in staying in an unhealthy relationship because it can cause the person to believe no one else would want them, so they might as well stay with their current partner,” Madison says. “Or that they are the reason the relationship is unhealthy, and it is all their fault. They may see themselves as unworthy of a healthy, loving relationship.(…) Because of the way it can impact your self-esteem, as well as the energy required to keep it going, an unhealthy relationship can feel like your everything — making it super difficult to leave. (..) For some, they see having an unhealthy relationship as better than not having a relationship at all,”
So how does that apply to Social Media?
Being constantly reminded that you are not good enough, comparing yourself to other peoples’ highlight reels and feeling invalidated often can take a huge toll on our self-esteem. It can trigger imposter syndrome, self-doubt and other negative thought-loops that we can easily get sucked into.
Social Media becomes toxic when we don’t feel good about ourselves while using it (and afterwards), when we feel like we can’t be our full selves on Social Media and when our self-esteem takes a big hit.
This is not to say that everyone feels that way, but it is a good time to reflect back on how we use Social Media, why and how it makes us feel.
2| It feels like a dopamine addiction
The other thing that Social Media brings with it is the consistent dopamine hits it provides us with. The good ol’ likes, shares, comments. Short term gratification can be a real b*tch, especially when we lose the ability to put effort into projects, work and relationships without being rewarded immediately for it. Long-term gratification is what gets us to our goals, yet here we are chasing likes from strangers, payment notifications on our phone and drowning in ‘compare-itis’ while filtering our real life. Again.
But why is dopamine so addictive? Why can’t we just have a bit of it and move on? Betterhelp explains that “Dopamine does help us feel good. It does this by giving us the feeling of reward for behaviors we do. Those rewards give us the motivation to do that behavior more. They also prompt us to meet our survival needs like eating. Unless we’re suffering from an addiction such as drug addiction, this reward/motivation system is a very positive thing. We’re more likely to go after what we want and feel rewarded when we achieve it. Dopamine is released in anticipation of the desired reward. When we receive the reward, the feeling of the reward goes away soon after. We want to get that feeling again. Does that mean it’s the dopamine we want? In a way, it is, but more scientifically, what we seek is substances or behaviors that give it to us. It’s these substances and behaviors we’re addicted to, not the dopamine itself.”
In short: we connect Social Media and our behavior in regards to it with feeling rewarded. We can not leave our hands off of Social Media easily because it leaves us feeling “reward-deprived”, releasing less dopamine on a short-term basis, therefore feeling less motivated and feeling less in general. What doesn’t occur to us though is how we can change that with a few simple steps and skip over the low-mood, low-motivation days and still get off of Social Media (even if it is just for some time during the day or a weekend off of it).
How to start a healthier relationship with social media
Even though our starting position may not be the best as Social Media seems to have control over our minds, we can still get out of that cycle, one step at a time.
Sure – you can also go ahead and detox cold turkey if you want. For many of us though, that may not be the smart thing to do and can cause more trouble than it has benefits, so following I am gonna share the steps towards a more healthy way of using Social Media daily that then can lead to a longer time of detoxing if you wish so.
1| The dopamine detox
This is going to be the first and also a very important step – to detach from the dopamine hits we receive from the constant likes, comments and other hype from Social Media. The best way to do so is through turning off any and all notifications on all Social Media apps, within the apps and on your phone.
Yes, this means you won’t have any notifications on your phone or app popping up about any new messages, comments, likes, questions, payments etc.
How does this help? It helps you to balance out your dopamine release by not constantly seeing new notifications and feeling somewhat triggered to the point of being interrupted in your work, thoughts or any activities. You also will need to learn to actively and responsibly use your Social Media accounts instead of being triggered to do so immediately when someone is asking for your attention. After all, our attention is extremely valuable and we need to take good care of it.
Which brings me to the next point:
2| Schedule time for Social Media
It is very wise, not only for a healthy use of Social Media but especially for a healthy use of your time, to start scheduling time for your Social Media use. That means that instead of reacting to any and all notifications, messages and other triggers, you’ll actively participate in the Social media world. I recommend to schedule 3 times a day for a certain time period, for example 30minutes. Before you start your time, set an intention of what you’d like to do on Social Media, eg. interacting with your friends or audience, posting something that you want to share or learning something new. Then go ahead and do so. When you get off track, don’t worry as this happens to the best of us – simply bring awareness to the fact that you are not doing what you intended to do, pause for a moment, remember what your intention was and get back to it.
3| Set app timers
Using your Social Media in a healthier way is a great start to reduce any of the stress, comparison and anxiety that Social Media can bring with it. When you start to reduce the dopamine hits and intentionally schedule time on Social Media you will feel the change of the impact that Social Media has on you. To further bring calmness and intention into using Social Media daily, set a timer for all of your apps and Social Media Sites on your phone and laptop/PC. That means that after the scheduled time, let’s say 3 times 30minutes, you can not use these apps anymore. This will support the intentional use by restricting the access, and raising your awareness that you have used your time on the day that you’ve set for yourself to spend online. You can use the internal feature for example on your Android phone or other apps like Space.
4| The validation detox
To be able to stay away from Social Media more and more or using it in a much healthier way than many of us do, it is important to recognize what we are using it for. Although many of us would say that’s not the primary use, deep inside, many of us like that Social Media gives us a certain level of external validation. That is a nice “add-on” – and can be straight up dangerous. If we rely on external validation only for our self-esteem and self-worth then we are in trouble. Instead, it is important to find our own ways of validating ourselves, and to practice these daily. The more we can validate ourselves, be kind and compassionate with ourselves and take care of our own needs, the better we will be able to rely on our own internal validation system rather than other people’s validation.
5| Start with 1 day a week of un-plugging
Now that we have done the work to use Social Media in a more healthy way, it is a great time to add a day of not using it at all. I recommend a day per week but you can also start with a day per month. I used to do what I called #SundayUnplugged (you can use that # and @themoniquelindner when posting about your experiences online) and plan a day full of activities outside, or connecting with friends in a nice café or simply doing something that I loved doing – and staying offline all day long. From Sunday Midnight til Monday Midnight (well actually till after my Monday morning routine). This was not only refreshing but it has helped me to get back to myself, connect deeper with friends and find more joy in my life, too. This year (2021) I didn’t do it weekly but I will get back to it now that the year has calmed down for me.
It seems like one day may not be a long time or like it is easy to do, but for those of us who use Social Media for business as well as our personal life it is much harder to leave it for a day than we think it is. Doing so weekly will give us the practice needed to implement the other 4 points above, it will help us with reducing the anxiety and FOMO of not being online (given you are using tools to stay calm while being offline) and it will help to detach step by step from the need to use the apps at any given time. If this sounds overwhelming, get yourself support and accountability for example by hiring a coach to help you guide you through this process.
It’s a Wrap
Building a healthier relationship with Social Media definitely takes some real effort from our side – and I believe it will be even more rewarding once we do so.
Not only will we feel much more confident with ourselves but we learn how to validate ourselves rather than consistently looking towards other people to do so, and we learn a lot of valuable ways of setting boundaries, for ourselves and with others (in this case how we are using our time online, which can be expanded to other interactions, too). The real value that we will gain though is, more time, less stress and overwhelm and a whole new world of self-worth that is not based on comparing our reality with the highlight-reel of other peoples’ lives.
Will it take a while to get there? Yep.
Will it be easy and a smooth ride? Nope.
Will it be fun and fuzzy? That depends. (Ha.)
Will it be worth it? 100%!
All I can say is: Do it. Try it out. Give yourself at least 90 days to follow these steps and implement them one at a time. Observe how it makes you feel and give yourself permission to sit through these emotions that come up. Don’t give up too early, don’t be afraid of missing out on anything. You won’t.
I’d love to hear your experiences on building a new relationship with Social Media – how did it go? Do you have another great tip to implement?
Leave us a comment with your experience below!
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