To define my relationship with social media using it’s own language, “it’s complicated”. Some days I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that I’m alive in a time where connections are so easily made and upheld, and some days, I’m just overwhelmed. On the one hand, without social media, you wouldn’t be reading this. I would have no blog or way to reach you or any of the amazing and inspiring people in the world right now doing great things.
In fact, I was recently at the Girls Gone Strong Women’s Strength and Empowerment weekend in Seattle, and had my friend Kristin from The Girl With the Butter staying with me at my home- someone I had never met before IRL and knew exclusively through Instagram. (Crazy, right?! But also SO AWESOME). The entire weekend was incredible and I credited so much of it to social media and the connections and community these platforms allow us to create. The benefits of these platforms are well understood, but the drawbacks can be a unique challenge.
By now I think we all understand that what people tend to share on social media is almost always an edited, curated, stylized, and closely monitored snapshot of that individual’s “highlight reel” of life. People share their PR’s, their victories, and their highs, and rarely turn a camera to the struggles, the losses, and the lows. And this is something I understand entirely- it’s just human nature, after all, to want to put the best version of yourself out into the world at all times. I truly see no fault in sharing that good news, FaceTune’ing out that zit or posing in the most flattering angle for a shot. It’s your photo, your app, your life- do what makes you feel good.
As a user or consumer though, it’s important to remember that you are, literally, seeing these images through a filter. If we forget this fact, it can be easy to fall into the comparison trap, where we end up just feeling badly about ourselves. And if you find that someone in particular is always sharing images or words that leave you feeling defeated, low, or otherwise less-than in any way, the unfollow button is eagerly awaiting you.
In fact I’m a huge proponent of spending a minute going through your friends and/or follow list and making some edits. While I think it’s important to have people on these platforms that challenge you and make you think about important topics in new ways (vs living in an echo chamber), you have the ability to unfollow anyone at any time. Your feed should serve you, support you, make you feel good about yourself and help you be better, not bring you down in a storm of comparisons. (If you were waiting for permission to do this, you have it. Go. I'll wait).
Social media can have other drawbacks beyond the shiny too-good-to-be-true photos. The red headed stepchild of the physical comparison game is the I’m Not Doing Enough plague that can be oh too easy to catch. For example, I have a wonderful collection of people I follow on Instagram, who are all challenging the status quo and speaking up about important things and dropping knowledge in truly awesome ways.
However, when I’m feeling overwhelmed, overworked, under-rested, and getting to that place where I low key turn into a hermit and shut down in an effort to hide from All The Things (like I did recently), scrolling through Instagram would add gasoline to the Shit You Should Be Doing But You’re Not fire. (Side note: another post on the toxicity of "Shoulds" coming soon). Everyone was growing, working on some great project, doing something super inspiring, and I wasn’t. Even if posts were intended to be uplifting and inspiring, all I’d see in my feed was an assault of “do this”, “stop doing this”. If I’d have an idea or topic I wanted to chat about, I’d open Instagram to see another blogger discussing it. I’d leave with a feeling of, “Well then wtf am I supposed to bring to the table? What am I even doing? It’s all been said before. What is my value here?”.
Note: We are always in control of how we react to these things- this is true. As Eleanor Roosevelt so wisely said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent". Even knowing this, sometimes we still fall prey to this type of thinking.
And worst of all, I was social media surfing during times when I should have been doing something to tend to my wellness, like reading a good book or getting creative. When you’re feeling overwhelmed and like you can’t do it all, what you need is some time to yourself to clear the mental clutter, find the perspective to be able to prioritize, and build a strategy to move forward- not see what everyone else is up to and how well they're handling it all. I’d spend the little precious downtime I had scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, and not focusing on what was really important- me and my mental health.
I recently took a quick trip down to LA for a long weekend, and knew that the only way to get this feeling out of my system to was to pump some great information in (The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin), and take some toxicity out (Instagram). For me, Instagram is the worst offender- the one I struggle to use “in moderation”, often leaving me somewhere on a scale of blah to “Well I fucking quit then”. Not logging in is not an option if it’s in my phone, so I deleted the app in entirety, and I didn’t reinstall it for five days.
For you, this might not be much. For me, this is huge. As someone who essentially runs an online business, these platforms are essential- going dark is something no digital marketing guru worth their likes would ever, ever advise.
But it was seriously some of the best 5 days I’ve had in a long time. I returned feeling refreshed and with some newfound social media goals and boundaries moving forward. For example, I now have a No Social Media in Bed rule- staying up into the wee hours scrolling through a blue screen of You’re Not Doing Enough’s was doing a number on my sleep and self esteem alike. Instead I’d reclaim this time as reading time, which allows me to do something I love to do again (read), get the light out at a decent hour, and grow as a person to boot. Mental health win #1.
I also turned off all notifications on all channels, allowing me the opportunity to set aside focused “check in” times throughout the day, instead of being held captive to any ding or ping disrupting my current task and pulling me into 15 minutes of distracted scrolling. Productivity and time management win.
I also have opted to just spend less time on Instagram in general, at least for the time being, and to stop paying such close attention to what other bloggers are talking about. I sincerely value the incredible relationships I’ve been fortunate enough to have through social media, and I highly (!) respect and admire what my colleagues are doing and I love supporting them. But I know that some blinders will help me maintain my personal sense of creativity, originality and authenticity, and those are things I never want to feel like I’m losing again. Mental health win #2.
My next goal is to try to keep my phone in my purse and in the back seat while driving. While I never ever (ever!) text or use my phone while I’m in motion, I am super guilty of opening up an app or two while I’m sitting at a red light- and I know I’m not alone in this. Really though? Do we need a screen in our face to fill the 90 seconds of time spent waiting for a light to change?
The virtues and challenges of social media are so complex, and get even tougher when they are something that you need to use regularly for work (or worse: your passion). Deleting Instagram off my phone was exactly what I needed and I couldn't recommend it enough. (That book also helped too, TBH). Being honest with yourself about how social media is making you feel is important, so you can take steps to mend the relationship before it gets the better of you.
What are your some of your struggles with social media, and how do you overcome them? Do you have personal boundaries that you set for yourself? Any tips for managing the influx?