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How do you find balance with social media use?




First, you must understand that like tobacco companies, the goal of social media is to keep you using. Then, you can make a mindful choice to be addicted, or not. This post contains practical tips for cutting down your use, and how to choose what kind of relationship you'd like with social media.


In today's digitally driven world, social media has become an integral part of our daily lives. While it offers numerous benefits, especially to those of us who have family and friends scattered about the globe, we must acknowledge that it also comes with significant drawbacks. Positive uses of social media include: facilitating social connection, staying in touch with contacts, sharing news and experiences, seeking community support, finding out about in-person events, participating in groups where expertise is shared, or using social media for valid business purposes. It can also result in cathartic relief from sharing opinions about troubling issues for which you have little control, thus giving you a sense that you "did something" to make a difference, because you posted about a particular issue of concern.


However, excessive use of social media can also have negative impacts on mental health, productivity, and overall well-being. Being emotionally invested in likes, follows, comments, and online validation is a slippery slope. The darker, manipulative side of social media extends into financial coercion/influence, and information control by selectively showing you items that go along with your interests, with avoidance of presenting you with information that is neutral or balanced, or is in opposition to your beliefs. The posts or videos you see, usually adhere to the agenda of the post-er (or their marketing agendas), or is in support of your preferences which the platform has learned about through data mining. When this content keeps you online, the social media company makes more money through advertising or subscribed users which can raise their business prospects and stock prices. Over time, at its worst, usage can result in severe mental health problems, low self esteem, and online addiction, and information control specifically can lead to political polarization, brainwashing, and even support for authoritarian or terrorist regimes.


Social media companies know how to exploit human nature as well as your curiosity, to keep you hooked by wanting to see the engagement behind notifications. "Did someone like something I posted, or comment on it?" or "Did I get a new follower?" are common reactions to notifications, causing a powerful reward response in the user, that leads you back online and to the social media platform. This cycle is engineered to be addictive. The pull-to-refresh and infinite scrolling mechanism on our news feeds are unnervingly similar to a slot machine, said Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist for Google who has been described as the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience. “You pull a lever and immediately receive either an enticing reward (a match, a prize!) or nothing,” Harris wrote. We cannot know when we will be rewarded, and more often than not we don’t find anything interesting or gratifying, much like gambling. But that’s precisely what keeps us coming back."


On a practical level, social media can also be a tremendous time-waster and can interfere with work, school, sleep routines, and concentration. It can go as far as being detrimental to your social relationships if you are not fully present with friends, family, partners, and co-workers. If you find yourself spending too much time scrolling through endless feeds and feeling overwhelmed by the constant stream of notifications, it may be time to reevaluate your relationship with social media.


Nearly every client I encounter mentions wanting to adjust their relationship with social media. It can seem like a mystery as to how you get from a state of dependance on social media, to independence of choice to reclaim control of your time and attention, which are precious resources. The following tips should help.


1. Take Perspective, Then Curate Your Platforms and Feed:


Take the time to curate which social media platforms you find most beneficial. If you want to delete all accounts and have a period of abstinence to take perspective, go for it! By spending at least 30 days off of social media, you can become more mindful of what value it is bringing to your life (if any), and what aspects are you finding you used out of habit or addiction. Delete accounts that do not bring you certain value.


You can also edit social media feeds by unfollowing accounts that contribute to negative feelings such as comparison or FOMO (fear of missing out). Follow accounts that inspire or motivate you, provide useful information, or promote positivity and well-being. Eliminate superficial content that makes you feel self-conscious or not good enough. By surrounding yourself with content that aligns with your interests and values, you can make your social media experience more enjoyable and meaningful.


Realize that subsequent videos/articles and posts that are shown to you are intended to keep you watching or interacting. Humans are curious creatures, on the hunt for information, and social media companies have mastered catchy headlines and previews to try to keep you engaged. Be mindful of successive content and make a conscious choice NOT to click and keep going. This choice will drastically reduce your screen time if employed properly.


2. Now That You've Chosen Your Platforms, Disable Notifications and Move That Icon:


Constant notifications from social media apps can be incredibly distracting and contribute to a constant urge to check your phone or the social media site. The same behavioral schedule as is used in gambling (variable reinforcement) is used by social media companies. Take control of your notifications by disabling them entirely, or customizing them to only receive alerts for important messages or updates from essential people and family. This way, you can minimize interruptions and focus on tasks without being constantly pulled into the digital world.


Remove the automatic habit of clicking on social media application icons by moving them to a back page. This should reduce automatic clicking and surfing since you won't see them from your homescreen.


3. Set Clear Boundaries:


Establish specific time limits for using social media each day and stick to them. Use features like screen time tracking on your smartphone to monitor your usage and set reminders when you've reached your limit. Designate certain times of the day for checking social media, such as during business hours for business accounts, during breaks or after completing important tasks as a reward, and avoid mindless scrolling outside of these designated periods.


4. Create Tech-Free Zones and Use Do Not Disturb Features:


Designate certain areas of your home, such as the bedroom or dining table, as tech-free zones where the use of smartphones and other electronic devices, including social media, is prohibited. During after-work debriefs or reunion time conversations, social media should be avoided so that you can be fully present as you communicate and listen. If you're wearing a smartwatch, mute the notifications so that they don't appear. Set automatic do not disturb features on your smartphones and devices. Creating physical boundaries can help reduce temptation and encourage more meaningful interactions with those around you. You can also move phones physically to another room so that there is no visual cue and temptation to pick them up.


5. Practice Mindful Consumption:


Before opening a social media app, pause and ask yourself why you're using it. Are you seeking entertainment, connection, or validation? Are you worried about your business or job? Mindful consumption involves being aware of your intentions and emotions when engaging with social media and making conscious choices about how you spend your time online. Limit mindless scrolling by setting specific goals for your social media use and avoiding using it as a default activity during moments of boredom or procrastination.


6. Find Alternative Activities:


Instead of turning to social media for entertainment or distraction, explore alternative activities that promote personal growth and well-being. Engage in hobbies you enjoy, spend time outdoors, exercise, read a book, or connect with friends and family in real life. By diversifying your activities and interests, you can reduce reliance on social media for fulfillment and find more balance in your life.


7. Prioritize Real-Life Connections:


While social media can facilitate connections with people around the world, it's essential to prioritize real-life relationships and interactions. Make time to nurture meaningful connections with friends and family offline through face-to-face conversations, phone calls, or shared activities. Building strong, genuine relationships in the real world can provide greater satisfaction and fulfillment than virtual interactions on social media.


In conclusion, while social media can be a valuable tool for communication and connection, it's essential to maintain a healthy balance and use it mindfully. By implementing these practical tips and making conscious choices about your social media use, you can reduce screen time, improve mental well-being, and cultivate more meaningful experiences in both the digital and real world. Remember, for most, it's not about completely eliminating social media from your life, but rather finding a balance that allows you to enjoy its benefits without sacrificing your time, attention, and happiness.

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Dr. Marie C. Dumas, EI
Cybertherapy Consulting

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