Ever since the world came to a stop, our routines have been flipped - from wearing a mask, to travel restrictions, and stopping all human contact that we would usually do in our day to day life. Our homes have been made to now be makeshift offices, classrooms and even hospitals for those affected by the current virus. With a feeling of displacement and little to no change in our immediate environment, we suddenly have more time on our hands as there’s no time of commute, no urgency to be somewhere, everything we need is essentially right there. So is our attention, that we have lost track of.
Now, if you have been keeping up with your own social media you, might know that Netflix recently came out with The Social Dilemma, a documentary highlighting the impact of social media by real creators and developers of multiple social media conglomerates. These are the people who are actively talking against the systems they helped build. The invention of social networking platforms came from a positive place, to connect human beings on a new level, but the long-term effects of it is something only being criticised recently.
Humans, by nature, are social creatures. We have an innate need to connect with other people. We need love and validation to survive so it was inevitable that social media took over in the age of the internet, and since then it has evolved and has almost become a one stop for all. Connections, Job opportunities, Window shopping, Events, Current Affairs and News, is only a handful of things that social media can now offer you. Social media has become a spectacle where we control other’s perception of us. If you ask anyone, it almost feels like if it wasn’t posted on social media, then it didn’t happen. This leads to a phenomenon known as FOMO i.e. Fear Of Missing Out. It is considered as social anxiety and is rampant among preteen social media users.
Everything we post, builds our online persona, and therefore we tend to show the best version of ourselves, but the truth is we aren’t always the best version of ourselves and it creates problems when we feel like we have to keep up with that perception. Beauty Standards have always been around, but the need to be perfect has been amplified through SM. This is problematic, as we compare someone else’s best version to our normal selves. Countless studies have shown that all these issues lead to low self-esteem, anxiety depression, and in extreme cases, even suicide. These instances are even higher when it comes to young teens who had to grow up in this environment, where they prioritize likes and social media numbers more often than it is healthy to do.
“Social Media starts to dig deeper and deeper down into the brain stem and take over kid’s sense of self-worth and identity” - Tristan Harris, The Social Dilemma
If research suggests that so many personal issues can arise due to social media, imagine the same happening to 3.6 billion people around the world that are currently using such platforms, and how does that affect the fabric of our society?
Despite all the ill effects of social media, one can’t absolutely ignore the fact that it has helped too, connecting millions, building communities, harbouring safe spaces, and most importantly, it’s everywhere and not many can afford to not engage in a world where this has become the primary way to connect with other people.
Until there is a way to regulate these corporations, with the new knowledge we have, it’s upon us to regulate the use of social media in our lives.
The first step is to assess yourself. Easiest way to figure out if you’re addicted to social media, is to simply switch off your devices and see how you do for an hour, maybe four hours or even a day. What you might experience is withdrawal.
Now regulating the use of social media is not going to be easy, solely because we have somehow become accustomed to unhealthy viewing hours. It will take acceptance and then pure will to make some meaningful changes.
Start by asking yourself these questions:
How much time am I spending on my SM apps?
Which apps do I frequently use?
How is it affecting me?
If you have successfully self-diagnosed yourself with a tiny bit of a problem, please know that it’s okay and these systems weren’t built to be gentle with our minds, what matters now, is how we tackle this for our betterment.
Limit your Screen time
This is an obvious one, but it all boils down to limiting your screen time. SM has perfected how to make you forget x amount of time has passed. The model itself is such that it profits off how bored you tend to be.
Mindless scrolling often makes you feel like time is slipping away without you having any control over it. Recognise where most of your time is going and limit those certain apps. If your device doesn’t have a screen time feature or if you just want to have extra help, here are some free apps you could use, that encourage you to take time off. Turn off Notifications and Auto-Recommendations. These are the two things that rope you in to check your phone constantly.
A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania looked at SM use among 143 students and concluded that keeping your activity down to 30 minutes is the most ideal for better mental health outcomes. While that might take a while to achieve, start slow and build it up. Ultimately it differs person to person.
Do offline Activities
Limit screen time? Done. So, what now? We mostly don’t have to face this because SM would constantly keep us engaged, we’re trained to go back to what it has for us. Refresh and new content would show up, all the time. The chances of being bored are low, and quick free entertainment is quite literally in your hands, calling out to you. So, we must look for other engaging activities to do.
Think of this as Time that you have gifted to yourself. Restart your love for a forgotten hobby. Read actual Books again. Try that new thing you’ve had your eye on. Try a new workout. Call up a friend. Spend time with your family. Cook a wholesome meal. The possibilities are endless! Do the thing you would’ve done if only you had the “time”. For mental health self-care, meditation, journaling and painting or doodling is said to have helped among other things. The idea is to now understand what you would like to spend your time on, that will make your day better and further enrich your life.
The plan is to make your limited time on SM a safe place that doesn’t end up worsening your mental health. Start by understanding whether what seems harmless, might actually affect you, for e.g. if following someone makes you feel inadequate, unfollow them. Unfollow and let go of things that make you feel unpleasant. Instead try to follow people who inspire you. Think of your SM use as consumption. We consume this media, and we should be able to control what we consume. If you can be aware that a certain food or drink makes you feel sick, then you would naturally limit your consumption or cut it out.
Take this opportunity to also rethink whether you need to use a 100 different SM apps and see which apps or accounts that are no longer of use to you. Stopped using twitter? Delete it. Snapchat becoming unnecessary? Deactivate. This way, you have less to worry about.
The current situation of the world has taught everyone something. There’s more introspection to do and more perspective to gain. We should use our tools wisely and safe keep our minds instead of cluttering them. Progress is slow and steady, but it’s valid, nonetheless. Check up on yourself first, and then others. Prioritising your mental health in a capitalistic world that keeps demanding from you, is an act of rebellion.