Ping! Ping! Ok how shall I word this without sounding too much like an angry feminist (Twitter)
Buzz! Buzz! I need that dress, she looks gorgeous (Instagram)
Swish! Swish! Ugh I’m going to comment I’m going to do it.. (Facebook)
Social media has shaped our global society in the most astonishing of ways. It has used the internet as a platform to influence entire generations, both new and old. Just think of how often the above scenarios occur to us in just a day. For me, it would be countless times. Every ping, buzz, and swish of my phone has me curious to find out what’s going on. That’s not to say that being active online is necessarily a bad thing. Rather, it has provided us with tons of ways to enrich and improve our lives in a holistic way.
Don’t look so shocked! Aside from being a very easy means to connect with our family, friends and loved ones (and allow our children to do the same), or become part of a healthy support network that would be impossible to do otherwise, social media has equipped us with the means of developing our voice. We have the freedom to create our presence, control our self-expression and build a network of like-minded people, whom we probably wouldn’t have met in our lifetime, to talk about causes and issues that we are passionate about or that we feel need to be addressed. This leaves us with so much such as: learning new things, staying in touch with the world, developing healthy debating skills, exchanging ideas, and becoming better at communicating and networking.
This is one of the productive features of social networking, the entire world is open for you to promote businesses that you support/own, discuss causes that are important to you and generate awareness about crucial issues. I mean, how many times have you used Twitter to raise awareness about an event or cause, or regram an informative video, or share a particularly difficult experience on Facebook? If your answer is never, then what are you waiting for? Get on it – because you don’t know who is on the other side of the screen, reading the post. Because you could be inspiring an immeasurable number of people. Your post could be the reason another humans quality of life has improved.
By using your social platform in a positive way, you can be the reason that other people in your network find out about things they wouldn’t otherwise learn about, where we are able to develop a wider perspective on an infinite range of topics. Take mental health, for example. There is still an overwhelming amount of stigma surrounding how common depression is in our current climate, or even the plethora of disabilities out there to know about and be sensitive to. Social media has allowed individuals and companies alike to disseminate accurate information, share empowering case studies and go a long way to eradicate this stigma. We can also take the step forward and practice evaluating, interpreting and contextualising the information presented to us – all habits that can help us when we are facing troubling or emotional times. Sharing our experiences and showcasing content that we have created (like art, photography, and writing) is also often encouraged because it builds creativity and social participation, and can open up opportunities for career-launching collaborations. In turn, we can gain valuable experience, promote independent exploration and expand our ability to adapt to new situations and technologies.
Yes, social media can give us a range of benefits, but let’s take a page out of the ‘Social media can be good’ guidebook and put this into perspective: Every single thing is only ‘good’ when done in moderation. Just like unrestrained exercise wears out one’s joints and excessive buying adds burden to our lives, too much online activity has the potential to take over our lives. So, the real question is: Are we letting it?
Research has found that overusing and misusing social media can impact us in adverse ways, (Sampasa-Kanyinga & Lewis, 2015; Tokunaga, 2015), with increasing incidences of cyberbullying, hacking, privacy/security issues, fraud, and scams all over the world. It’s not only our safety and security that can be compromised on the net but our mental health as well. Some of the negative behaviors that have been associated with using social media include constantly comparing your body-image to others, losing out on healthy hours of sleep, overthinking about small things and fearing missing out on the happenings around the globe. This can lead to very serious health problems, including sharp mood swings, social withdrawal, bodily changes such as hormonal imbalances, constant stress/anxiety, developing poor interpersonal skills and face-to-face confidence.
The incessant use of social networking sites can create a very unhealthy and ugly addiction – much like a drug or alcohol addiction, where the only thing on the individual’s mind is when they are going to get another fix. This is when using these tools can interfere with our normal day-to-day living and, much like a mental illness, can become detrimental to our physical and mental wellbeing. For one, staying on your phone before sleeping can damage your eyesight, as well as impact our ability to sleep. not to mention, psychologically, it is very easy to feel insecure or negative about your own life because people always post the positives and good times in their lives. Now imagine feeling this on a regular basis… Yup! It’s not a good feeling. In fact, you’ll be well on your way to developing extremely low self-esteem.
A study as recent as last year found a direct link between excessive daily internet usage and depression (Przybylski & Weinstein, 2017).
This is not very surprising because people suffering from a mental illness can find solace in social media, or use it as a way to distract them from their negative emotions or troubling thoughts. So, how can we know when we are addicted to social media? Just ask yourself these few short questions:
Do you spend a lot of time a day thinking about a social media site and compulsively check them?
Do you feel an urge to stay on social media for longer and longer?
Do you become restless or troubled when you are offline?
Are you more comfortable communicating and spending time with people online than offline?
Do you reach for your phone first thing in the morning when you wake up?
Do you use online phrases in your daily conversations, like ‘hashtag’, ‘lol’ and ‘jk’?
If you answered ‘yes’ to the above questions, or thought ‘OMG! I do that!’ quietly in your head, then I am sorry to say, you’re walking a very thin line. So, how do we define this fine line that social media has created? Between independence and addiction. Inspiration and obsession. Want and need.
We can start by reflecting on our social media activity and trying to understand our reasons and patterns of usage. We can also conduct more research on the topic and accept that we may have a problem; acceptance is the first step to bringing back some control into our lives. Then we will be in a better position to break free from this unhealthy addiction. How can we do this?
Begin by understanding that these websites have been designed to keep you on your phone or computer. Once you accept that they’re always going to be there and that they are engineered to keep you, hostage, then you can be motivated to set your time limits and control your activity online.
You can also put down some ground rules, like staying offline during meals and in bed, not using boredom as an excuse to sign back on. Try taking a little time away from your screens, such as a
weekend retreat with family or friends, or an outdoor trip for the day – this is the best kind of break as it’s refreshing and expels all your negative energy by tapping into the positive energy pulsing in the earth.
Alternatively, if you are posting something then be your own tough editor: ask yourself why you’re posting and whether you really need to, or if it’s your umpteenth post of the week. Question your motive and you’ll be able to make sure whether it’s necessary to post or not. Sometimes we use social media to be impersonal, like when we want to wish someone a happy birthday or congratulations on their achievements. However, it’s more meaningful to call or meet them in person, and can definitely go a long way in strengthening your relationship with others.
No matter what, know that you are not alone during this age that relies on online technology, applying moderation is the best way to go. We are all constantly growing and learning, so believe in your instincts and try to see what works best for you, when it comes to healthy online use, but always keep your eye on your goals and purpose. This way, you are less likely to be swayed by the addition of social media
The author of this piece is Sarah Gulamhusein she is the public relations officer at Inspirited Minds charity.
Inspirited Minds is a grassroots charity which aims to reduce stigma, raise awareness and provide advice, support and encouragement to those, in particular, Muslims, affected by mental health problems from a faith and culturally sensitive perspective. Inspirited Minds often run online campaigns, deliver workshops up and down the UK, volunteer their services for crises’, and discuss topical issues in their blog and weekly newsletter.