Often when we think about the impact of social media on our behaviors, we think about the ways it affects other people rather than ourselves. It is difficult to admit that our own behaviors are influenced by our online connection to others in this vast network, driven by algorithms, business strategies and digital currency.
The thing is, we can’t help but be influenced. It is not because we are not savvy enough, and it doesn’t mean we are easily manipulated. We are impacted by social media because it taps into the very mental and emotional processes that are hard-wired for our survival. At our core, each of us has a deeply rooted need to connect with others. We need relationships, belonging, and a sense of community, and social media offers us a way to have this in a modified sense, from our couches and in a seemingly passive way.
How Social Media Gets into Our Heads
Social media gets to us in a variety of ways. Despite the heavy media focus on the negative outcomes, there are many positive impacts from social media, so let’s start there.
- During the pandemic, connections on social media have made quarantine more bearable
- Social media has made it possible for us to connect with old friends we may never have been able to track down
- Like-minded strangers or others with similar circumstances can connect across the miles or even on opposite sides of the planet for mutual support
- Positive causes on social media unite us with others who have similar passions
- Social media groups and friendships can offer support and encouragement during difficult times
- Quick access to a wide circle of friends can be validating and make us feel connected to the world beyond our own four walls
It would be remiss not to explore the negative influence of social media. The impact continues to unfold as the years pass, and the long-term implications are yet untold.
- It is easy to see the limited information we have from social media and start comparing ourselves with others (even though we often do not see the many struggles others experience that they do not post on social media)
- Connections on social media can be antagonistic at times. Political views, religious beliefs, social views and everything in between is debated online, and often this causes greater stress for users and unnecessary discord with people you would not likely even have a conversation with outside of social media
- We have more access to the minutiae of everyone else’s minds than we ever have before, and it can disconnect us from our own thoughts and feelings
- The constant input of information and opinions can be mentally draining
- Social media algorithms connect us with certain types of content meant to keep us coming back and feeding into our biases; this can create blind spots in which we are not looking outside of our comfortable perspectives or challenging “facts” that are presented
- Online connections do not replace face to face relationships, and can leave us feeling more isolated if there isn’t a healthy balance
Behavioral Outcomes from Social Media
The positive and negative impacts of social media can result in a variety of behaviors in our daily lives. Often our use of social media becomes almost automated. We glance at it between meetings or while we are waiting in line at the store; we go on social media when we have important news to share, or to pass the time when we are bored. Can’t sleep? It is likely that you may grab for your phone to skim through social media or check the recent feeds. We have become so enmeshed with social media that it is a fill-in for time we used to spend in our own minds. Not allowing our minds to relax or introspect can be emotionally stagnating.
Social media can also result in more isolation from others since the quality of the interactions is not as enriching as in-person connections. Sometimes, the less we engage with others, the less we want to engage with others, and this can create an awkward loop of avoidance and discomfort that is difficult to break out of.
Improving Your Relationship with Social Media
You don’t need to give up social media entirely, though that is certainly a choice that more people are making all the time. There are ways to maintain your connections with others online while establishing a healthier pattern of use.
- Establish a time limit for your social media use
- Pare down your friend list to people you are close to
- Set rules for your use and decide if there are topics you want to steer away from
- Take regular two-week breaks from using social media to ensure that you are giving your mind a chance to think and feel without distraction
- Make sure you are connecting with friends and loved ones in real-time and not only online
- Engage in non-screen hobbies to create more balance in your activity levels
Moderate social media use is fun and healthy. Check in with your thoughts and feelings as you use it and set healthy limits that support your own well-being to avoid some of the common pitfalls of social media use.