Social Media Hygiene
How I tidied up my social media and improved my online experience.
Social media is part of the undeniable trend where we now spend much more of our time online or on our phones. It’s very hard to escape from.
Most of us are connected in some digital way these days and indeed the irony is not lost on me that I am writing this article to share on my Facebook page!
I am not the kind of person who thinks that technology is a bad thing. I used to be one of those people who thought that social media, mobile technology and all that was only making us less social and more cut off from one another.
More than one lunch hour spent with everyone else glued to their phones had thought me that.
But when I did a little bit of research into it began to see how we can see technology from two camps. The first is technological determinism which states that we are being changed by technology, perhaps for the worst.
They say that technology is changing who we are in some way.
To be fair to this idea there are some changes happening out there, for instance I don’t think we can delay gratification as easily as we are used to things more instantly. But I don’t think that’s ever been the full story or that what’s happening these days is entirely new.
For instance, in the past if we wanted to open a coconut, we might have pulled at it with our hands, bashed it against our heads or beat our feet against it getting nowhere, until we discovered oh wow a rock does a pretty good job on this coconut and saves me a lot of hassle.
The rock didn’t change us or our desire to open the coconut, we interacted with the rock and used it as a tool. The other camp would state that something similar going on with technology today and social media. We use unique new tools to meet our same old information, social and esteem needs.
If we think about it, mobile technology makes our lives so much easier, keeps us in touch with people and events while it also panders to our interests and curiosities. If we like sports, film reviews and celebrity updates we can get them all on our social media. If we’d rather music, news and memes, guess what, we can follow and get those things too!
What we do with social media, like any other media is we consume it, it doesn’t consume us unless we let it.
Time spent on social Media:
Social media and our phones are some of the great time robbers. Many people might even have replaced TV with surfing social media or the internet. More targeted content for us than just whats on TV so I can see why.
But as a therapist I notice that clients who spend way to long on social media or technology can report a sense of isolation. It can become a barrier between us and other people if we are dying to check our phones or answer those little pings rather than being present with someone else.
If worried about time spent interacting with technology or social media, it can be worth changing it and coming back to having more real interactions with those around us.
There are several great apps available now that will tell us how much time someone is spending on their phone checking through stuff.
I am trialing one at the movement called Social Fever which tracks my app usage and even will stop certain apps after I have been on them for longer than my daily limit! It puts a timer in the corner when I am on Google Crome, Facebook or whatever so it allows me to see how much time I’m spending. It gives me a summary at the end of the day of how long I was online. I think I’m going to keep it.
I have also suffered from news and internet itch from time to time while working/studying, so I have installed a plug in on the internet called Stay Focused that I would recommend! We can block our favorite sites for chunks of time when working or just block them out for the evening.
Though for some of us it’s not just the amount of time we spend on social media or technology that causes us issues, it’s the content we are viewing or looking up.
Personalized anxiety content:
Social media is the place where we can find out about causes, things we follow and even people we like, or don’t like. We have a choice over what we see although some of it may not be good for us.
I have spoken before about Doctor Google and how dangerous that can be to follow our symptoms down the Google rabbit hole. Well it is also dangerous to have an anxiety provoking feed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Reddit or Pintrest.
If we are anxious: social media can be a firestorm of triggers for us.
Anxiety thrives when we come across a trigger (A) that triggers our negative/scary beliefs and thoughts (B) that then causes our negative consequences (C) in our bodies, our emotions and our behaviours.
This ABC is the wheel that makes anxiety go around and at the fulcrum of the wheel is the B the beliefs we hold or thoughts. The behaviour that we uptake to manage the anxiety (for example looking for more information online) is like the pressure that pushes the wheel forward until it starts again with more As.
Many clients I know have been on social media for years but never noticed how important this was in terms of getting them worked up.
We might have children or family members with health or other issues and we belong to groups where members discuss these issues. This can lead to viewing worse case scenarios/horror stories which naturally lead to personalizing: “what if this happens to me/my loved one”!
This can be extremely dangerous if we become saturated.
Another way that this can happen is be becoming saturated with posts or pages that push catastrophic agendas. A lot of pages on climate change, parenting styles, pandemics, diseases, wars and human rights abuses put out stuff advocating their cause. This can overwhelm us if we are seeing too much of it.
Furthermore, we might be looking at things/ people that we negatively compare to ourselves. Someone with body image issues following Victoria Secrets models on Instagram is not going to make feel good about themselves if they make comparisons. If we take inspiration that’s great, but if it’s constant negative comparison we will feel anxious.
Likewise following certain figures that make us angry is also counterproductive. If we think Donald Trump is the devil incarnate, why follow him on Twitter? I’m sure that if there is something big happening in the world that we need to know about, the news will find a way to reach us. It’s not necessary to be over exposed to content that annoys us.
If we know we are anxious/angry/sad and seeing this stuff makes us worse, ditch it! It’s worth thinking about a social media hygiene spritz! Because our anxiety is our responsibility!
I mean if we know that every time, we drink coffee we end up feeling jittery, anxious and irritable, and we know this….. maybe it’s time to switch to tea. Nice relaxing tea!
Likewise, if we are afraid of spiders why go looking for them?
Social media hygiene:
When I cleansed my news feed it was around the time, I was setting up Anxiety Ireland. I don’t think I had too much negative stuff on it, but I had a lot of news, politics, sports and a lot of memes coming up that I didn’t find particularly funny.
My time on it was wasted and while I relaxed sometimes by going on Facebook, I wouldn’t say I was happy with what I was consuming. In fact, sometimes I felt a bit tense after going on it. It was all stuff that led me away to other sites and made me spend longer than I wanted on my phone. Several tabs open at once stuff!
Over the years we build up the kind of stuff that we see online and most of us don’t recall how we chose that stuff. Many of the ads we receive are from the pages we may have liked years ago.
So, knowing that something wasn’t quite right for me I decided to start to at first unfollow all of memes that didn’t do it for me anymore and then to unfollow all of the news sites. I check the news everyday anyway (which is another story!) but what I didn’t want was to be led to news sites several times a day. That’s a real time thief.
Then I unfollowed some groups and people who were constantly sharing negative stuff that I was seeing. I didn’t unfriend them, each to their own, but I just took a step back because my social media consumption should be about what I want to see.
Then by sheer chance I ended up doing was following all the other mental health, psychology, counselling, psychotherapy and self help pages I could find. I wanted to see what they were doing but this gave me the best surprise of all.
My page is now full of positive messages, quotes, hopeful videos which has given me a completely different experience when I go on! Sure, I still get taken away by following links the odd time, but by cleaning up my feed I feel that I am now getting a more positive experience on Social Media if I go on there for 15 minutes a day.
How to do this:
This doesn’t have to be hard. Take a look through those social media accounts and just scroll through the feed.
- Notice what kind of things are coming up in the feed: e.g. celebrities, news, things of interest, groups, ads, people’s posts.
- Wonder if these kinds of things are making social media a nice place to spend time? or are they provoking anxiety? or are just a waste of time – time thief?
- Anything that falls into the latter two categories it’s time to un-follow them. If that’s personalities, political pages, or groups about causes, even if it hurts at first it’s time to let them go.
- Think about what things are enjoyable to see: maybe friends and family, but also things that motivate. Influencers with positive messages, pages with puppies, figures you admire for who they are not how they look, meditation pages or satire/jokes.
Test out this new balance and see how it feels, maybe this makes social media more positive or means spending less time on there that can be spent it with friends or family instead.
It’s always possible to follow that old stuff back, but my bet is that most will prefer it when they have put a bit of thought into making their Social Media cleaner and nicer to consume.
Sometimes it’s also rather refreshing to have a Social Media Detox. Even just 24 hours to see if it’ possible. Social media and using the internet, like everything else is fine in moderation, but without checks and balances we risk over exposing ourselves to potentially harmful content and screen time that rather than linking us up cuts us off from others.
If someone reading this identifies with anxiety over Social Media, then therapy is a great place to come for personal change and improving relationships.
I am a psychotherapist working in private practice in Dublin 11 near Glasnevin Cemetery, 10-15 minutes from the city centre, 5 minutes from Phibsboro and close to Finglas, Santry, Cabra, Drumcondra. Call/text 087 063 0948 for appointments.
Anxiety Ireland has a network of counselors across Ireland. Feel free to message me or the Facebook page for more information.
Again, I am always happy to answer messages to our page or I am happy to take calls/text to see how I can help:
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087 063 0948.
Team Anxiety Ireland
Anxiety is a merry-go-round, going nowhere fast, it’s ok to step off.
Our other articles on thought distortions include: Filtering, Catastrophizing, Polarized thinking, All or nothing thinking, Mindreading, Shoulds, Emotional Reasoning, Global labeling and of course the Fallacys: Being Right, Control Fallacies, Fallacy of Fairness, Heaven’s Reward Fallacy and Fallacy of Change. (Find blogs about these in our photos on facebook/website).