“My relationships with everyone I love are mediated by my Wi-Fi signal” - Matty Healy, The 1975
Social media has enthralled society today, and consequently, can shape and define culture as we know it. Politics, art, and relationships have all integrated into the sleeping giant that is new age media. But how do we navigate such an unprecedented power?
Communication between teenagers today largely occurs through various forms of social media: Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, etc. Therefore, the word “social” has evolved. Social interactions do not need to be in person, but rather can transpire through screens. So can “social anxiety” permeate into social media anxiety? Many mental health consultants and researchers have proved so, but from a personal standpoint, I know this to be true.
I do not remember the first social media platform I used, or what I originally intended to use it for, but I am sure there was a bit of a learning curve (check anyone’s instagram who hasn’t deleted their photos from middle school). In fact, social media was never really that important to me until my sophomore year of high school. After a rough freshman year transferring from public to private school, I thought I had finally found my solid group of friends. As the year went on, I was being excluded and found myself feeling left out, only to have those suspicions proven through my friends’ posts on social media. However, our interactions on social media remained the same. There was a strong disconnect between what was happening in my relationships in real life and what was happening in my relationships online. This
disconnect naturally lead to a lot of confusion about my security in friendships. I began feeling paranoid about being judged and evaluated, and the system of likes and comments on platforms only seemed to manifest this fear. Because of this, I started to distrust more easily and became intensely anxious about social situations.
One day at the lunch table, I had told my friends that I was really having a bad day, and struggling pretty bad mentally. They somewhat acknowledged me, and gave me half sincere empathy. I was feeling so isolated and alone later that night as I went to my snapchat and found a bunch of my old friends hanging out without me. I remember telling them earlier at the lunchIt was a small thing, but it greatly affected me, and so I will not deny or invalidate that feeling. It wasn’t that I felt I had no friends, it was that I felt I HAD friends whomst had the medium and means to reach out to me, and instead, ignored me. They were using their phones and using social media, but not to reach out to a friend in need. In a rush of sadness and anguish, I deleted all my social media platforms.
I had been longing so badly for connection, for true and genuine friendships, and I thought social media would help me do that. However, I found it only elucidated how really disconnected I was. So I decided to change that. I vowed that I was going to work on my friendships by building them and growing them in real life rather than letting my social media dictate them.
Slowly, I have worked my way back onto social media. I built a lot of great friendships, but more importantly, I found a lot more self love, so I don’t long as much for validation. However, it has taken a lot of self-reflection to get to the point where I feel comfortable online again. My tips for mindful social media use:
- Understand that social media is not inherently bad, nor inherently good. Some interactions may be positive, and some may be negative. Be prepared for both aspects, by allowing yourself to see and enjoy the good and by allowing yourself to understand and grow from the bad. The only thing you can control on social media is you.
- Reflect on how the medium affects you, your mental health, and your relationships. If you find a certain platform or a certain way of interaction is triggering or toxic, consider what you can change in order to make the experience more helpful and enjoyable.
- Be aware of the disconnect between social media and real life. Understand that the lives you may see online are edited and put through a filter, so there is no point in comparison. As well, your interactions online do not define your relationships or status with someone. Social media is not direct connection, but rather connection through several layers.
- Set boundaries. Know what you need and what you need to avoid while online. If posting photos makes you uncomfortable, know that that is okay. As well, know the boundaries of your friends and family. Do not ask them to share beyond their comfort level.
- Find accounts that are helpful for you. Follow accounts about self-love, self-growth, awareness, mindfulness, meditation, or religion; whatever is beneficial to you.
- Build yourself outside of a screen. Practice self-love. Practice compassion. Do not limit yourself. Use your social media as an expression of you, rather than an extension of you.
P.S. Other tips might work better for you, but these tips have proved helpful for me.