Unplugging from social media is as common as swearing off carbs these days. Facebook and Instagram are the new bread and pasta: highly addictive and not so great for our health in heavy quantities. This is why many of us think that by simply removing them from our routine, à la “digital detox,” our lives will go back to being lighter, easier, and more peaceful.
After all, weren’t we happier before we started checking our multiple newsfeeds day in and day out? If social media has been said to trigger feelings of jealousy and social isolation, doesn’t it make sense just to sign off for the sake of our well-being?
Maybe not. When it comes to getting a handle on our happiness, Jessica Abo, author of Unfiltered: How to Be as Happy as You Look on Social Media, tells SheKnows that simply cutting ourselves off from society and other people won’t cure what ails us.
“It really comes down to keeping ourselves in check with what other people are doing and acknowledging what works for us and staying in our own lane,” she says. “I don’t think social media is the enemy here. I think it’s easy to play the blame game instead of communicating what you need. I think it’s harder for people to go through the exercises and the question of ‘What’s causing my own unhappiness?’ Accepting that they’re unhappy in their own lives can be overwhelming for some people.”
Balance is key
With social media being so pervasive in our lives with barely any escape from #fitspo posts and news of engagements and pregnancies, media psychologist Dr. Pamela Rutledge agrees, saying, “[W]ithdrawing is easier than figuring out a solution where some social media use works for you.”
However, she notes that when it comes down to it, social media satisfies many key psychological needs and provides so many economic and social benefits that it's unlikely most people will decide to ditch it. "Social media is a tool — a powerful one but a tool nevertheless," Rutledge says. "Like most tools it isn’t inherently good nor bad. The impact is all in how you use it.”
As with most relationships, balance is key to having a healthy one with social media. “Think about any behavior where people make choices: diet, exercise, goofing off, work, etc. All of these thing require intention and a vision of what we want our life, our emotions and our relationships to be like,” Rutledge says. “A positive relationship with social media means approaching technology like we do these things and make it work for us. We pay attention to what we do and why.”
Create your own personal policy
Jodie Cook, owner of JC Social Media Marketing Agency, which works with companies to grow their business using social media, says it’s essential to have a personal policy put in place when using social media.
“I don’t think a complete digital detox is the answer. I think the answer is having a personal policy for what you do on social media and how long you spend there,” she says.
For example, Cook suggests implementing a rule that you close all social media platforms two hours before you go to sleep or that you don’t scroll social media while you’re with other people. Another option would be to remove social media apps from your mobile phone, which means when you want to go on, you have to go through the extra steps of opening your laptop and logging in, she adds. This way, Cook says you're able to go on and stay updated and involved without it consuming you.
Pause for a minute
When you are scrolling through social media and see a post that pulls you into the “compare and despair” trap, Abo says the first thing you should do is take a beat.
“I think that’s a great opportunity to hold a mirror up to your life and see what you see about your own life. Do a life audit and ask yourself, ‘OK, why do I feel this way? How often do I feel this way? Do I feel this way every time someone gets engaged? Or every time someone gets a promotion?’" she notes.
In other words, we can use these posts as cues to look at our own lives to help recognize the root of what is causing our unhappiness. "I think when we can identify our pinpoints, then you can take the steps necessary to take back your happiness," Abo says.
It's not all negative
Abo also points out that social media isn’t all doom and gloom; there are many positive aspects of social media that shouldn’t be forgotten. From reconnecting with old friends to job opportunities to helping us determine where to go on vacation, there are plenty of ways in social media can add value to our lives.
“I think social media can be an incredible place,” Abo says. “You can remember someone’s birthday, you can join different groups. I’m a new mom, so I belong to a bunch of parenting groups. You can see a friend’s post about going through a tough time and you might not be aware of it, so you can check in with them. Maybe even make a meal for them. There’s a lot of different ways to feel connected with each other through the technology we have, and we can feel incredibly connected if we use social media the right way.”
That also means not making social media a barometer of your happiness.
“Happiness is not a pie. Just because someone else has something you don’t or they’re celebrating something doesn’t mean they’re taking away any happiness from you,” Abo says. “You have the power to create your own happiness; you just have to be willing to take the first step to go after it.”
So, the next time you decide to do a digital detox, either because someone’s post irked you or because you’ve gone down the rabbit hole too many times, consider taking a moment to check in with yourself instead. Ask yourself if you can approach social media, including how you use it and how you let it affect your peace of mind, differently.
Besides, as Cook points out, “Don’t be that person who dramatically announces that they are leaving Facebook only to sheepishly come crawling back later. Learn to consume it in moderation.”