I’m a big believer in using social media mindfully. There is no denying that social media has become a huge part of our lives with over 3.6 billion people using it worldwide. It’s an amazing advancement in technology and has improved the way we communicate. But understandably, along the lines of mental health, body image issues and the likes, social media can be pretty burdensome too.
While strategies like digital detoxing and restricting screen time can be useful and are necessary in some instances, I believe in a more wholesome and practical approach to social media.
The reality is that social media isn’t going away anytime soon; its projected to reach almost 4.4 billion people in 2025. So instead of shunning social media, we should adapt ourselves and learn how to co-exist with it peacefully.
I combine mindfulness along with self-love and awareness in my approach to my personal social media accounts. This can apply to any platforms – Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram (perhaps the most applicable) and more. Do note that this approach is for personal use of social media as the intentions and goals of business accounts are different!
Here are 10 ways we can all mindfully connect with social media to protect ourselves and mental health.
1. Scroll Social Media Purposefully
We often reach for our phones mindlessly. Tapping the Instagram app icon or clicking on the Facebook tab on our browser – it all happens in less than a second. This is where we start to fall down the rabbit hole of spending hours on social media. We don’t know when to stop because we don’t have any real purpose for being on it in the first place.
Try to always have a reason as to why you’re picking up the phone or looking through your Facebook feed. It could be a reason for anything – to message a friend, to look up someone’s profile, to watch cat videos or even to procrastinate. When we have a reason, we set clearer boundaries. We’re more likely to stop once we’ve fulfilled our goal. It also allows us time to acknowledge that we’re entering an online world or putting on our online persona (if we have one). Doing so helps to us to mentally prepare, brace ourselves for whatever we might see. It can also help us with productivity as we can identify why and how we are spending time on social media. The more we practice scrolling with a purpose, the more mindful our social media usage becomes.
2. Our Own Terms and Conditions
Most of us don’t read the terms and conditions when we install apps or sign up to a platform. But what we should do though, is write our own terms and conditions. Write it once and make a mental note of it. It doesn’t have to be long, jot down a few points that you want to remind yourself of when you’re scrolling down your newsfeed. It’s kind of like an ‘enter at your own risk’ warning and now you know the risks so you’re mentally prepared for them. It really helps to discern reality from the online world.
Below are some of my own terms and conditions. I’m familiar enough with them by now to continually think about it as I scroll through my Instagram feed.
- Not everything is a raw photo online. There are filters and photoshop. Not to mention lots of efforts behind-the-scenes to make a photo look stunning.
- Fact check everything. Not everything I see on social media is the truth and real news.
- Likes and comments are temporary ego boosters.
- We can’t discern tone through text and online messaging. There’s a chance of miscommunication and wrong interpretations.
- Everyone online has had a different upbringing, values, beliefs, personality so don’t read into Facebook comments and Twitter threads too much
3. Realise when the Negative Energy Begins
I used to get stuck in a cycle of comparison and self-deprecation the moment I looked at my Instagram feed. My eyes saw pictures of beautiful people wearing stunning clothes eating delicious food while somehow still posing so aesthetically. Yet my mind translated it into: beautiful people (I’m not as pretty) wearing stunning clothes (that I can never afford or look good in) eating delicious food (how can they eat so much while staying so slim?) while somehow still posing so aesthetically (I’m so awkward!). Even if I was only on Instagram for 5 minutes, my self-esteem and confidence was already in tatters for the rest of the day.
Thankfully, I’ve learnt to realise when I’m about to engage in that thinking and counteract it with some self-love, meditation or exercise. However, there are days when I’m more vulnerable to that sort of thinking and that’s probably when I should step away from social media! Truthfully, this one is difficult but the more we practice self-awareness, the easier it becomes.
4. Enjoy the Validation
In a stance against the downfalls of social media, we’ve tried to resist the validation that likes and comments brings us. In my opinion, it’s better to embrace, accept and enjoy the likes and comments that we’ve received online. Why? Social media was designed to play on our innate emotions and desire to connect with each other. It’s also natural for us to also seek the approval from each other. Resisting it makes us more vulnerable and more likely to judge ourselves and especially others. It’s also a fun way to get a legal dose of dopamine from your phone!
5. But Know the Limits
Unfortunately this is where many of us fall. We forget to put the brakes on and look at the bigger picture. We forget that likes are superficial, temporary ego boosters. The permanent ego boosters and underlying determinants of our happiness comes from the deeper things that matter to us – family, friends, relationships, pets, careers, hobbies, self-love and so on. Tendering the relationships with our loved ones will bring us more happiness than tendering to our followers. Enjoy the likes as in tip #4 but don’t equate this enjoyment to the fulfilment you receive when you help others or hang out with your loved ones.
6. Take Responsibility
Self-awareness is a big concept in mindfulness and I think we can take a chapter out of that to help us use social media more mindfully. A common complaint about social media is the falsity and glamourisation of the ‘perfect’ life. People post the best photos of themselves and portray themselves in a certain way that may seem perfect to us.
Personally, I do agree that the system is flawed and this can promote poor self-esteem, body image issues and unhappiness (especially to vulnerable groups like young girls). I also believe that everyone including celebrities and influencers should play their part in advocating for a healthier environment. However, I also believe that we have to be less judgemental. We should try to understand that everyone is a victim of this flawed system. In real life, it’s natural for us to always want to put our best foot forward and it’s the same in the digital world. We also have to consider privacy and cyber bullying too.
A mindful approach is to take responsibility upon ourselves and know that we’re entering an idealised, exaggerated and photoshopped world. Again, I’m not saying that we should do all the work but it’s powerful to take initiative rather than waiting upon influencers to tell us their deepest darkest secret. Truthfully, they’re also human too.
7. Explore Why You Want to Post that Picture
Sometimes we post things not for ourselves, but for other people. This isn’t entirely a bad thing. As humans, we love to connect and share our experiences with others; it’s a natural force of habit. We like to share our emotions when we feel something pleasurable and joy. Social media platforms have only increased that desire and made it easier.
However, we have to be mindful about it to prevent it from going too far. Studies have also shown that phones can undermine the enjoyment of face-to-face interactions. So a tip is to always explore the underlying reason why you want to post that picture or video on your feed or story. Is it to genuinely share your experiences or is there another reason behind it? A common example is showing off materialistic items which I used to do. While seemingly harmless, it reinforced the idea in my head that materialism played an important role in my happiness and status quo, in which it does not.
8. Care Less
Within my close friends, we have a mutual respect for each other when posting photos online. We ask each other if everyone is happy with the photo before it gets uploaded. While I am very appreciative of this gesture, I’ve started to care less about how I appear in photos and videos online. We have expectations of how we should look in photos and this only brings us disappointment when it doesn’t turn out right. Being content with that initial picture we took or accepting that it’s not our best angle but it’s okay, is somehow very freeing. From there, we start to place less significance on our online appearances and into things that really matter.
9. Simply the Platform and Our Mindset
Simplify the platforms in your mind. We’re so caught up in trying to blend in reality and the online world that we complicate the truth of the matter. I see Instagram as nothing else but a place to post aesthetic photos and videos. Twitter is nothing more than a thought-sharing, discussion platform with the ability to connect with like-minded (or not so!) people. Facebook for me (it will differ for everyone) is more personal so I like to connect with my loved ones through there and share photos/videos with them. Once we simplify it in our minds like that, we have a purpose for it. We know what each means to us and we can filter the content to suit ourselves best.
Also simplify our mindset; we tend to overthink our social media interactions. For example, if we receive less likes than we did in our previous photo, our response depends on our mindset. No, it’s not because we didn’t look pretty in that photo or that photo wasn’t good enough, it’s because people were simply offline or the Instagram algorithm didn’t show it on other people’s feed.
10. Be Compassionate to Yourself and Others
Seek kindness for ourselves on social media. Be mindful of when we need to take a break from it or what isn’t serving in our best interest. Perhaps we might need to unfollow someone who brings us negative emotions or someone who we compare against all the time. If we’re on the receiving end of an unfollow or an unfriend, don’t cling to it and jump to conclusions; have compassion for that person.
The most important thing with social media, I believe, is to protect our minds from it. There is an overwhelming constant influx of information and content, there’s less barriers to form a connection with someone and there’s always the risk of placing our entire sense of being and self-worth into it. So we need to be compassionate to ourselves and our minds. This way, we can reap the benefits of social media, co-exist with it peacefully and minimise its potential downfalls.