Do you love social media but also hate it? Do you find yourself drawn to it, again and again, while a little voice in the back of your head is cautioning you that the time you are spending there is not so great for your emotional health?
I don’t think you need to give it up entirely and neither does Georgetown University psychologist Jelena Kecmanovic, an expert on the hazards of social media. She has offered some advice on how to lower the risks without sacrificing the real pleasure you sometimes get from it. I’ll tell you about her tips and add a few of my own.
First, here are Professor Kecmanovic’s suggestions.
#1 Commit to times when you will not use social media.
Kecmanovic feels strongly that you should not let social media disturb your sleep. Keep your phone and computer out of your bedroom. She also suggests that you turn off your notifications or your phone when you are interacting with friends and family face-to-face. Also try to minimize social media distractions when you are working.
#2 Take a break.
Give yourself some time off from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or whatever sites you use. Vacations are great times for leaving social media behind, but you can choose any time at all to take a few days off. Tell your friends and family you are doing so — that will help you still to your resolution. If spending that much time away from those sites seems too challenging, you can instead try to limit your time to, say, 10 minutes a day.
#3 Study yourself so you learn what works best for you.
Pay attention to your feelings and reactions as you spend time on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Are you happier spending shorter stretches of time there, then switching to something else? Are there certain times of day when those platforms seem to make you miserable? Professor Kecmanovic has found that people typically enjoy social media more when they actively engage there, posting and responding to posts, rather than just passively scrolling through other people’s content. If that’s true for you, too, then stay involved when you do visit your favorite social media sites.
#4 Do you head to social media when you want to avoid something else? Admit it, then stop.
If there is something you are dreading doing, how do you cope? Some people head to the refrigerator, others to social media. Maybe you should just do what you have to do and get it over with. I’ll add another suggestion — do it, and then use some time on social media as your reward.
#5 Unfollow the people, contacts, and groups that annoy you.
Sometimes what we get from social media is useful, such as news and helpful information. But other stuff is just annoying or tedious or even infuriating. If there are particular people or groups or organizations that are high on the aggravation factor, get rid of them. Delete them, block them, unfollow them — do whatever you have to do.
#6 Don’t let social media become a substitute for seeing people in person.
Social media can be great for keeping up with people you can’t see in person, perhaps because they live too far away. It can also be a very convenient way of staying in touch with people who would be easier to see in person. That’s fine up to a point, but don’t let your interactions on social media replace the time you spend with people face-to-face. Tweeting really isn’t the same as talking.
And now, a few other suggestions:
#7 Don’t feed the trolls.
Some people deliberately try to provoke and inflame. They are not on the platforms in good faith, to have constructive exchanges. They are the trolls. Want to fight back? They are there to get your attention, so do the opposite — ignore them.
#8 Scroll past the content that annoys or angers or bores you.
Even if you have blocked or deleted or unfollowed the most irritating contacts, you will probably still find posts that bother you. Instead of engaging with that sort of content, just scroll past it.