Most of us are familiar with social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It’s easy to get caught up in the virtual social world. You may feel instantly connected to people you haven’t spoken to in years. Hours of our time can be spent witnessing our friends’ family vacations, children’s momentous occasions, birthdays, weddings and even difficult life transitions such as divorce, sickness and deaths.
Social networking relationships can have a positive emotional effect. However, numerous studies have been conducted and articles written linking social networking to depression and social isolation, eliciting feelings of envy, insecurity and poor self-esteem. On the contrary, other studies indicate that social media sites can be positive for people struggling with social anxiety and depression.
With all these conflicting reports, it may be wise to understand our own personal reasons for using social networking sites. We may wish to evaluate whether our use of these sites is helping or hindering our sense of connection and our overall emotional health. Once we understand our underlying psychological needs for thse sites, we can adjust our expectations of them.
For example, if we are using these sites to build friendships, it’s important to be aware of their limitations in order to avoid disappointment. When we find ourselves feeling left out, inadequate, irritable or jealous after reading stories or viewing photos of our friends’ activities, we can assume our cyber-relationships are not meeting our emotional needs.
Viewing a friend’s vacation pictures and posts will not be as gratifying as having the chance to talk to our friend about his or her vacation in person or even during a telephone conversation. After all, most social networking users will not post vacation pictures and stories that convey the difficult moments they might have had on their vacation. Having a balanced perspective and realistic expectations about social media networking can prevent feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, depression and social comparisons.
It is also important to assess the quality of our nonvirtual relationships. This can be done by taking a hard look at the amount of actual time we spend with the people who are important to us. It is difficult, if not impossible, to replace the feelings of connection that manifest from having personal, genuine relationships. This is not to say that social networking is all bad or that our relationships from these sites are not genuine. Instead, it is important to keep in mind their limitations so we can adjust our expectations accordingly.
Below are a few tips to help you balance virtual relationships and “real-time” relationships:
- Ask yourself why you are using social networking sites.
Is it to build relationships, for professional networking purposes, to connect to old friends or to stay connected to those that live far away? Once you determine what you are looking for, you can set realistic goals.
- Limit your time on social networking sites.
This will help control the amount of time you are spending in the virtual world.
- Send texts or private messages.
If social networking sites cause you to feel disconnected, depressed or lonely, consider upping your interactions with people by sending them a private message or even a text message. This level of virtual communication is more personal and intimate than communicating in an open forum.
- Make sure to schedule time to see your friends and family beyond the virtual world.
Having positive, secure relationships is strongly associated with high levels of self-esteem and resiliency. It fosters feelings of connectedness and decreases depression and anxiety.
Social Media Signs image courtesy of Shutterstock.