Let’s start with a few questions.
How many times per week do you find yourself wishing that you had a better life, better friends, more invites and that you felt wanted in general? This question sounds cheesy, but I’ll risk it and ask another…
How many times per day do you check your phone for that little red number at the top corner of your Facebook, Instagram, or Youtube icons?
And one more question…
How many times per day do you call or visit a friend? How about even directly texting a friend?
If I took a guess, I would bet that your answers to the first two questions were at least double, if not triple the answer to the 3rd question. But don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Since the advent of social media and the capability of smart phones to host apps such as Facebook, Instagram, etc., more people have spent more time than ever before looking at a screen. Social media has made it possible to do things that were impossible before. For instance: visit a friend’s profile to see recent photos of their lives or their kids. Be reminded of, and tell someone happy birthday, start, and participate in up-to-date cultural discussions that you don’t have time for in real life. Social media connects us in ways that we as humans simply can’t replicate without it. In general, we are more easily connected to each other today. So why the big hype to put down our phones, get off Facebook, and interact with eachother (insert cringe), in person?
The general consensus today seems to say that we need to disconnect from these apps and reconnect with each other, and that by doing so, our lives would be better. But honestly, that sounds like the advice that our grandparents rattled off to most of us in a slightly irritated tone about using e-mail and how writing a letter is better somehow. Is it? I’m not so sure. Both an e-mail and a letter are methods of communication, one is typed and one is handwritten, but I’m not sure how one is much better than the other. Likewise, is communicating with people on Facebook somehow worse, or less authentic than talking in person, or on the phone? Turns out, that all depends on how you communicate and what about.
There has been a lot of research over the past 10 years about how social media affects us as social beings. And while most of us believe that social media is not great for us, the current research actually points to a different conclusion- one that really seems some what obvious. A systematic review was completed by JMIR Mental Health (Link https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5143470/) on papers written between 2005-2016 related to how social media usage affected those diagnosed with Anxiety and Depression. The results showed that positive social media experiences were correlated with less severe anxiety and depression, while negative experiences were correlated with these illnesses being more poorly controlled. The main experiences that were correlated were- how connected the user felt to their social media friends, how supported they felt by their friends, and how positively they interacted on social media with those friends.
So there you have it! You don’t need to delete your Instagram app! If used in a positive way, social media can be good for connecting us to each other in a healthy way. So, if you get joy out of chatting with your friends and sharing funny cat videos on social media, then go for it! Just make sure to keep most of your interactions positive. Maintaining good relationships and feeling connected, and supported are important to our mental health after all! Here are six unspoken rules to follow for having great social media and real world friendships.
One: Don’t ONLY use social media to talk to your friends– call or visit at least half as often as you like their posts- will go a long way towards connecting you deeper. Make the time to call someone back and be present in their life, it matters.
Two: Be careful with posting very controversial memes or discussion topics– this is a tricky one, because as adults we should be able to have any discussion without bloodshed, but we can’t. Don’t post things that invite an argument. You’ll ostracize people who you actually care about all over a difference in opinion. That’s not to say that you can’t post things that you care deeply about, but don’t do it in an negative and aggressive manner.
Three: Constantly looking at others photos and comparing yourself to them. This is a biggie. If you are mad at your family, and to escape you go on Instagram and look at Molly McPerfect’s beautiful family photos, you will notice how all of her children are clean and look so happy, it will do nothing for your mood. I guarantee that before that perfect photo was taken and posted that she had to tell her four year old to stop liking his sister’s head and her 10 year old was rolling her eyes. Her. Family. Is. Not. Perfect. You only see people at their best, and with their most well thought out captions. This is not real life. You are you, and you do you best.
Four: Checking your phone constantly for messages, new posts and likes. Feeling connected doesn’t require us to be constantly connected. If you are checking on your social media sites every couple minutes, you may need to ask yourself why. Are you looking for approval? Are you needing to talk about something? If so, call a friend or your sister. Go get what you need, don’t look to social media to fulfill your specific need.
Five: Holding or checking your phone while hanging out with other people. This one doesn’t need much explanation. Its rude, and it makes people feel that they are not as important as your Facebook feed, which only ruins your chance at deeper connection with that person. Don’t do it.
Six: Airing your dirty laundry online- I guarantee that most of your friends don’t want to read that your boyfriend was sleeping around and that you threw his stuff on the front lawn and the police had to be called but that it was all his fault. You may get some sympathizers, but I bet you’ll get a lot more people defriend you if you post things similar to this enough. It’s obnoxious and makes you look just as stupid as you are trying to make your boyfriend look.
So for all you social media butterflies out there, no need to worry that you are somehow hurting yourself by maintaining online friendships. But remember, keeping it positive when you are online is key, and following these five guidelines will help you thrive socially both online and in person- which will make you feel more connected than ever before!