You have to love social media. The whole concept: instant communication, round-the-clock connection, ease of use, the speed at which messages spread… What else could you ask for?
It has never been easier to get your message across and to connect with brands and people. We have an opportunity to change the world, build movements, and incite social change without leaving the room. We have an opportunity to reach billions of people with Internet access — 3.48, to be more exact — coming from different social, economic, geographical, political, cultural, and other backgrounds. We can do all that with just a few simple clicks.
A mere 50 years ago, this was simply unimaginable.
And yet, social media also has its downsides: instant communication, round-the-clock connection, ease of use, the speed at which messages spread… When does all of this become too much?
The reasons why we love and use social media are also the reasons why we struggle with it; or to put it more precisely, why we struggle to keep up with it.
As human beings, our brains were not designed to comprehend so much information and respond to the never-ending amount of daily triggers and notifications. Think about it. Technology is evolving faster than our brains’ ability to adapt to it. As Albert Einstein pointed out decades ago, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” Nowadays, new lines of laptops, smartphones, tables, and other gadgets are rolling out faster than ever. And with each new line or model, there are more new things to learn, adapt to, and respond to. According to Moore’s Law, first observed in 1965 by Intel Co-Founder Gordon Moore, the processing power of computers doubles every two years. This means that every two years technology becomes twice as fast and twice as powerful. In comparison, it took the human brain about 100,000 years to develop into what it is today; and yet, it’s still considered to be 110 million times slower than a modern computer.
As we continue to grow more and more reliant on social media for our daily communication, maintaining interpersonal relationships, and building online brands, it has become apparent that the line between reliance and dependence is a thin one. As many as 92% of smartphone owners say they use their mobile phones “always” or “often”, even when spending one-on-one time with their friends or family. In the US, for instance, an average mobile phone and social media user checks their phone about 52 times per day and sends more than 100 text messages a day.
Sounds a little crazy when you put it in numbers, doesn’t it?
Stats like these invite questions about the potential negative consequences of social media.
The pressure to respond to numerous notifications may lead to developing an addiction to our phones and experiencing nomophobia, or the feeling of panic or anxiety when one is left without or unable to use his/her mobile phone. Other sources suggest that social media can create an ‘overwhelming pressure’ to succeed, compare your life to others, and develop a crippling fear of missing out, popularly known as FOMO, which results in a cocktail of social anxiety and depression. In fact, more and more studies suggest that, while social media has made us more densely connected and networked as ever, its global adoption has prompted huge concerns over the relationship between its use and our mental well being. From Facebook envy to Instagram addiction to Snapchat dysmorphia, it has not been easy to navigate the world of social media for an average user anymore.
When you’re a social media manager, that pressure is even higher.
Just over the past year, Instagram alone has introduced 20+ new features that social media managers are all expected to learn and integrate into their digital strategies ASAP. Facebook has been turning heads with new updates, too. Then there’s new social media platforms popping up like mushrooms after the rain: Vero, Tik Tok, Lasso, Line, Kik… How do you keep up?
In today’s article, I’m offering 6 useful tips on how to stay sane while still staying in control of your social media game. Whether you’re a social media manager or someone who might be managing a business and social media accounts at the same time, these tips will help you take a critical look at how you use social media and ultimately feel at least a little less overwhelmed.
Social Media and Mental Health:
6 Survival Tips for Social Media Managers
1. Don’t multitask
Multitasking seems like a great way to get a lot of things done. How many times have you tried answering DMs on Instagram, checking your Facebook insights, analyzing your social media traffic on Google Analytics, editing photos, and answering emails all at once? I know, too many times to count.
But while it might seem like you’re accomplishing many things at once, research actually shows that our brains are not as good at handling multiple tasks as we’d like to think.
In fact, researchers suggest that multitasking reduces productivity by as much as 40%.
The reason why that happens is that, when you make your brain do, say, two things at once, it divides and dedicates only one-half of its gray matter to each task. So unwillingly, you’re actually doing half of the job on each task and ultimately accomplishing less overall. (Funny thing: as I was writing this paragraph, I was also responding to a message on Slack and stealing biscuits from a colleague’s desk.)
The brain can’t effectively deal with more than two tasks at once as it has only two hemispheres available for task management. So if you’re a triple-, quadruple-, or quintuple-task juggler, you either will forget some of your tasks or make multiple errors, research says. It also takes over 20 minutes for your brain to fully re-immerse itself in a task once it’s been interrupted. So think about how often you barely even get warmed up before you quit!
On top of that, multitasking literally drains the energy reserves of your brain, leaving you more tired than you should be. Every time you switch to another activity, it uses up oxygenated glucose in the brain, which is the fuel your brain needs to focus on a task and successfully complete it. That’s why, more often than not, you find yourself feeling exhausted from the many things you try to accomplish during the work day, even if they are “small things”.
The solution is quite simple: stop multitasking, set aside dedicated time chunks for each separate activity, and take breaks.
Studies have found that people who take 15-minute breaks every couple of hours actually end up being more productive. Note that those breaks must allow your mind to empty, so whether you take a little walk, mindlessly stare out of the window, or meditate, the goal of your break should be to take a break from information consumption. This means no checking your Facebook.
2. Unfollow accounts that don’t spark joy
If you’re an active social media user, it’s easier than ever to start comparing your life to the seemingly perfect lives of Instagram influencers or even just get lost in the bottomless rabbit hole that is your feed and your Stories lineup.
But try to remember that most of that is just noise. And most of that noise neither serves you nor feeds you. In the words of Marie Kondo, if it doesn’t spark joy, get rid of it. There’s a lot of power in that unfollow button, and you’ll be surprised how refreshingly short and more powerful your feed will feel once you clean it up a bit. You’ll also be likely to find that there’s less need or urge to check up on our your social once you follow less people.
If you don’t want to or can’t unfollow anyone, there’s an alternative solution: the mute button. Mute those accounts that don’t inspire you, post 10 million Stories in a row (You know who I’m talking about!), and simply don’t contribute anything of substance to your life. I promise you won’t miss out on anything. Who cares what Jane from highschool is up to, where Katie is getting married, and what the name of that Yet Another Weight Loss Tea is.
Intake content that contributes to your own mission and vision, so that you don’t clutter your brain with bunch of content that doesn’t serve you but takes up a lot of your mental bandwidth.
3. Stop being so hooked on likes
Do you remember how your life changed on February 9, 2009?
I don’t. And yet, my life (and yours) changed completely.
February 9, 2009, marks the date when Facebook introduced the Like button, a completely innocent thing that turned out to turn the world to craze. Upon its introduction, YouTube followed up with a like/dislike format in 2010. Instagram, which launched the same year, came with a pre-made heart-shaped button. Twitter adopted the same things in 2015, and even LinkedIn has positive, celebratory reaction buttons now.
This simple invention is probably the most ingenious way to satisfy our need for social validation but it’s also keeping us hooked on social media by creating the urge to come back for more, refresh your feed, and count likes time and time again.
In fact, the design of social media platforms has adopted quite a lot from slot machines in casinos.
The same build-up of anticipation when you pull the lever on the slot machine — will I win or not? — happens when, say, when you open Instagram and it takes a few moments to refresh and load new content in your feed. Are there any new likes? Any new updates? While it only lasts a few mili-seconds, without this expectation social media feeds would feel too predictable and, therefore, less rewarding. The delay isn’t the app loading — it’s the spinning wheel of the slot machine.
The solution? Rethink your position in the like economy.
Likes are a vanity metric, and it’s the quality of your interactions that matter, not likes. Every time you’re getting that little hit from likes, try to be aware of it. Being mindful of the reasons behind our emotional responses is already half the job done.
Instagram, for example, is already experimenting with removing public likes from feeds in an effort to create a more meaningful user experience on the platform. It’s probably a matter of time before other platforms follow suit, so why bother obsessing over them? Chasing likes is so 2017!
4. Be aware of the triggers
While likes might be hijacking the human mind, they’re not the only ones that do so.
Another piece of human psychology exploited by social platforms is that of social reciprocity: When someone you follow likes your content, you feel the pressure to like theirs, too. When someone sends you a message and you know they know you’ve read it, you feel the pressure to respond. This self-imposed pressure combined with the convenient alerts and notifications that nudge you when someone reacts to your message (think: Instagram DMs) relentlessly encourage you to check back up on the conversation.
Another attention trigger in private messaging are the three little dots that appear while someone you’re chatting with is typing their message.
You can see this everywhere. On Instagram:
And even LinkedIn:
This feature is designed to get you not to exit the conversation, wait until you get a response, and ultimately spend more time on one of these platforms. In most cases, it’s impossible to turn this feature off.
In addition to getting hooked on likes and pressured by social reciprocity, there’s another insidious form of social media manipulation: the notifications.
Justin Rosenstein, the co-creator of the Facebook like button, says: “The vast majority of push notifications are just distractions that pull us out of the moment. They get us hooked on pulling our phones out and getting lost in a quick hit of information that could wait for later, or doesn’t matter at all.” On average, we get 46 push notifications per day on our phones. And yet, the reaction rate to push notification (i.e., the rate at which we actually tap on all the notifications we get ) is only 7.8%.
In other words, we’re constantly getting distracted by things we hardly even care about.
The solution? Disable as many notifications as you can — especially when you’re at work and before you go to bed at night.
If you’re an iPhone user, go to Settings → Screen Time → Last 7 Days → Notifications.
Here, you’ll be able to see how many notifications you get per day (I get about a hundred.) and which apps fire them out the most. More importantly, you’ll be able to decide whether you want to allow all of these notifications to continue being sent or not. Really think about what kinds of notifications are worth your attention and time when you’re focusing on work or enjoy your downtime. A change as simple as this can make a big difference.
For Android, go to Settings → Sound & Notification → App notifications. There, tap the app you want to mute and then tap the toggle for Block, which will stop pushing notifications for this app.
5. Browse mindfully and have a purpose every time
While social media is often criticized for its potential adverse effects on mental health, quite a few studies have found that what matters the most at the end of the day is how we use social media. Being a passive Facebook scroller, for example, is reported to lead to a decrease in well-being and an increase in feelings of envy. On the other hand, users who actively post and comment (or otherwise spend their time using the platform instead of simply being on it) report improved well-being. So while social media does have an inherent potential to impact our mental health negatively, we often exacerbate this by not being mindful and purposeful about how, when, and for how long we use our favorite social networks.
How we engage with technology matters. How we use social media matters.
Next time you have the urge to check a social network, ask yourself what’s the purpose of it. If it’s just an urge to see whether that girl you follow has posted a new Story from the trendy new restaurant she went to, that’s not really a purpose. That’s a waste of your time and an unnecessary emotional trigger you can do without. If you don’t have a purpose
Direct your intent to active contribution. Only log in to the platform when you have a specific goal in mind. Want to post something? Perfect. But post with a purpose. Want to interact? Perfect, as long as you set aside a specific time chunk when you actively engage and comment. However, you feel that, when you log in and scroll through your feed, there’s nothing you want to engage with or comment on, revisit Point 2 and Marie Kondo your feed.
You spend a significant amount of time on social media, so why not make it count?
In addition to that, be mindful with what you interact with.
The algorithms are designed to keep you interested in the content that’s presented to you, so they watch your every move and show you more of what you’re already looking at. So if you keep checking your ex boyfriend’s Facebook, you will continue to see his content over and over again. But if you become more intentional and selective about what you give your likes and clicks to, the algorithm will work in your favour and serve you better content that feeds your mind — instead of depleting it.
6. Reduce the use
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve surely heard about Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (aka AOC), the youngest woman ever to serve in the U.S. Congress. The 29-year-old politician is a true social media phenomenon, and that’s in large part due to the fact that she’s actually is really, really good at it. She could beat anyone at Twitter, and her Instagram game is spotless, and she surely knows a thing or two about Facebook.
But while it may seem that being on social media is her second job, AOC admitted recently that she had given up Facebook entirely and tries to avoid Twitter and Instagram on the weekends.
“I personally gave up Facebook, which was kind of a big deal because I started my campaign on Facebook. And Facebook was my primary digital organization tool for a very long time. […] Every once in a while, you’ll see me hop on Twitter on the weekends, but for the most part, when it comes to consumption and reading, I take the weekends off,” she said.
If, like AOC, living and breathing social media is an essential part of your job, it makes sense to give yourself a break from it on the weekends and to also establish time limits for yourself during the week. Studies show that limiting social media usage to 10 minutes per platform per day has a significant impact on well-being, which may lead to a decline in feelings of loneliness and depression.
So what can you do?
For starters, you can start tracking how much time you spend on social media overall.
Instagram makes doing that super easy. Go to Your Activity, and you’ll see how much time you spend on the app on average, complete with a weekly breakdown. If you tap on a specific day, you can see exactly how much time you had spent on Instagram on that particular day. Then, tap on Set Daily Reminder, select how much time you’re willing to give to Instagram on a daily basis, and you’ll receive a notification every time you reach that limit. At that point, you’ll be able to choose between continuing to scroll or putting your phone down. (I recommend the latter.)
However, not all social media platforms have that option. In that case, you can track the rest of them on your iPhone. Go to the Screen Time feature I mentioned above, and you’ll find a breakdown of how much time you spend on your social apps. From here, you can set time limits for each app you use.
On top of that, you can set some social media rules for yourself, like not using any social apps after 7pm on workdays and not using them at all on Sundays. It’s all about establishing a healthy balance!
What can also help you reduce compulsive social media use is switching your phone display to black and white. By removing all color from the pretty little icons that pull you in every time you unlock your screen, you reduce your phone’s ability to grab and hold your attention.
For iPhone, you can do this if you go to Settings → General → Accessibility → Display Accommodations → Color Filters. For Android users, go to the Power Saving Mode in your Settings and switch it on. This should change your screen display from color to black and white.
Finally, there’s yet another, arguably more powerful, way to reduce the amount of time you spend on social media: deleting all social apps from your phone and reinstalling them again, once you actually have to use them.
This way, the next time when those Friday after work drinks come, for example, instead of staring at your phone you’ll be able to enjoy the company of your friends and colleagues — you know you’ve earned it.
There are always two sides to every coin, and social media is no exception. Social media has many obvious benefits, but it can easily become detrimental to your well-being if you’re not mindful of how you use it.
At times, we tend to forget that social media is meant to be social. It’s meant to connect with other people, not lose ourselves in feeds and letting likes and notifications get the best of us. At the end of the day, it’s our own responsibility to take care of our digital health — so why not start today?