This is the time of year when you may be spending more time online—looking for great party ideas, sharing photos from your holiday gatherings, shopping and filling your additional down time with scrolling.
Social media and too much time online can overwhelm you with bad news, take you away from connections in real life and result in depression, anxiety and even burnout. But you can manage your time and make the best of what’s online—without letting it damage your wellbeing.
Spending time online isn’t all bad, but it can be terrible. Through online platforms you can find and reconnect with long lost friends, get creative ideas for your gifting or connect with fellow bird watchers.
Feeling Inferior. But spending time online can also be damaging—and one of the primary reasons is because you make comparisons against others, frequently coming up short yourself. A study by the University of Tennessee Chattanooga found 60% of respondents said they compare themselves to others online. And after using social media, 53% felt envious and 36% felt worried. The popular saying is true, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Feeling Disconnected. Another problem with time online is it can take you away from nurturing deeper connections. Spending time on social media scrolling, liking and commenting may feel like truly connecting, but it is like a meal of empty calories. If you eat nothing but candy, you’ll feel full but won’t get the nutrients you need for a healthy life. On social media, with tons of activity, you may feel like you’re connecting, but you aren’t necessarily getting to know people more deeply, developing trust or growing relationships with the people you can rely on in the middle of the night when you get a flat tire or when you are in the doldrums and need a listening ear.
Feeling Disheartened. Social media is also so much bad news. By spending too much time online, you’re marinating in the sound bites which get attention and fuel reactions—the negative updates or the pessimistic reports. Greater time online is correlated with higher levels of depression, anxiety and mental health problems largely because of the consumption of unhappy information.
The good news is you can manage your time online and get the most out of it without letting it drag you down.
It’s easy to say, but hard to do: Avoid comparing yourself with others. If you feel like you don’t measure up, remind yourself that what you’re seeing is highly curated with selected photos, great lighting or photo-shopped images. But also resist the conclusions that you’re somehow better than others. Coming out on top in a comparison makes you feel superior, but it also separates you from others. And when you lack openness and need to protect your image, it can get in the way of friendships, trust and feelings of connection—all of which cause reduced wellbeing.
Consider culling the list of people you follow. If you’re keeping up with others who cause you to feel inferior or who bring up emotions of regret or sadness, unfollow them. Focus on following accounts which are interesting, inspiring or energizingto you. And when you share, be authentic.
Another way you can manage your online use effectively is through your own choices and behavior. The primary way people learn is through watching, listening to and experiencing others, so your level of influence may be greater than you realize.
Avoid arguing with others online (you won’t change their minds anyway). Be positive, respectful and constructive in online forums. And be accountable for the way you express yourself—always remembering there’s another human on the other side of your device receiving your posts.
Your own constructive approach will set the tone for others in powerfully positive ways.
Use your time with your device, online and within social media intentionally. If you’re with your family and discussing koala bears, looking up more information can be a bonding activity. Or if you’re using your device for reading or learning something new, terrific.
But also consider setting a timer if you’re just scrolling through a platform—so you don’t trade off time when you could be grabbing coffee with a friend or going to the dog park with a neighbor. Reflect on why you’re spending time online and avoid escapism. Instead, take proactive steps to address issues you may be avoiding by scrolling endlessly.
Also consider your goals and use apps that help you achieve them. Perhaps you want to spend more time exercising and you love to read and learn new things. Listen to books or podcasts while you take your daily walk. Or watch shows while you’re on the treadmill at the club.
Use devices, apps and social media for your own ends, rather than letting them manage you.
Another way social media is damaging is based on algorithms that work too well. You’re supplied with a steady stream of viewpoints you already agree with and accounts which match your perspectives. But this can create an echo chamber where you get an inflated sense of your opinions’ importance and credence.
And it can get in the way of developing empathy with others who feel differently. It can also impede your ability to learn from fresh perspectives and even reduce your confidence because you don’t have the opportunity to test your own thinking or push back on yourself in productive ways.
Follow accounts which vary from your beliefs, so you can hear the other side of issues. Ask questions of people online and in real life to learn more about different ideas. Find out about how people’s experiences have led them to conclusions that are different from your own.
Also, find places where you can debate, dialogue and discuss issues in real life—where you have a greater opportunity to ask questions, listen deeply and learn about the nuance of issues. Seek out book clubs, discussion groups or interest groups in your community where you can get to know others. You might join a cycling club where you share your interest in the ride, but where you can debate political issues with a spirit of camaraderie.
Don’t mistake activity online for relationships. Seek out people with whom you can connect in real time and place. Use social media as the starting point for relationships, rather than the end. Leverage your neighborhood app to find people who want to form a knitting club, but then get together in person regularly. Build your professional network so you can find your next role, but be intentional about grabbing coffee with the handful of contacts who mean the most to you.
When you’re with people in person, put your device away and be fully present. With everything coming at people today, attention is the most scarce resource. So when you’re paying attention, demonstrating empathy and putting energy into a relationship, it is precious time.
Feeling connected with others is one of the surest paths to fulfillment and happiness, and when you’re truly with others, you’re building positive experiences for them and for yourself.
The best technology works in service to people, not the other way around. Unfortunately, today people are too often at the mercy of pings, dings and likes. But you can manage your use of devices, apps and online resources to create positive, rather than negative experiences.
Reflect on your goals, remind yourself of your value and invest in relationships with people in real life—and you’ll feel the payoff during this season and throughout the year.