We are in a busy and media-saturated , pop-culture obsessed culture! We love checking in with Facebook, Instagram, and Periscope because we can keep up with our real and virtual friends on all that they are doing, literally every second of the day. And, if we are being honest with ourselves, we hate checking in with Facebook, Instagram and Periscope for these same reasons. There is something appealing about being able to keep up with our favorite celebrities, down to their sweaty selfies and even the veggies they had for dinner. We know that we are not true friends with them, but why does it feel satisfying to know the specifics about where they are and what they are doing? We know it's a little creepy, yet we can't help ourselves!
For many clients I have worked with, we have recognized that social media use has contributed to some negative side effects, including negative body image, depressed mood, lack of self care, and low self esteem. We can also experience a FOMO-attitude, that is, the 'fear of missing out' since well, our entire Facebook friend list seems to be going on vacations, hanging with their kids (happily, of course!), having date nights, getting their workout on, making money, losing weight, and always having fun (why aren't we?)! Due to these reasons, it is important to identify if excessive time on social media sites, popular magazines, or on various apps are truly fulfilling you, or simply filling your time. Here are three signs that it may be time to push the log off button and shut down your devices:
1. We feel depressed after reading celebrity news stories. The Summer of 2015 has been dubbed the year of the divorce. It seems as though all our favorite celebrities have been getting divorced, from Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck to Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert to Miss Piggy and Kermit (I kid). If you have heard about these stories and felt a sense of discouragement about your own marriage (or even the concept of marriage), it may be time to take a step back from social media news. Although, I do have to assert, it appears as though Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux are bucking this trend (for now!)!
This type of emotional response can be viewed as an over-personalization and over-identification to a situation. When something happens to someone else that we do not personally know, but we notice ourselves harboring feelings like anger, disappointment, and rejection, we may be a little too immersed into their virtual reality. What can we do about it? Pay attention to how social media sources are contributing to your mood and attitudes. If you notice that you have specific reactions and mood shifts after hearing, reading or seeing celebrity news stories, it may be helpful to remind yourself that their reality does not actually impact you and invite a deliberate (though imaginary) separation between you and the media.
2. We constantly feel bad about our body size and shape. We know that celebrity and social media culture is obsessed with image, many not grounded in reality. We have unlimited capabilities to manipulate physical images, including quick phone App filters, Photoshop and free online programs. This does not even consider the actual manipulations that can take place through plastic surgery and special makeup. However, when we look at a picture, we might begin to dissatisfied, down, and depressed about our physical appearance. This body dissatisfaction puts us at an increased risk for disordered eating patterns and excessive physical exercise. As we try to attain certain body ideals, we begin dieting and over-exercising to meet our goals. The challenging aspect about this cycle is that we become unable to gauge our progress, thus feeling constantly disappointed in how we look and even if we do make progress in losing weight or working out, it still does change how we feel on the inside.
If you are someone who experiences body shame and excessive guilt about your physical appearance after viewing online images, including advertisements, Instagram posts or celebrity stories, it may be time to evaluate whether time spent in these outlets are helping or hurting your self esteem. If it seems as though time spent on social media contributes to a negative mood and feeling badly about your current body or life situation, it may be necessary to identify which social media sources you will keep and which ones need to be discarded. For example, many of my clients only follow Instagram accounts that uplift and inspire them. When we eliminate the negative from our physical and virtual space, we will create more space for feeling good and participating in activities that empower us.
3. We have a hard time maintaining self-care. When we are constantly on social media, we have a hard time exiting from our virtual existence and participating in the physical reality that surrounds us. Some of these behaviors might include staying up extremely late scrolling through your Facebook feed, sleeping with your phone under your pillow, or constantly checking your phone during the day. When we are so distracted with our phones and social media, we are not going to be able to drive effectively, sleep soundly, engage meaningfully with others, enjoy conversations over coffee, watch our kids, focus on school or work, and participate in the present.
If these behaviors resonate with you, I would encourage you to think about one behavior you can change that will eliminate the temptation to log on and check your phone. For example, charging your Iphone in the kitchen at night so you are not tempted to grab it and get online at bedtime. Or, keeping your phone in a separate area when focusing on work or academics to it does not trigger you to check a status update. Finally, take off all notifications for your apps!
Overall, our problems with social media and pop culture are probably not going to get better anytime soon with the immersion of new Apps, such as Periscope, that provide live streaming and interaction in the moment. However, we can definitely manage our use in a more effective and healthy way. If you have found yourself identifying with some of the scenarios above, try not to be judgmental to yourself, though become more aware of your personal consequences to excessive social media engagement. And, we need to remind ourselves that what we often see is not reality, just virtual reality!
If you want more information about how to buffer against social media and cultural messages, please check out Dr. Machin's website. She offers coaching and consulting services, and is launching an e-course specifically for teens to help with navigating body image and social media called the #LoveYourSelfie Sisterhood. She also has an on-going monthly program for women called The Encouragement Café. You can also find up to date information and uplifting messages on Facebook and Instagram.