SHELDON SMITH Communications Advisor, CIPR Communications
On June 30, 2010, Mashable launched Social Media Day as a way to recognize and celebrate social media’s impact on global communication. Today, social media is the heart of global communication, and we want to celebrate that!
As a communicator who uses social media regularly, both for work and personal, I wanted to share some tips on being mindful while living life online.
Mindfulness is the act of being present and engaged with what’s happening around you, without distraction. For many, mindfulness is a work in progress, myself included, but I also know of its power and benefits. Do you take the time to reflect on your daily activities (or habits) and ask yourself “is this what I truly want to be doing right now?”? Social media has the tendency to distract us from the present, making way for missing out on the real world. In so many ways, it can breed the opposite of mindfulness, the opposite of being present.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever mindlessly scrolled through your various social media feeds, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or the myriad of ways that we can connect when you have a few spare minutes, or when you just need a quick mental break? Have you ever done any of the following: check social media first thing in the morning lying in bed? Is it the last thing you do before going sleep at night? We’ve all been guilty of this! How can you replace mindlessness with mindfulness in your everyday life when there are so many shiny (and backlit) distractions?
The advent and rapid ascension of social media in the past decade has brought the world together in ways people never thought possible. Heck, I still remember the days without internet, having to call up a friend on the phone, politely ask their parents if you could speak to them, and then have an actual conversation. The sound of dial-up internet, or yelling at someone in the house to get off the phone so you could fire up the internet to finish your homework? How time flies.
Has social media become a necessary evil in some ways? I like to think it has. As an introverted person, social media has provided me an avenue to communicate with people in ways that I am comfortable. It allows us to make new friendships and connections. From my own experience, in 2015 I was looped into a group chat on Twitter with three other people I interacted with on the site while talking about hockey. The conversation has since evolved into everything from life-in-general, relationships, personal and professional lives, and everything in between (sports included). It’s become a safe space for me in many ways and I confide feelings in there. I had never met any of them in person prior to the group chat. In those three years, we have arranged many hangouts watching games, going for dinners when our schedules match up, recording podcasts, and now they’ve become good friends, who I’m so grateful for.
While there are positives, such as this story and countless others, there are also negative aspects to these mediums – cyber-bullying is a very real thing, and is often deeply hurtful to those targeted by it.
Any way you slice it, social media is addicting. We do it for the rush of dopamine to the brain – when someone ‘likes’ your Instagram or Facebook post, you get a retweet on Twitter, or you hope to go viral with a post, etc. We keep searching for that feeling and emotion, regardless if we are aware of it.
Social media has a real effect on one’s mood and mental health. It’s not surprising that we are seeing so many studies about how increased social media use triggers sadness, depression, anxiety, and many other mental health issues. People uncontrollably (and unconsciously) compare their lives to others, and it’s mentally unhealthy. We see someone get that new job, get engaged, start families, an ex-paramour happy in their new life, travelling the world, and so on. This feeling of comparison leads to jealousy and other emotions. While initiatives like #BellLetsTalk are great and bring more awareness to the stigmas surrounding mental health, EVERY DAY is mental health day. Learning how to be mindful of your time and engagements on social media are of utmost importance and something you can practice on a daily basis to help with your mental health.
10 ways you can practice mindfulness on social media and make your time more productive online:
- Swap your usual social media check-in times for some meditation moments. Make that time to do a five-minute breathing space. The app ‘Headspace’ has so many wonderful meditations that helps us be present with our thoughts and minds.
- If you are going to log on, settle in and set an intention for yourself. Setting an intention can make your time online more purposeful and can get you more out of the experience.
- Make an effort to be present in the moment. We often spend too much time trying to get the right framing for Instagram, or coming up with a good tweet, but these distract us from the people and moments that matter. Even taking a short walk a couple times during the day affords us a quick mental reset and we can come back refreshed and rejuvenated.
- Challenge yourself to be bored and awkward sometimes. Do your best to initially not pick up your phone. Be with yourself. You might be surprised about what you learn.
- When you’re online, genuinely ty to connect and listen mindfully the same way you would in person. When writing a post, think of who you want to be and how you want people to feel when they read the messages you give them. We affect whoever’s on the other side of it. Try to empathize with people. Remember, much like in life, we were taught ‘treat others how you want to be treated.’ This applies to social media, too.
- Take the time to clean up your timeline and feed. Unfollow people and pages that post things that have no relevance to your life, or who are always posting negative posts and content. Mute functions have helped with that for many people.
- When scrolling, try to practice non-judgment. Thinking negatively, even if you’ve chosen to not react or comment, has a negative impact on your mood.
- Try a day where you don’t use social media. I know, right? Hear me out: How about designating a day to do what makes you happy and have personal connections with a friend? Imagine that you’re on a hike, and always taking pictures and immediately posting an Instagram story. If you’re constantly sharing, are you really, truly living in the moment?
- When winding down for the day, curl up with a good book instead of checking the latest Facebook feeds. Books allow us to explore our minds, and personally, helps me fall asleep.
- If meeting friends for dinner or drinks, try and resist the urge to bring your phone and just enjoy your friends’ space. Alternatively, if you do have your phone on you, propose that everyone stack their phones on top of one another on table. The first person to check their phone picks up the tab.
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