Ok boomers (and youngsters), let’s talk about the truth about social media. One of the biggest myths out there is that social media is making you depressed. In fact, people are losing their minds because Instagram just announced they’re removing public likes from the platform in order to help people with their mental health. In order to fully explain why this is all ridiculous, I’d have to write a 10-page paper, but we don’t got that kind of time. I’m going to explain my experience, what the science actually says and what you can do to not allow social media to ruin your life.
Why? Because it’s the 21st century and thinking that we’re going to move backward in time and get rid of social media entirely is silly. So, once we understand what’s actually going on, we can start using social media mindfully and improve our mental health.
My Social Media Mental Breakdown
In March of 2019, I was canceled . A lot of it was my fault, and it’s something I don’t wish on my worst enemy. I had thousands upon thousands of strangers coming at me on social media, and holy shit was I not prepared for what it was going to do to my mental health. Like an ignorant idiot, I saw other people go through this, and I thought, “Pffffffft. Who cares? Just get through it.” But, that was as dumb as me watching professional firefighters battle the flames in California and think, “Pfffffft. I could do that!”
When I’m in a downward spiral of mental health, I go at it like a lunatic researcher looking for answers. I needed to figure out what to do. So, the first thing I did was take a social media break for a week. I took all of the apps off my phone from YouTube, to Twitter, to Facebook and Instagram. I told my girlfriend to not even tell me what was going on with these platforms because I needed to cleanse.
There are some people who are even more extreme like John Green who took an entire year off social media.
During my time off, I picked up a book called by Cal Newport. It is an excellent book, and Cal specializes in helping people focus and get rid of distractions. The book was fascinating, and he references a lot of people throughout history who accomplished great things by learning how to get rid of all of the distractions and be comfortable in silence.
As someone who makes part of my living on social media, it’s a little tricky to go full-on digital minimalist. He offered some great tips like using the Freedom app, which is pretty nifty and allows you to set up times where your computer, tablet and smartphone block you from certain websites and apps. For example, if you’re spending too much of your day on Twitter, you can give yourself certain time slots during the day where you can check Twitter, and then it kicks you off after a certain time.
I was reluctant to try it, but I did for a few months, and it was helpful. For me, I just don’t like things like this for the long-term. My personal belief is that if we need tools to help us in the beginning, cool, but I don’t want to live a life where I have to shield myself from everything because I have no self-control.
I am happy to say that it is 6 months later, and I’ve been pretty good about my social media habits since everything went down. I always justified my social media usage because I get a lot of work done, but I was still wasting a ton of time and consuming a lot of useless information. Today, social media apps are back on my phone, but I’m able to limit my use without the help of the Freedom app for the most part. Every now and then, I get caught up in some social media nonsense, but it’s nothing like it was before.
Bad Science and Social Media
There are so many stories that we believe as a culture that are either false or just overblown exaggerations. The only reason we believe them is because they’re believable enough to keep sharing the stories. As these stories are repeated, it turns into contagion where people blindly believe what they’re told without doing any of their own individual research.
The hysteria over checking your kids’ Halloween candy for razor blades and drugs was an overblown story from decades ago. Dozens of news organizations discussed how beach tourism plummeted the summer after Jaws came out in theaters, but there’s zero evidence of that. A common belief among parents is that sugar makes your kids hyperactive, and this has been proven to be false as well.
I can go on and on, but you get the point.
Another story that’s gained a lot of traction is how social media is making you depressed, and this has even created the narrative that screen time is making kids depressed, anxious, anti-social and a bunch of other terrible things. How’d that happen? Well, it happened because of a book called iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood — and What That Means for the Rest of Us by Jean Twenge (and yes. That’s the full title. The full, sensational title that’s putting fear into the hearts of parents everywhere.)
Although Dr. Twenge had good intentions with her book, she’s a prime example of why we need peer-reviewed studies and why we can’t just blindly believe anyone who has a Ph.D. While she does have some accurate information in her book, a lot of what she wrote in that book doesn’t hold up to scientific scrutiny.
I’ve read over 50 books this year, and quite a few of them dive into the bad science Dr. Twenge used for her book iGen, but nevertheless, the bell has already been wrung.
Why does this matter? The same reason the kids eating sugar myth matters. In the studies about giving kids sugar, parents were told their kids were given sugar (they weren’t), and the parents were more likely to say their kids were more hyper than usual, and the parents were more irritated with their child’s behavior when they thought the kid had sugar. This is a problem.
I’m a parent, and being a parent is hard as hell. Not only do we want to believe we have the perfect kid, but we want to believe we’re the perfect parent. The problem is that when we live with these kinds of blinders on, we’re not being the best parents, and we’re not raising the best kids. Rather than taking responsibility for our parenting (or lack of parenting), we easily believe the myths about sugar or how screen time is making our kids act the way they are acting.
Why blame ourselves when we can blame sugar and screens?
“It’s not that I work too much and neglect my child at the end of an exhausting day…it’s because he’s on that damn tablet too much!”
Not only does this misconception make us miss what’s really going on with our kids, but it has the same effect on us as adults. Are social media companies making billions of dollars by figuring out ways to get you hooked on social media? Of course, but the only reason that works is that we have some other stuff going on inside us that we need to figure out.
What’s the Actual Science Say?
I don’t know if you’ve heard of Gary Vaynerchuk, but not only is he a multimillionaire, but he’s built an empire through social media. Within about 5 minutes of watching a Gary Vee keynote, you can tell that this dude is genuinely happy. He loves life more than most people you or I know.
If social media was making people depressed, Gary would have been diagnosed with clinical depression years ago, so what gives?
An excellent book that came out this year is Hivemind by Dr. Sarah Rose Cavanagh. I came across her book when I was really trying to understand the psychology behind groupthink, and this book is one of the best ones I’ve read on the subject. Sarah specializes in studying emotional regulation and many other aspects of psychology and human nature. In the early days of her research, she wanted to understand why some people develop PTSD from certain events and others don’t.
Why did some people develop PTSD from 9–11 and others didn’t? Why do some people come back from war with PTSD and others don’t? How come some sexual assault survivors have a more difficult time with recovery than others?
This is a great question that I’ve always wondered as well, and Sarah has answers. Not only does she have answers about PTSD, but she also has answers as to why social media is making some people miserable while others are thriving.
Some people are just more susceptible to social media affecting their mental health.
I highly recommend you read her book, but I’ll discuss one risk factor that she brings up. They’ve done research that proves that people who are more prone to social comparison are more likely to be negatively affected by social media. This is important because if you’re constantly comparing yourself to others, social media isn’t the problem. You can delete all the apps you want, but you’re still going to be depressed because you’re constantly trying to keep up with the Joneses.
I also recommend you start watching Gary Vee because somehow he was born with this knowledge and talks about it regularly. He is regularly telling people not to compare themselves to others, and the more I learn about the psychology behind all this stuff, the more I realize Gary is this natural phenomenon with the way he thinks.
But if you need more help than just Gary giving you real talk through his social posts, I suggest you give therapy a try . My therapist, my mentors and my support group are great at reminding me to focus on my own race and not anyone else’s.
Clean Up Your Timeline
As you’ve learned, this is a complex subject, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for your social media habits. Personally, I think social media is one of the greatest gifts we’ve ever received. We can connect with people all over the world, and we can find people who are interested in the same things we are. Not only that, but we can easily find others who understand exactly what we’re going through and truly see that we’re never alone.
To get down to the root causes of what’s going on with you, I highly suggest therapy. If you don’t have the resources to get therapy, I recommend reading books like Hivemind or Indistractable by Nir Eyal. I also want to leave you with one final suggestion that has helped me immensely, which is simply cleaning up my social media timelines.
Something we can start working on today is being more intentional with our social media usage. Rather than mindlessly scrolling, actually read the posts and ask ourselves one simple question: Does this person bring value to my life?
It’s honestly that simple. I wish I could put into words how much this has improved my mental health and social media usage. I don’t know about you, but I was following so much garbage on social media. It’s like being a hoarder. When I finally started paying attention to who I was following and what type of posts they make, I was like, “Why in God’s name am I following this person?”
I guarantee that there are people you follow on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube who aren’t making your life any better. They’re constantly in drama, or they’re doing nothing but complaining about how awful life is. Ask yourself, “Is this person making me better or worse?”
On a daily basis, I’m unfollowing dozens of people and unsubscribing from channels on YouTube. I’ve never watched that show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix, but I imagine it’s a lot like that. Get rid of the people on your feed who aren’t bringing you joy.
Now, trust me, I know how butt-hurt people can get when you unfollow them or unfriend them on Facebook. The holidays are coming up, and the last thing you need is Uncle Jimmy ruining dinner by freaking out on you for not being his friend on Facebook.
So, if you think that person might lose their mind if you unfollow or unfriend them, just mute them. On Facebook and Twitter, you can mute people or just unfollow their posts. This way, you’ll still be following them, but your timeline won’t be cluttered with their nonsense.
Anyways, as I said, I can talk about this subject all day long, but I just wanted to give you some insight into the myth about social media and screen time. Just be more mindful of how you use the platforms, and you’ll be fine.
I’ll leave you with a quote I’m going to butcher from one of my old meditation teachers:
Social media is a tool like a knife. In the hands of a skilled chef, she can make a delicious meal. In the hands of someone not paying attention, he’ll chop his finger off.
If you’re looking for affordable therapy from the comfort of your own home, I personally use BetterHelp online therapy. I have a badass therapist, and I highly recommend this easy-to-use service. By clicking here to sign up, it helps support the work I do as well.
Originally published at https://www.therewiredsoul.com on November 11, 2019.