Balancing social media and real-life connections

How to make your social media more fulfilling
Much has been written about the hazards of social media. For some of us, it can become an all-consuming addiction. But there are ways to navigate your favorite social platforms that enhance your real-life relationships. Social media can bring people together when it is healthy and well-integrated. But when it’s not integrated with real-life connection, it can amplify loneliness for some. This may be especially true in a time of pandemic isolation.In an article in Psychology Today, clinical psychologist Lara Otte notes that much of social media lacks genuine connection: “Frequently these are performative interactions rather than meaningful, human conversations: ‘I like your post’ vs. ‘I understand something about you and want you to understand me, too.’”

“Emotional safety is a key component of making real connections,” Otte states. “Making real connections requires vulnerability and courage.” Feeling accepted and not judged helps us be genuine and comfortable taking emotional risks.

Although some people have curated their social media to enhance their feelings of safety, many find that digital interactions are prone to more hostility and meanness than real-life relationships.

Roughly 80 percent of Americans use some form of social media, according to Pew Research Center. These free platforms are everywhere. Their algorithms are designed to allure and keep us scrolling. How do you tip the scales of social media usage to benefit you?

First, spend less time looking at your social media feed. According to Emiliana Simon-Thomas, science director at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, too much screen time, and not enough face-to-face communication, means fewer chances to practice empathy. As a result, people get worse at “reading” each other’s emotional expressions. And that can erode our ability to connect.

The National Council for Mental Wellbeing, offers some easy tips:

Real relationships first

Make close connections your social media priority. Reach out and see how your loved ones are doing. Share personal stories and photos. Remind yourself of the important people in your life.

Fill your feed with inspiration

Viewing positive content can boost your mood. If negative or confrontational content makes you anxious, sad, or insecure, remove it from your news feed.

Get the balance right

Create a balance. Be sure to make time to focus on what’s in front of you, not just what’s online. Take time to connect with your loved ones face-to-face, not just via technology. This will help you be mindful of what’s real and most important to you.

In other words, use social media as a bridge to empathy so it is less likely to lead to loneliness.

Kevin Fischer is the executive director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Michigan chapter. He says it is mostly extreme social media use that has negative mental health effects.

Studies are ongoing regarding a definitive link between social media usage and mental health. Used well, social media can offset feelings of anxiety or distress. For some people dealing with isolation, social media offers supportive communities. These can be safe places to express their mental health challenges.

“(Social media) can be positive in that it connects people,” Fischer said. “Human interaction can be very positive. We’re able to communicate more easily with friends and family who might be at a distance. We can share family information and photos and all of that stuff to keep us connected.”

“When it comes to social media, there are just times I turn off the world. There are just sometimes you have to give yourself space to be quiet, which means you’ve got to set those phones down.” – Michelle Obama

4 benefits of social media

Used well, social media can have rewarding social benefits. For many, it’s an easy way to stay in touch with family and friends. Studies have shown other positives, too:

  • It can encourage us to empathize with other people and their points of view. It’s easy to help and comfort other people or share resources there. These are prosocial, beneficial behaviors.
  • Social media can bring like-minded people together. Sometimes we feel as if we have little in common with our immediate family and community. Finding groups of people online with common interests and identities can be a haven.
  • Social media platforms can raise awareness around mental well-being. Mental health education and support are usually easy to find. Finding resources and a supportive community help reduce the stigma related to mental disorders or treatments.

Headlines tend to focus on the negatives of social media, and overuse can cause problems. But it’s helpful to remember that thoughtful engagement (instead of passive scrolling) on social media can be positive. Studies have shown its association with social well-being, positive mental health, and self-rated health.

Source: Positive Psychology

How to nurture empathy via social media

Emiliana Simon-Thomas, science director at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, offers these tips for nurturing empathy so that social media does not diminish your happiness:

  • Avoid comparing yourself to others: Finding yourself scrolling your Instagram feed with feelings of jealousy or conceit? Stop! A social comparison lens puts your empathy at risk;
  • Use social media to foster connections: Use video conference features, offer messages of support, and learn about people in other parts of the world outside your bubble;
  • Try empathy during online conflicts: When you feel the need to lash out, take a deep, full breath and exhale slowly before you retort;
  • Prioritize eye contact: If you are out in the world, turn off your screen and engage with people.

Source: Greater Good Science Center

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