Mindful Social Media: How to Use Social Media in Positive & Healthy Ways

You can learn to use social media in ways that will only benefit you.



(Lenka Horavova / Shutterstock.com)

Social media: for many of us, it started out as a fun, convenient way to connect with friends. We look back to Myspace as a tool for socializing and expressing ourselves. Many may also remember the early days of Facebook when college buddies could post inside jokes and party photos on each others’ walls. Who remembers the shock of 2006 when Mark Zuckerberg introduced the news feed for the first time?

Sure, social media provides amazing, powerful features for sharing moments and memories, promoting business endeavors, keeping in touch with the people we meet around the world, and so much more. However, without even realizing it, what started out as simple social networking platforms have evolved into something much bigger, potentially harmful, and worth examining.

The Connection Between Social Media & Mental Health

The overrepresentation of attractive people leading idealized lives invites social comparison, personal dissatisfaction, and potentially severe mental health issues. Mounting evidence shows that teenagers and young adults who frequently spend time on social media suffer from a significantly higher rate of depression than previous generations who grew up without.

Meanwhile, rather than building stronger social connections, social media can actually diminish a person’s capacity for empathy. Our brains, which evolved thousands of years before any hashtags or Tweets, have difficulty processing the constant stimulation of online socializing without the ability to read facial expressions and body language.

The Problem with Targeted Ads & Mental Health

“But what if I like getting ads based on my interests?”

Targeted ads might seem convenient, or useful even. After all, you get presented with the type of items you would have needed or wanted without having to shop around or leave the house. The algorithms that monitor social media behavior have become so advanced that traditional advertising aimed to meet the unmet needs of the consumer has evolved into something much more sinister.

In his book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, Jaron Lanier, considered a founding father of virtual reality, writes, “The original ads on Google were cute and harmless. But as the internet, the devices, and the algorithms advanced, advertising inevitably morphed into mass behavior modification.”

“People think they’re being productive and improving society on social media. Actually, they’re not because the part of the social media machine that’s operating behind the scenes, which are the algorithms that are attempting to engage people more and more and influence them on behalf of advertisers,” Lanier explains.

In other words, The algorithms used by Facebook and other popular platforms learn our behavioral patterns, and based on that information, will automatically generate posts and articles that trigger emotional responses, often negative.

Just ask former Facebook VP, Chamath Palihapitiya, who publicly warned about the use of social media:

“It literally is at a point now where I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. That is truly where we are. The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works: no civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem. This is not about Russian ads. This is a global problem.”

Healthly Habits for Mindful Social Media Use

Many people, like Jaron Lanier and Chamath Palihapitiya, have started a movement toward minimizing social media use or just to outright get rid of all accounts. While the latter may seem extreme, the facts are clear: those looking to avoid the negative sides of social media need to consider how to use the platforms intentionally in positive, healthy ways.

Start from Scratch

Do you really need to know what kind of sandwich that guy you met at a frat party 12 years ago ate for lunch? Those who have had social media accounts may have accumulated hundreds if not thousands of Facebook “friends” over the years, essentially strangers. We unnecessarily share intimate moments and photos with these people. By deleting your accounts and creating new ones, you can go back and strictly follow or friend the people you actually speak to or consider important in your life.

Decluttering Social Media

Some of us have businesses and other important information linked to social media accounts which make it difficult to just sign off cold turkey. Decluttering accounts helps to slowly remove the pages, friends, and other unnecessary clutter. Ask yourself: Does this person or page bring value to your life? If not, slowly unfollowing or unliking those pages will help control the content you receive on social media and retain the people and pages worth your time.

Delegate Time for Social Media Use

Social media platforms are deliberately addictive for users, and the average adult could spend up to two hours a day on social media. Setting aside a certain period of time each day to catch up with contacts and posts will help regulate how much time you spend on social media. You can also cut time online by keeping your devices in a different room in the house, turning your phone off while working, or by delegating one day a week to unplug.

Delete Apps from Your Smartphone

Having social media apps on your smartphone just increases the impulse to use social media throughout the day. Removing apps from your smartphone eliminates the temptation to constantly check accounts. If you restrict social media apps to certain devices that you use less, like your laptop or tablet, you can designate a limited amount of time each day or once a week for checking updates and responding to messages.

Turn Off All Notifications

The relentless beeping, buzzing, and flashing lights from notifications create a constant flood of distractions. Turning off all notifications across social media platforms means you can decide when to access the apps without getting interrupted throughout the day.

Restrict Social Media to Messenger Apps

People rely on Whatsapp, Facebook, and other apps to keep in touch with friends and family. You can avoid scrolling your news feed and still stay in touch with people by only using the messenger apps on your computer or smartphone. Keep in mind, however, that these apps still harvest the information shared in messages.

Stick to the Positive Side of Social Media

We can use social media as a helpful tool to get beneficial, empowering information. Strictly following posts and people that motivate and inspire will help to counteract the barrage of fake news and incendiary content shared on the web. Follow pages that bring joy to your life such as good news media, wellness sites, spiritual discussions, and other content that will lift you up rather than bringing you down.