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Is Social Media Intruding On Your Social Life?

With over 1.6 billion users on FB alone, and the average person checking social networking sites more than 50 times each day, it seems reasonable to ask – are we spending too much time on social media?

Do you have "FB OCD" or are disconnected from what’s most important because you are a too connected? If you think you may be in social networking overdrive, or are wondering if it’s contributing to low mood or anxiety, read on to decide what’s working for you (and what’s not).

Being connected online has become the norm.

In the same way having a phone in your house used to be standard, a mobile in your pocket or hand is now the new standard, usually with social media apps ready to go. Social media lets us express ourself as we want to be seen, reach out to others to ask for help, vent frustrations, and connect with others more generally. Research even shows it can fulfill our natural sense of a need to belong as our social group can be larger than ever as there are no limits to where it reaches instantly. The issue comes with overuse, using it to replace our face-to-face relationships, or when it affects how we judge life after being on social media. Recent research shows that people at risk of developing depression and anxiety will use more social media, and regular users are more likely to think others are happier than them and that life is unfair.

Study after study has shown that a lower mood is related to increased time on FB and other social media. This could be when there is a random tough time, a hard day, and wanting a bit more connection. At the same time, this can backfire as it puts your life in the more public eye at a potentially vulnerable time, and once it’s out in cyber world, it’s always out in cyber-world.

Online social sites can also find us comparing ourselves to an oversized social group (would your 400 FB friends and Instagram followers turn up for your birthday?!) and compulsively check for “likes”, status updates and even suffering from some serious FOMO if we don’t check. A lot of people also use social media not just to connect with others, but for avoiding unwanted feelings and thoughts of loneliness, anxiety, and depression, even opting out of engaging with the people in the same room as them.

If you are like most of us humans, then at some point, social media has likely left you in a low mood, thinking your life is not as good as others, or kept you from being fully present and engaging with the loved ones right next to you.

So how do we reap the benefits and avoid the pitfalls?

Here are a few things to try experimenting with by following simple ACT principles. Give them a go and see if it works for you or highlights the good and the not so helpful ways you are using social media in your life.

Awareness - Find out your usage: Do you know how much you really use social media? There are plenty of apps out there, so choose any app that suits you and guess how many times you check, and then give it a try to see if you are right.

Notice your expectations: Noticing doesn’t mean you have to change anything, it only helps you to then increase your awareness about your own habits and what works for you. Next time you hop onto social media, check in with yourself, what are you hoping to get from it? What are you expecting to happen as a result? Are you looking for a feeling (e.g., to feel better), hoping to support a relationship online, passing time (avoiding dealing with boredom or loneliness), or even wanting to be somewhere else (think of the teen at the dinner table, or the office meeting you aren’t enjoying). Just take notice, and try it again on another occasion. Remember, the point isn’t to judge yourself, but to become aware of your habits through noticing.

Describe: You can try this in live time, or in remembering the last time you went on social media (using a specific example is easier than thinking generally). Describe to yourself how you felt before checking it, how you felt during, and then after. Think about your inner world as well as your outer world. Internally what did you feel? Did you feel butterflies of anxiety or heaviness of loneliness? Or was there that aching sense of FOMO building up wondering what your friends were up to or if someone had liked a recent post you made? Describe your physical reaction to being on social media. Did you giggle and smile at photos or frown in disappointment that you aren’t on holiday too? Describe what you did next. How did you respond, and did it add to your day? Include what was around you and if you missed out on anything good or bad (e.g., the sounds of the birds chirping in the trees or a beautiful view, or you kids asking for attention). How do you feel now after describing it?

Choose: Missing out on a view or a conversation isn’t always a bad thing, we only have so much time to be mindful or open to what’s going on in our busy days, we have to make choices. FOMO isn’t good or bad either, it can leave us feeling sad and lonely, or spur us into re-connecting and engaging with the people who are important to us. Try not to judge yourself harshly for any single time you are online instead of being present, but decide, overall, are you happy with how often and why you use social media. Is it working for you, or does it feel like an impulse that you struggle to step back from? If you need more space from it, then set up a goal to limit your time and keep checking in on if that’s contributing more to your life. If you think your social media use could use some work, or if anxious thoughts or low mood are needing some extra support, then get in touch here. If it’s going well, then give yourself a cheer – you deserve it!

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