Wait! Before you click on a different tab, hear me out for the next few minutes. I know what you’re thinking, “Really? Another article about how I shouldn’t spend two hours a day scrolling through Instagram or Facebook.” Well, close, but not quite.
I don’t have to tell you that this year has been unique, or even that it has been one filled with many challenges. Parents have had children alone. Family members have anxiously waited outside in parking lots of hospitals for their loved ones. Elderly people have passed away with no one by their side. Engaged couples have postponed their weddings…again…and…again. Freshman year college students excitedly moved into their dorms only to find out that they would be experiencing college from afar. Business owners have closed their doors. Individuals have worked from home day after day, Zoom call after Zoom call.
While 2020 can be characterized by a lot of things, it can most certainly be distinguished as the year of isolation. It doesn’t feel good to feel lonely, right? So, what do we do? Well, a lot of us have turned to social media outlets to feed the sense of connectedness that we are looking for. Whether it be Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok, or Snapchat, the thing that all of these platforms have in common is that their viewers are captivated by other viewers on those same networks, which is what keeps them coming back for more content.
As humans, we were made for relationships – to feel like we belong. Hence, it’s only natural that we are craving social media time now more than ever before since we have lost much of that connection that existed prior to this year. Maybe it was the simple coffee conversations in the break room with co-workers, going to the movies with a new group of friends, playing soccer alongside your teammates, or listening to your favorite band and singing along with the crowd. As we remain hopeful that these experiences are likely to come again, let’s challenge ourselves not to get too caught up in establishing our main sense of connection through virtual channels.
As we know, social media creates a false sense of reality. It’s a world in which people write things that they would probably NEVER say aloud, take pictures of themselves and filter them until their skin has no open pore left and somehow glistens in the dark, and little girls are wearing makeup on their way to virtual kindergarten. And, those are just a few things you might notice if you were to pick up your phone and start scrolling.
Here’s what I’m encouraging you to think about for a second…Recall the last time you were on your favorite social media site. Now, what were some of the things that were going through your mind as you were scrolling? Maybe you thought, “I can’t believe that person just said that thing…I am shocked.” Or, “Man, no matter how hard I try, my legs will never be that skinny.” What about, “How do they still look like they showered this morning after homeschooling three children for the past three months.” Or, “When will this ever be over…Will things ever go back to ‘normal?’” I would venture to say that you are not the only one who has ever looked at social media and not been left with a warm fuzzy feeling on the inside. Rather, it’s likely the opposite. These negative thoughts that begin to swirl in our minds leave us feeling empty and isolated on the very platform that was initially supposed to make us feel connected. Someone tell me how that happens? In fact, if you do an internet search for isolation and social media, you will find many studies pop-up that have shown that the more hours an individual spends on social media, the more isolated he tends to feel.
If we are left feeling down from social media, then maybe it’s not healthy for us to be invested to the degree that we currently are on these platforms. What if you were to put the same amount of time spent on social media into forming in-person connections? During this season of virtual connection, let’s not forget how to make in-person connections so we don’t feel stuck once this time has passed.
Wondering where to go from here? These are some of my suggestions:
1. Put down the phone – novel, right?
2. Make a list of 5 friends or family members to reach out to this week. Send them a text saying that you are thinking about them or ask when a good time to catch up by phone might be. When we unplug from social media, we realize how many people we see daily, yet haven’t talked to in weeks.
3. Connect with someone in public. Maybe you see someone wearing a fabulous sparkly mask at the grocery store, and you want to tell them how much you love it. DO IT! I bet you will make their day. It’s likely that that person is also feeling socially isolated, so by complimenting them, you are helping them establish a sense of connection too!
4. Parents – you have been working so hard! Homeschooling? Working from home with babies screaming in the background? An overdue date night with your spouse or maybe even a double date might be calling your name! Or, consider reaching out to other parents you know to schedule outdoor playdates or small get togethers!
5. Invite your friend over to enjoy some hot cocoa outside in this chilly weather.
6. Ask your neighbor if they want to walk around the block with you.
7. Reach out to a coworker to thank them for their hard work or ask them if there is anything you could do to help them this week.
8. Consider setting aside a 20 minute block to look at your favorite social media app and leaving it unopened for the remainder of your day. Or, challenge yourself to delete the app from your phone. Some may even choose to go on a social media hiatus, where they find it helpful to permanently delete their social media accounts, while others may find freedom in permitting themselves a two week cleanse from reading their neighbors’ COVID rants or learning Charli D’amelio’s TikTok dances.
What else might you add to this list? Are you ready to put down the phone?
Mental Health Student Intern