I am an editor of a blog run by a social media influencer, which may be the most LA career choice there is. If you’ve been around here for a while (and if not – welcome!) you know that my boss is not just an influencer. No. She also happens to be a super talented interior designer, writer, and CEO. But because of the wild west world that is digital media, “influencer” is a new word that can also accurately describe what Emily does.
In case you are wondering, being an editor of a blog that is run by an influencer means that my job is often social media focused, even though I don’t work on the social media team directly. We’re a small business and that means everyone wears multiple hats, so social media is on everyone’s brains. It is a marketing tool that is highly important and effective for our business. So, my job and career as a whole benefit from being on social media and understanding how to capitalize on its potential.
But it’s not that simple. As someone who suffers from depression and anxiety, I am hyper-aware of how social media affects my mental health. At its worse, it promotes junk values and blind consumerism, as well as perpetuates a facade of authenticity that leads to unrealistic comparisons and severe loneliness. At its best, it’s an outlet for connection, creativity, and self-expression (though probably not connection, creativity, or self-expression in their most pure, honest form). It is hard to find the sweet spot between enjoying social media and avoiding its harmful effects.
So, back in October, I decided to take a break. Or more accurately, I needed to take a break. I’d heard and read about people doing 30-day social fasts and they all preached how life-changing it is. In general, I find that kind of hyperbolic language annoying but I knew I needed to get out of this constant rut of self-loathing. I was starting to get exhausted by my relationship with these apps and was generally just feeling really bad a lot of the time, so instead of rolling my eyes at the notion, I decided to try it. I imagined quitting social media for a month would be hard, something similar to quitting caffeine or going on a diet-things I’ve tried to do in the past but failed considerably fast. Due to the addictive nature of social media, I thought I might fail at this too.
But I didn’t. I stayed off the apps for 30 days (actually, 32 to be exact), just like I promised I would. I haven’t received my award yet, but I am sure it’ll be coming in the mail any day now. Honestly, I was surprised by how easy it was (besides being out of the loop as it relates to my job). It turns out the “out of sight out of mind” concept really does work. Once I deleted the apps off my phone, a week into my little hiatus the mindless impulse to grab my phone and open an app nearly disappeared. If I did grab my phone out of habit, it would only take a few seconds to realize that there was nothing to look at, so I’d put the phone down and continue with whatever I was doing. Not surprisingly, by the second week, my screen time went from an average of 4.5 hours a day to less than 2 hours. By the third week, my screen time was down to an hour a day, sometimes less. I don’t have to tell you that my productivity increased significantly.
Overall the experience was more constructive and illuminating than I thought it would be, but a permanent social media fast is not a cure nor is it realistic for the world I work in. So what now? Well, if it’s alright with you I’d like to share what has worked for me in terms of enjoying and gaining something positive from these apps now that I am back in this wild social media world. Let’s get to it.
Be Mindful of Who You Follow
I have found so much relief when I unfollow people whose content does not serve me in a positive way. If I am going to be on social media, it only makes sense to create a space where I’ll see the things I want/care to see – things that will educate me, inspire me, or give me joy. Good people to unfollow are models that contribute to a negative personal body image, people you no longer talk to or haven’t seen in over 10 years, and anyone/account that makes you feel less than in any way. Another helpful way to sensor your feed is by using the mute feature. Maybe someone you know posts a little too much about their vacations and overall “perfect” life, but you don’t want to or feel like you can unfollow. They won’t know you muted their posts and you will not miss their content. Everybody wins.
When I returned to social I made a rule to set alarms when I do go on it, so I don’t get lost in a mindless scroll. I also promised to not check my phone when I am eating dinner or watching TV or movies. And lastly, as a good rule of thumb, I don’t allow social media to be the last thing I see before I fall asleep or the first thing I put in front of my face when I wake up. But I will be honest. I am a flawed human being and have not been great at sticking to these boundaries. I sometimes forget and sometimes ignore the rules knowingly. But I am trying! And when I do adhere to these rules I feel better.
I consider it extending a “thank you” to the person who posted. It gives them acknowledgment and support and makes me feel good, too. In the past, I had this awful habit before where I would bookmark a post but not actually “like” it. At one point I realized I was doing that as if I was hoarding my likes and it felt so gross. Why shouldn’t I give that person credit if I am enjoying their posts? They likely put a good amount of thought and effort into it, so giving them that “hey, I see you and I like what you’ve done here” is just good social media ethics. I also engage in general more, in ways that feel positive. I comment and respond to IG stories even to people I don’t know personally and this has helped me make connections with people I would otherwise never speak to. One time I responded to a girl who works at Manrepeller and we had such a nice little convo AND she followed me back. It was great.
An Emotional Check-In with Yourself Yields The Best Results
I suffer from depression and anxiety, but I know that even those who don’t also have a hard time navigating the negativity that circles around social media. I have found that when I feeling particularly down or out of sorts, going on social media is like jumping in shark-infested waters with a gaping bloody wound. It feels like I am drowning whilst being attacked by happy people clinking glasses and enjoying a life that is WAY more fulfilled that my own. That is generally the story we tell ourselves when we are not at our best, but it is widely inaccurate and harmful. Just allowing yourself to step away when harmful thoughts creep in is majorly effective.
Pay Attention to Your Intentions
Before this experiment, I was not in control of my impulses. There was an impulse to both mindlessly consume content and post the “best” aspects of my life. Not only was I not sure why I was engaging on it so much, but I also was unsure what my motives were for posting. Was I posting for me or was I posting to show some version of myself that I think others will like? Most often it was the latter.
Using and posting anything on social media is going to come with a sliver of vanity because it is designed to make us crave more entertainment and seek out validation. I believe it is completely acceptable to post a great photo of yourself just because you like the way you look, and it is also completely acceptable not to post photos of yourself at all. Knowing that you can post what you want but not allowing other’s opinions to be the reason you post is extremely valuable. Now, when I simply ask myself why I am posting just to check in with my emotions and intentions, it makes all the difference. In short, when I am more mindful I am less of a millenial-social-media-fueled-robot. I am more me.
Make Social Media Work For You
There is a reason being an influencer can be a fulltime job. Whether we agree with it or not, social media is a part of our lives and for a lot of people, it is a part of our careers. I like writing and telling stories and sharing my human experience. I’d love this to be what I do forever, and social media can help me continue doing so even if it isn’t my career. It’s a creative outlet and also, a great place to network. It is not unusual or strange to slide into your hero’s DM’s or hit that follow button and who knows, in doing so you may end up working with that person someday. You can think of your profile as if it is a portfolio you’d present at a job interview if that suits you. It is your profile, make it work for you.
Create Your Own Narrative
I believe that social media is what you make it. Why should we willingly give a non-sentient networking platform so much power that it invades our psyche and harms our point of view? It isn’t always easy, but it is something we can strive towards. With mindfulness and exercising general kindness to ourselves and others, I think it is possible for social media to be educational, fun, illuminating, thoughtful, hilarious, inspiring, and good. For me, social media now more than ever reminds me of the world I want to help create and be apart of, who I want to be, and what art I want to create. It is what I make it.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this and if you have any helpful tips for creating a positive digital world, please do tell. xx