As a 90’s kid with an insatiable curiosity of the world around me and a single mom who worked all the time, the internet practically raised me. I know the millennials reading this will agree that the dial-up noise our computers made as they connected to the internet resembled an excruciating combination of construction sounds and screeching nails on a chalkboard. Once connected, at the expense of all the blocked calls at my sitter’s house, I spent an embarrassing amount of time sharing inspirational away messages on my AOL Instant Messenger. All this to say, the internet has played a role in my life for quite a long time.
Last year on a September trip to the Dominican Republic I decided to delete my Instagram app for the sake of being fully present in the motherland – it was a game changer. After being consistently on social media for about two years as a new blogger/entrepreneur, taking an entire 5 days off with zero notifications showed me just how much social media was taking up my time, and truthfully it made me uncomfortable. However, according to The Pew Research Center, I wasn’t the only one hooked on social. With 72% of the public on social media, and over 60% of those users checking their apps daily, it is abundantly clear that social media use is engrained in our culture, for good reasons like genuine connection, increased empathy and business opportunities, but also not so great reasons such as loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
It is no secret that I love Instagram – the platform helps me connect with people whom I’ve never met, have genuine conversations that spark new insight, share stories and wellness tips, promote my business, and serves as a really dope memory box. However, after embarking on entrepreneurship and having consistent daily engagement all of last year, social media became unhealthy for me. I attached my worth to the engagement I got on my posts, and compared myself to other influencers and entrepreneurs. It was hard for me to go an hour without checking my social media accounts, and I felt a crippling social anxiety. It wasn’t until I was crying in front of my computer because of a “failed” social media post that I noticed the true impact these apps were having on my daily life.
First, a little back story…
I began to share more of myself in 2016 when I published my first essay called “Wonder Mommy”. Seeing the positive feedback my writing got was exciting and inspired me to keep writing, ultimately leading me to launch a personal blog in 2017 followed by Loved by Destiny in 2018. Creating this platform to share my thoughts helped me gain the confidence to share them even more. After silently dealing with abuse throughout my formative years, and an emotionally manipulative and abusive relationship for 5 years, I finally felt heard, validated and seen by extending my help to others.
Eventually I felt that my writing wasn’t enough, and wanted to provide my readers with tangible tools to uncover self-love, self-awareness, and the ability to thrive. What initially started as a blog rapidly grew into a wellness business that included services and products geared towards mindfulness and actionable wellness. It wasn’t long into this entrepreneurial journey before my shadow of comparison was like yerrrrrrrr.
I tried to emulate influencers and entrepreneurs on Instagram because I thought likes and engagement equated to good business. I committed to creating dozens of social media graphics, “engaging” with people, posting my life away on Instagram story, creating scheduling posts, finding the “ideal time” to get maximum engagement and writing weekly newsletters. Consequently, I measured my worth in website page views, story views, likes, purchases, DMs, poll engagements, and accomplishments. It didn’t help that all the marketing blogs suggested posting multiple times a day and leaving hundreds of comments (or emojis without substance) under people’s pages to beat the algorithm. Moreover, I felt like a failure every time a post didn’t “do well” according to my standards and felt resentful when “good posts” didn’t get “good engagement.”
All in all, I measured my worth through the lens of others’ perception of me rather than my own beliefs about myself.
Being on social media so frequently quickly made it feel like a job. I felt indebted to the people who followed me to be there 100% of the time. People poured their hearts out to me, dumped their traumatic experiences in my direct message inbox and depended on me to share words that would help them through their struggles. This gave me purpose and fuel, while inherently feeding into my trauma and issues with co-dependency. Let's get into what these mean:
Trauma, as defined by the American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology, is “any disturbing experience that results in significant fear, helplessness, dissociation, confusion, or other disruptive feelings intense enough to have a long-lasting negative effect on a person’s attitudes, behavior, and other aspects of functioning.” In my experience, being abused by my parents growing up, and witnessing my mother’s domestic violence for several years left a negative yet lasting imprint on my life. As a result of this abuse, my trauma manifests itself a number of ways, most relevant to our conversation is co-dependency.
Co-dependency, as defined by Pete Walker, MFT in this essay is “the inability to express rights, needs and boundaries in relationships; it is a disorder of assertiveness that causes the individual to attract and accept exploitation, abuse and/or neglect.” This manifested in my life, during this time, as an inability to create boundaries with my social media sharing and engagement, while also feeling unable to tell people who were sharing their stories with me to stop doing so.
Feeling needed helped me feel validated while unconsciously playing into a pattern I’d followed for years. Although feeling needed was exciting for me at first because it gave me an opportunity to be of service through social media, it later turned into an unsafe experience for both myself and the people sharing themselves with me. Trauma is fragile and should be handled with care in a professional setting. My experience showed me that social media is not an appropriate place to process trauma. Instead, it is one to share what you’ve learned through healing your trauma, in order to help others find the support they need and the courage to dig deeper into their own experiences.
Looking back, I can tell you that social media amplified the parts of myself that were in need of my attention such as my codependency, need to be in service even at my own expense, lacking boundaries with others, etc. Not having the awareness that these were parts of myself I needed to pay attention to along with the unhealthy habits and beliefs about myself I was cultivating on social media made my anxiety worse and created an unhealthy environment.
Being more mindful of my social media use has helped me cultivate a better relationship – one that helps me post, connect, and share with others without feeling anxious, guilty or overextended. Below are 5 tips to help you create your own healthy relationship to social media:
1. Seek out help from a professional
Like I mentioned earlier in this post, our traumatic experiences are fragile and should be handled with care. While social media is an incredible tool to help us feel less alone in our traumatic experiences, the most effective way to assess and work through our trauma is with a licensed mental health professional and/or licensed wellness coach.
Reach out to your insurance and learn more about your mental health coverage or inquire about an Employee Assistance Program which typically offers a few free mental health sessions. Open Path Collective is an incredible resource if you are uninsured and offers not only affordable support, but also a diverse set of practitioners.
In the meantime, here are a few other tips to support your journey towards creating healthy social media boundaries while you meet the right mental health/wellness professional.
2. Self-monitor & set realistic limits
According to a study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, researchers found that participants who increased their self-monitoring as it relates to social media use showed significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing out.
You can use this list of 11 Apps That Will Help You Reduce Your Screen-Time to find a tool that will monitor your social media use and help you identify patterns. By confronting your social media patterns, you gather new insights about yourself. For instance, perhaps monitoring your social media use highlights that you spend a lot more time on social media in the evenings and you notice that you feel pretty drained in the mornings. This new awareness can empower you to set new limits for your evening use that will lead to less dreadful mornings!
Personally, I enjoy taking “intermittent digital fasts.” All this means is that after being on social media for 3-4 days straight, I take a couple days off completely – in this way there’s no need to wait for a vacation to disconnect.
3. Declutter your social media account
According to Jelena Kecmanovic Ph.D., we can reduce the negative effects of social media and increase the positive ones by decluttering our social media space. She suggests using the Marie Kondo method and considering if an account brings you joy! Learn more about decluttering your social media account here.
Make your social media a place that is safe for you to be in and explore. Type in your hobbies and interests as hashtags and follow the accounts of the posts that most resonate with you. If you ask me, I don’t think you can follow too many puppy accounts, inspirational quotes, or astrology memes. Please stop roasting Sagittarius, though.
4. Identify what you really need – stay off social when you’re not feeling yourself
Social-comparison theory, developed by social psychologist Leon Festinger, argues that we have a natural desire to assess our progress by comparing ourselves to others.
It’s difficult to refrain from comparison on a normal day, but even more so when you’re not feeling your usual self. Instead of scrolling to distract yourself, I invite you to find a hobby or practice that helps you work through your emotions. It could also be beneficial to identify what you’re looking for from social media. Are you looking to connect with a friend? Try a text, phone call, or video chat! Are you looking to learn something? Try a book, article, or online course!
5. Be mindful of your vulnerability
Brené Brown, the queen of vulnerability and star in the Netflix special “The Call to Courage,” highlights that vulnerability is not the same as self-disclosure. Before being vulnerable, she advises us to be mindful of what we’re sharing, why we are sharing it, and the quality of the content we are sharing.
She poses the following questions to reflect on before practicing vulnerability:
- Why am I sharing this?
- What outcome am I hoping for?
- What emotions am I experiencing?
- What unmet needs might I be trying to meet?
These are great questions to consider as you think about the content you are posting on social media!
Creating a healthy relationship to social media helps us find the joy in connecting with others and sharing ourselves with people we’ve never met. It also helps us give ourselves time and grace to work through personal obstacles we may be running from by distracting ourselves on our platforms. Social media plays an integral part in our lives, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere. It’s in our best interest to be mindful of our use so that we can do more good than harm on our platforms. If you have social media strategies that work for you, don’t hesitate to share them below!
You are so loved,