YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA HABIT MAY BE THE CAUSE OF YOUR ANXIETY
by Heather Ertel
Have you been feeling more anxious than ever? I hear you. I don’t think I even knew what anxiety was a few years ago. I definitely didn’t know what it felt like. I (very) falsely thought it was designated for people with emotional issues, those who couldn’t deal with life, or who were going through a particularly hard time. Fast forward to this past summer when I was experiencing a host of symptoms that had been building for a while: holding and having trouble catching my breath, a racing heart rate, and the inability to take control of my thoughts. Being an intuitive health coach I saw the signs months earlier, but when I could no longer control the racing thoughts and frenetic breathing I knew I had an anxiety issue.
Lucky for me, I was able to catch the emotional affects pretty early and take steps necessary to control it (many of which I will share here). But more important to me was understanding the root cause of my anxiety. Life is always hectic and I worked many years in the stressful world of advertising. I knew what stress was and this wasn’t it. It came down to one thing - my screen time and my social media habit. It didn’t take long to recognize I was spending more time than ever on my phone. For me my love is Instagram; I can scroll and story for hours and barely even glance up. Being a marketer I am a very visual person, I love the beautiful imagery of Instagram, and I love the fantasy of living vicariously through others, too. When I wasn’t on Instagram, whether creating my own content on my page (@theglowwellness) or watching others’ content, I was feeling drawn to it like an addict needs a fix. I’d be busy with a work commitment, or out with friends and I’d hear the ping of an Insta notification or a DM and I had to look. I recognized this was the beginning of a destructive habit and most importantly, that this medium was starting to have more negative than positive effects on my life. I also knew I didn’t want to waste my life away on social media.
Social media brings a lot of positive benefits into our lives, enabling us to interact and collaborate with people across borders. But people are just now starting to realize how detrimental it can be to our mental well-being. Most people are aware of the effects social media can have on our mood, and how simply seeing people we follow live out their best moments online can leave you suddenly feeling sad, anxious, and wondering why our lives don’t compare. Truly, comparison is the thief of joy. Social media is a curated version of real life, minus the bad times. Add in the “filter factor” and this means what you’re seeing is an unrealistic view of a person’s life. Our self-esteem becomes affected from comparing our lives to those of others which can intensify feelings of inferiority. Also, it has the ability to create feelings of inadequacy when we post, wait for likes and measure our value against that validation.
Here are some steps you can take to evaluate your relationship with social media and potentially mitigate its negative effects:
Explore how you feel around social media as a first step. As a general rule, social media should make you feel uplifted. If you find yourself feeling anxious, engaging in comparison or experiencing jealousy, evaluate how much time you may be spending on certain apps that present curate experiences.
Look at who you’re following and how they make you feel. Just like Marie Kondo, view each account you are following from the viewpoint of if they are “sparking joy.” Unfollow those who are not adding value or bringing you that joy.
SHIFT YOUR FOCUS
Realize what you are viewing is a highly-curated, idealized picture of life and train yourself to look at it through that lens. When I see a beautiful image on Instagram now I stop and pause and choose to see it as advertising or a fine art image. I know the work that goes into composing such images and I can appreciate the image for the work put into it, versus the message they are trying to convey. This does take practice, but the next time you see a post that makes you stop and pause, think about the subjects and the composition of that image. Over time you will start to view posts differently.
Take the opportunity to turn your down time into screen-free time. While social media was created to make us feel more connected, it can make us feel more isolated and lonely. As social creatures, we need in-person interaction. This week, instead of using your lunch hour to mindlessly scroll, schedule a lunch date with a friend, put down your phone and give them your undivided attention. Or make plans for a fitness class where using your phone is impossible and off-limits.
The impact screen time can have on sleep patterns is now well-known. For improved sleep quality stay away from all devices at least two hours before bed. Be sure to turn on your phone’s auto-dimming or night shift feature. In addition, instigate screen-free days if you are finding yourself very addicted to your screen, whether it be a few hours a day or one day a week. The best way to do this is to delete the apps from your phone, then reload when you’re ready for social media again. I have made Sunday my screen-free day and it is ideal for me; I start the week refreshed and renewed. An easy way to kick-start this habit is to enable some of the Screen Time functions on your iPhone or the Space App for Androids.
Breaking free from my social media anxiety was about making a mindshift. I was never one of those people who was Instagramming my entire life - not everything needs to be captured; however, I preferred being a voyeur and that also took its toll! Implementing these habits helped me break my addiction, but this alone isn’t enough to help you cultivate a mindfulness practice. I want to be present and enjoy life’s moments. Not only do I find that I remember moments and experiences better when I am fully present, but those are the moments I think most fondly of. It’s because I created real, authentic connection and was truly present in and experiencing the moment. Isn’t that what life is all about?
Heather Ertel is an intuitive eating health coach and wellness consultant. Through her practice, The Glow Wellness, she helps women become more connected to their self-awareness in order to hone in on how they can become their own advocate, healer and bring balance to their lives. When she’s not researching the latest wellness trends or making yummy plant-based recipes you can find her enjoying a spicy margarita and tacos. It’s called balance! She is also a Sakara Life Ambassador for plant-based living. You can find her on Instagram @theglowwellness and at www.theglowwellness.com