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Social Media Check-Up

article

Christopher Guider, MA, LMHC, NCC

Does social media lift you up or drag you down? Whether social media is a force for good or ill in your life likely comes down to how you use and relate to it. A more intentional and balanced relationship with social media allows you to enjoy the benefits of online interactions while avoiding hits to your self-esteem and well-being.

To achieve this, it’s important to take a close look at your social media usage. Use the questions below for a social media check-up. If you answer “yes” to a question, review the recommendations and make any needed tune-ups.

Are you constantly counting likes?

squirrel hoarding nuts

It’s a warning sign if you’re feverishly monitoring the number of likes on your posts. Fishing for praise from others can boost your self-esteem, but it’s often temporary and ultimately unsatisfying.

    For a Tune-Up:
  1. Instead of posting what you think others will like, post something that expresses a genuine interest, opinion, or value.
  2. Find other ways to measure the success of your posts rather than just counting the number of likes. For example, did you communicate an important fact, express an opinion that matters to you, show support for someone, or spark an interesting conversation?
  3. Instead of fixating on your own likes, spend more time liking others’ posts that motivate, inspire, or amuse you.

Are you ignoring the impact of social media on your mood?

bear in bed using phone

It’s a red flag if your mood and self-esteem plunge after your social media sessions. An easy way to gauge the health of your social media usage is to keep tabs on how it makes you feel.

    For a Tune-Up:
  1. If social media is lowering your mood, see if you can figure out why. Are certain sites more problematic than others? Is the amount of time you spend online the culprit? Is how you’re engaging with others the issue (arguing, comparing, etc.)?
  2. Consider the nature of the content you’re consuming. Is it all doom and gloom? Scary conspiracy theories? Extreme political views? Filter, block, or disengage from whatever feels toxic.
  3. Is social media preventing you from being fully present in your offline life? Even if you don’t reduce the amount of time you’re online, try clustering your usage into fewer daily sessions.

Are you frequently comparing yourself to others?

exercising animals comparing

Social media often creates the illusion that everyone is living a fabulous life. If you compare yourself to this unrealistic standard, your self-esteem could take a major hit.

    For a Tune-Up:
  1. If you’re feeling jealous of someone’s seemingly perfect life, remember that you’re seeing just a tiny, heavily edited slice of a much messier whole.
  2. Are you following someone whose posts are especially triggering or unrealistic? Consider blocking or unfriending them.
  3. Cut down on social media behaviors that lead to unhelpful comparisons. Examples include following or friending people just because they’re popular, or using your posts to one-up others.

Are you engaging in conflict?

elephant and donkey fighting

Arguments are part of being human. But social media algorithms amplify conflict, pushing people to embrace more extreme positions.

    For a Tune-Up:
  1. Have you ever witnessed someone change their views based on an argument in a social media conversation? It may have happened, but it’s rare. Give up the fantasy that you can change others’ minds by arguing with them on social media.
  2. Instead of trying to convince people you’re right, strive to understand others’ points of view, even if you don’t agree.
  3. Are you actively attacking or bullying others, or passively submitting to attacks or bullying from someone else? Either way, the antidote is to step away from conflict that’s damaging to you or others.

Are you airbrushing your life?

beaver taking selfies

If you’re frequently drooling over others’ posts of five-star meals, exotic travel, and carefully posed glamour shots, you may want to prove your own life is equally spectacular. But convincing others of your greatness can become a full-time job, sapping your mood and energy.

    For a Tune-Up:
  1. Challenge yourself to be more authentic online. Research shows that genuine self-disclosure often leads to a more rewarding social media experience.
  2. Post some mundane (but authentic) photos you’d normally not share – your bad haircut, the microwaved burrito you had for lunch, your completely unfiltered selfie. #keepitreal!
  3. While images can be fun to view and post, they focus your attention on appearances. Try posting more about what you feel or think about something important.

Are you neglecting important obligations or activities?

ostrich with its head in the sand

Is your school or work performance suffering? Are you skipping in-person time with friends? Are you spending all your free time online? If “yes,” slow your scroll and check out the recommendations below.

    For a Tune-Up:
  1. Make a short list of the things that are most important to you – for example, “family,” “physical fitness,” “having fun,” etc. Then come up with an offline way to honor each value. If you chose friendship, plan to meet up with a friend. If you chose physical fitness, work out or go on a run. Need help determining your values? Use our Values Clarification worksheet.
  2. Ask others for accountability and support. If your work has been slipping, speak with your teachers or boss. If you’ve turned down invitations from friends, take the initiative by calling and arranging an activity. You get the idea.
  3. To reboot your brain, spend more time in nature (with your phone off or silenced). Take a walk through your neighborhood. Relax on a park bench. Engage your senses and connect with the sights, sounds, and smells of the offline world.

Are you using social media addictively?

woodpecker using phone

There’s a reason you can’t pry yourself away from social media: Likes, alerts, and notifications are designed to trigger a dopamine release that your brain craves. But these fleeting pleasures can quickly become hollow.

    For a Tune-Up:
  1. Try turning off all alerts and notifications. You’ll still be able to check social media when you feel like it, but the constant bells and pings won’t interrupt the flow of your day.
  2. Take a social media fast. If a long period of abstinence is too difficult, focus on stepping away for a shorter period, such as during mealtimes or when you’re hanging out with friends in person.
  3. Consider whether you’re using social media to avoid feeling lonely, insecure, or some other emotion. Try naming what you’re feeling when you have the urge to go online.

Remember that the goal is improvement, not perfection. There’s probably no one who uses social media in a perfectly healthy way all the time. And that’s okay.

What’s important is to identify how your social media use is problematic, and then take small, but consistent steps toward regaining balance and aligning with your values, both online and offline. This opens the door to a richer, more empowering social media experience.

It’s a good idea to repeat the social media check-up periodically to keep you on track.