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Outsmarting Social Media Companies

"The worst is when you and your friend have the same good side."

A college student explained this dilemma to me during a Snapchat photo session. It not only shocked me, but revealed how pervasive social media has become in the lives of young people. It honestly also made me a little sad :-/ (but that could just be my ‘out of touch, older person’ reaction) as I have no idea what my ‘good’ side is.

Learn the Strategy and Impact Behind Social Media

Social media companies have become experts at manipulating our emotions. For instance, they withhold notifications to keep their ‘rewards’ random, which keeps us checking for positive updates (likes, comments, etc.) that give us a hit of dopamine—the happy hormone. Their approach is similar to gambling, as you can’t anticipate or expect when you’re going to win, which makes it all the more exciting when you do.

Ironically, this practice can perpetuate a cycle of anxiety and depression… for instance, you might check social media when you are feeling down for a spike in dopamine, only to find that using your phone and being on social media makes you feel isolated. Add this to the pressure of constantly (and inevitably) comparing yourself to others and their ‘perfect’ lives, and you will likely feel worse than before you started scrolling.

To combat the emotional and addictive strategy that social media companies use, let’s outsmart the social media algorithms that dictate when you check your phone. YOU decide when you are going to look at social media and for how long.

How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Social Media

Here are 5 things that you can do to combat the negative effects of social media and take back control from social media companies:

  1. Become aware of your social media usage. Check your apps and phone to learn about your habits. Based on what you learn, commit to making changes to improve your health.

  2. Create healthy morning and nighttime routines. Start the day off right by not checking your phone as soon as you wake up. And try not to use your phone an hour or two before bed (and/or consider using blue light glasses, screen blockers, and enabling night mode) so you can fall asleep.

  3. Swap social media for other activities. Replace mindless scrolling with journaling, drawing, daydreaming, cooking new recipes, walking outside or something else that makes you feel healthy. Meet up in-person with those you are communicating with digitally.

  4. Be intentional and set limits around usage. Decide when and for how long you are going to be on social media. Hint: less time is probably better but set goals that are realistic and that you can stick to. You are in control of your phone and how you use it.

  5. Set yourself up for success. Figure out ways to ensure that you will achieve your goals around social media usage. Consider having others hold you accountable, rewarding yourself for success, and/or keeping your phone in an unreachable place.

Prior to starting a blog and frequently checking social media, I used to have ‘Social Media Mondays’ … or a day of the week to catch up with what’s going on with friends and acquaintances. It helped me from checking my phone too often and was a habit I was able to practice consistently. I felt empowered and it definitely improved my mood during the week since I wasn’t constantly on my phone.

Figure out what works best for you so you can feel healthy, balanced and social. And let's stay informed and in control so we're not subject to the tactics of social media companies!

Side note: I led a conversation with a group of high schoolers and here is what I learned: they feel constant pressure to look perfect and frequently compare themselves to others on social media (whether or not they want to), they are aware of how it affects them, and they are happier when they take breaks, but because their friends interact and communicate using social media, disconnecting completely isn’t a long-term or viable option.

Because Gen Z and youth are the most qualified in understanding social media platforms (how they are used, the benefits, challenges, etc.), let’s engage with them to learn how we can best support and empower them. With awareness, education, and dialogue, they can set healthy boundaries, have some peace, and develop healthy relationships with social media.




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