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LIKE the way you use social media

Social media. It’s everywhere and it’s unavoidable. Phones and computers continuously buzzing- we’re constantly connected.

We live in a world where ‘likes’ equate to approval and self-worth, where texting replaces conversation, and where photos define us. We carefully select, alter and post pictures, and then just wait for approval. We look at other people’s pictures and see how our lives measure up in comparison. The focus on appearance is magnified through practices and society’s beauty ideal is reinforced by the comments and likes we receive.

Social media use can greatly influence our self-esteem and self-worth. It creates competition for likes, comments, friends and photos. Everyone wants their lives to look “picture perfect” to others, creating a tremendous amount of pressure. When we’re constantly comparing ourselves to other’s (social-media-version of their) lives, it becomes impossible to measure up and be satisfied. This can easily lead to feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy.

We also use social media to teach us how to live our lives: what pictures to take, what to wear, where to go, and how to be healthy. The danger is that the people we’re learning from are often not experts. Getting fitness advice from fitspiration can lead to guilt, shame, unhealthy goals and unattainable body ideals. Social media sites often equate ‘skinny’ or ‘low calorie’ with healthy. Men are taught that having a body builder physique is the epitome of health and manliness. Flooded with misinformation, our goals and perceptions can be distorted, and it ironically can lead to very unhealthy behaviour.

We often use social media to feel connection to others. But, when we’re feeling lonely we need to find another outlet besides social media, because that just intensifies it. If not connected we feel isolated, but when connected it just highlights how truly isolated we are.

 So is social media evil? Like most things in life, this is not a black and white question. It is not necessarily social media use that causes harm, but the way that it often gets used. Maladaptive social media use, such as the tendency to seek out negative evaluations, or engage in social comparisons or fat shaming, is what predicts the negative outcomes. On the other hand, people who use social media for sharing articles, communicating with friends, and political advocacy are often positively affected by social media use. Social media can even be empowering!

We are more than our number of ‘likes’ from others and instead, we should be focusing on how much we like ourselves. We are the boss of our technology and it is okay to take breaks sometimes. Practicing self-compassion can help us through tough times. This means being kind to ourselves (no comparisons!), remembering that we’re all in this together (we all have tough times), and nonjudgmental acceptance of our thoughts and feelings.

Many of us find it unrealistic to avoid social media, but we can use it ‘better.’ We can use it better by changing what, why and how often we post. We can also become media literate. This means asking yourself if the messages you’re seeing are unhealthy and unrealistic. What is the purpose of the message? How was it created? What are the biases and assumptions involved? And how is it affecting you? Empower yourself to be critical of what you see. Understanding the message can give us control over how it influences us.