Remember back to grade school days when you thought it’d be pretty neat if you got to spend an hour or two on the internet? Fast forward to 2017, when the thought of eating a meal or going to the bathroom without scrolling through your social media feeds may send you into a cold sweat. And let’s not even discuss the psychological trauma one endures when they forget to bring their cell phone with them on a quick errand, or, heaven forbid, to the office.
OK, maybe we’re being a little dramatic, but you must acknowledge how reliant we are on our WiFi connection. With reliance on social media comes direct influence, which can be positive or negative depending on the information we’re absorbing on a daily—nay, minute-by-minute—basis.
Which means along with our closets and refrigerators, our social media feeds could benefit from a good cleanup this time of year, especially given the current political climate which has left many our feeds dominated by infuriating links to fake news and conflicting opinions from friends and family members.
The Case for Unfriending and Unfollowing
I recently spent some time with Kevin Curry of Fit Men Cook, a fitness and food influencer who relies on social media to make a living. In our discussion, he mentioned that he often gets asked for advice from his million-plus followers about how they can improve their lifestyles and become healthier.
While you’d think the answer would be an obvious “hit the gym and veggie up,” he takes a different approach by urging them to give their social media feeds a makeover. Curry advocates for ditching bad influences and instead populating your feeds with pages and people who will motivate you and add quality to your life.
This method works not just for food and diet, but across all topic areas and social groups. From finding a healthy balance between too much and too little politics, to pressing “unfollow” on a “friend” that makes your blood boil on the regular, to increasing the amount of positivity you see every day, it only makes sense to be highly deliberate about the information you’re so consistently exposed to.
Ready to declutter? Follow this advice:
Unfollow Friends Who Cause Anxiety
“Unfollowing does not have the social stigma of ‘unfriending,’” explained Dr. Amy Cooper Hakim, an industrial-organizational psychology practitioner. “You’ll still receive notifications of your unfollowed friends’ birthdays, and if an unfollowed friend tags you in a post you will still get the notification there, too. The only difference is that you will no longer see that friend’s posts in your newsfeed.”
She said this tactic works well for contacts with whom you feel obligated to remain connected, yet whose posts do not bring you joy or happiness. And FYI: You can mute a follower on Twitter, which has the same effect.
When to Block Someone
In many cases, a simple unfollow will suffice. There are some situations where a straight-up block or removal is the better option, though.
“When someone begins to become toxic through their posts, I recommend blocking that individual completely,” said Dr. Suzana Flores, a licensed clinical cyberpsychologist and author of Facehooked: How Facebook Affects Our Emotions, Relationships and Lives. “In my book, I discuss that when someone is no longer a part of your life, they should be removed as a connection digitally, as well. In particular, when it comes to a relationship break up, maintaining digital connection makes getting over someone more difficult because their posts are ‘in your face,’ so to speak.”
She said that about 83 percent of Facebook users stalk their exes, which isn’t all that surprising. Remove the temptation across all social media feeds, and you’ll remove the ensuing sadness, anger, and time-eating black-hole.
Make and Use Social Media Lists
“You can make private lists for Twitter and Facebook, which allow you to categorize your contacts so that you only view the posts or tweets of certain individuals,” said Hakim. “This is a huge timesaver, because you can focus your social media usage on your intended purpose at that moment. You can make separate lists for loved ones, work-related content and personal interests.”
Go Through Pages with a Fine-Toothed Comb
Go through every page you’re following and remove any that don’t serve your mind or body well, and repeat across all your social media platforms. Sure, this may take some time, but so does any deep clean. If you later discover that a page has snuck through The Great Purge, be proactive about unfollowing on the spot.
Replace with Positive Influences
Lest your feeds feel sparse, slowly begin adding pages that will positively impact your life. Maybe it’s a healthy food page, an unbiased media outlet, local philanthropic pages, a comedian whose standup always makes you laugh, or a human-interest page that breeds all the warm and fuzzies.
“Once you clean up your feeds and organize them, social media will become much more enjoyable,” said Hakim. “You will save time and walk away feeling happy and connected to the people and causes that you care about most.”
Stop Comparing Your 24/7 to Someone’s Photoshopped Five Minutes
A good old purge and replace can certainly improve your user experience and make for a happier disposition. However, you must also be cognizant of how deeply social media impacts you in the first place.
“Research is showing us the more time we spend on social media, the more likely we are to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety,” Dr. Flores said. “Such symptoms are a result from either viewing too many messages within one sitting, being exposed to negative posts, or comparing ourselves to what other people post.”
She explained that most social media users strive to express themselves through editing, embellishments, exaggerations or photo editing, which means that what we see in our newsfeeds is far from an accurate representation of reality. Even though most of us are aware of this (and do it ourselves), it requires a concerted mental effort to stop comparing our mundane 24/7 to the best five minutes of a friends’ days.
The next time you feel yourself sinking into a pit of “can’t keep up” despair, remember that what you’re seeing is an inflated reality. It’s ultimately your responsibility to re-focus and take control your thoughts.
“When we allow what is happening externally to control our thoughts, feelings and actions, we disempower ourselves,” said L. Gordon Brewer, a licensed marital and family therapist. “By taking ownership of our own thoughts, feelings and actions, we are in control of ourselves and will ultimately be much happier.”
Despite some of the drawbacks, social media—and the internet at large—is an invaluable resource. It connects us instantly with people across the world, provides news updates as events occur, gives us an outlet to express ourselves, and allows us to share affirmations or words of affection with our loved ones. Still, we mustn’t forget the powerful effect it can have on our psyche. Being diligent about tailoring our feeds—and cleaning house when needed—will ensure that we keep our experience a positive one.
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