As we’re all adjusting to life in the midst of COVID-19, the importance of connection and staying social is more apparent than ever. And a big way we’re staying connected with one another is by relying more on social media than in person interactions.
Which is good! Social distancing can be lonely, and it’s important to stay connected. But that also means now is a good time to reflect on our social media use, and the boundaries we have regarding social media.
Boundaries are often misunderstood. Sometimes we think they are too harsh, or that they just add restrictions to our lives. But boundaries are actually just about protecting our energy and prioritizing our mental health. They help to prevent us from burning out, and allow us a degree of control over the way we spend our emotional and mental energy.
Setting boundaries on social media helps to honor the mental and emotional energy that goes into engaging on those platforms. It is easy to use social media mindlessly, not noticing how depleted it leaves us feeling until afterwards. So as we all shift our focus to virtual connections in this difficult time, it’s a good idea to reflect on how you use social media, how it leaves you feeling, and explore boundaries that can help to enrich the experience.
Ways to set boundaries on social media include:
Limit how much time you spend on social media
Easier said than done, I know! But restricting social media use is actually a wonderful way to increase your actual enjoyment of your chosen platforms. Instead of refreshing your apps over and over, hoping for an update, give yourself a couple times a day that are reserved for checking in on social media. Maybe you scroll through twitter while drinking your coffee in the morning, or check instagram on your lunch break.
Restricting the amount of time you spend on social media means you can be more intentional about how you use that limited time. You have reserved that time, so your attention can be there 100%. It also helps you to keep your feeds restricted to accounts that make that time worth it. If you only get a few minutes a day to be on instagram, you’re going to want to enjoy it, not scroll through a bunch of content you don’t care about!
If you know you struggle to restrict yourself from mindlessly checking social media, don’t be afraid to use a website blocker. You can find ones that allow you to set a specific amount of time for any website per day. And once you’ve reached your cap, it won’t let you visit anymore!
Allow yourself to be picky with who you follow
Contrary to what it seems like, you don’t actually have to friend and follow everyone you’ve ever met! There is so much social pressure to get a high follower count or high “friend” count; but before friending or following someone, ask: what is this adding to my life? Is this someone I really want to connect with? Will the majority of their content enrich my feeds, or will it add more negativity than positivity?
Keeping healthy and firm boundaries on social media means treating your online spaces with the same attitude + boundaries as your “real life” social spaces. For example: if you were at a coffee shop and saw someone from your high school graduating class that you weren’t friends with, would you stop and ask for a detailed update on their life? Or would you just smile or wave and go about your business?
Follow friends and loved ones. Follow accounts that offer valuable resources or make you happy. Allow yourself to say no to accounts that leave you with more negative than positive feelings. Allow yourself to let go of the pressure to connect with everyone you know, regardless of the relationship (or lack thereof) that you have with them.
Mute, unfollow, unfriend
Sometimes we feel pressure to stay connected with people on social media, even if we aren’t really friends. It can be awkward to unfriend a coworker and have to explain it the next day at work. But just because you follow someone on social media out of politeness doesn’t mean you have to see everything they post!
If you’re following someone (a family member, coworker, acquaintance, classmate, etc.) whose posts constantly bring negativity to your feed, you’re giving them space not only in your feed but in your mind–and they are only adding negative feelings to that space. And though it is just a virtual space, it takes up valuable emotional and mental energy to sift through!
If you’re not comfortable unfriending/deleting them, you can still remove them from your feed by using the mute option. On instagram you can mute accounts (stories + posts), on twitter you can mute accounts and any selected words you don’t want to see on your timeline. And on facebook, you can “unfollow” someone–which means you’ll stay friends but their posts won’t ever come across your feed anymore.
Turn off push notifications
An easy way to set boundaries with social media, is to turn off push notifications for your various apps. That way, you won’t feel the pressure to check something right now when a notification pops up. (And might even help you spend less time on your phone overall!)
Turning off the push notifications is an easy compromise between where you are now and deleting the apps completely. While it still allows you to check in on things like twitter or instagram or facebook when you want to, you aren’t constantly being pulled back to them when your attention is elsewhere.
Instead of stopping mid-task (or mid-conversation, etc) to check the notification that just popped up, you can reserve checking in on your notifications for when you are actively using those apps. It also helps bring a habit of mindfulness to your social media use! When you are using social media, instead of mindlessly scrolling after checking whatever notification just popped up, you’ll be intentionally choosing that time for social media use.
Do you need help with setting boundaries in your life? We can help! Contact us today.
-Brice N. Sanner, LMFT