I've been thinking a lot lately about how the next generation won't have ever experienced a life without the internet. Without google at our fingertips anytime we don't know the answer to a question, without entertainment as far as the eye can see and without the social media platforms we spend so much of our time on.
This isn't me thinking 'oh those were the days...' and feeling far older than my years, it's more the worry of how the next generations will grow up with even less of a social media/real life separation than we do.
I've always freely admitted how hard I sometimes find it to put my phone down and step away, back into my everyday life and I actively have to work on how I protect my space online. It's a constant process and one I hope we can help each other to normalise.
How I protect my real life, how I protect my online spaces and how I protect my mental heath.
I couldn't not start this chatty post with reflections on our online spaces, without first acknowledging the way in which the last 12 months has affected our use of social media. I'm the first to sing about how wonderful social platforms can be and how if we use them to our advantage they can be a wealth of inspiration and for people like me with online careers, also a key to building amazing communities. Of course at the start of 2020 what we never expected was that social media would become integral to so many more lives than ever before. We're all social beings to some extent (some far more than others of course), but to be in ever changing stages of lockdown and have our versions of normality halted, has meant so much to adapt to. The line between our online lives and our real life lives, has become more hazy than ever and not only that but so many of us aren't used to having this extra time on our hands alongside the impact of such an unprecedented 12 months. The heaviness it's brought along with for some so much extra time to fill, has meant we're spending more time than ever on social media, when perhaps that's not always the best or most productive route to take for our mental health.
So how can we protect our mental health while still enjoying the connection with others that social media so importantly offers us?
Embrace Life Offline
I know I know, says the one who spends so much of her time online for work, for play and for friendship. I'm always so quick to pick up my phone, even with no real definite purpose and quite often I find that's because I'm either bored or I'm procrastinating doing certain something that's causing me stress. Of course a quick scroll through Instagram, Twitter or TikTok can pass the time joyfully with a few laughs, a few posts saved and perhaps some important news brought to light - but what could I have done instead? Walked the dog and got some much needed fresh air in the process, spoken with Alex and enjoyed some quality time together, done some exercise and released some mood boosting endorphins, watched a little TV and truly relaxed into my evening or perhaps called a friend and checked in with them. Sometimes we forget that there are other options open to us when our online and real life world merges and it just might be that those other options would bring us more joy than a social media scroll in the end. If we embrace our life offline too, we'll protect ourselves by creating a much better and much more manageable balance between the two.
Indulge in The Joy Online
It's all too easy to be disheartened by what we see shared on social media and in turn forget that social media can be exactly what we make it. We can find ourselves comparing our lives to others, fall quickly into an angry comment section that brings our mood down or even be triggered by other peoples content that's at detriment to our own struggles. It can easily happen in the blink of an eye, especially if we're in the frame of mind to search the negativity out but for the most part we can curate the joy we want to embrace. Fill your online spaces with celebrities, content creators, brands and friends who; make you laugh, teach you something new, encourage your talents, celebrate peoples achievements, allow for 'imperfections' and make your social media a place you love to be a part of. Quite often curating a space that's our idea of pure happiness also means we consume that content with a purpose and meaning we may not have before. Unfollow, mute and block will always be there when you need them most, as will the follow, like and comment buttons - choose wisely and choose joy if you're able to!
Connect With Like Minded People
Whether you follow each other or the follow is just one way, connecting with like minded people is a brilliant way to protect your mental health online. That isn't to say you shouldn't follow anyone who pushes your view of the world out of your comfort zone, teaches you about topics you need to know more about and/or are experts in things you have no experience of. However ensuring your social media consists of people who are creative like you, love the same topics as you, indulge in the same hobbies you do and feel strongly about the same topics as you, allows for a certain level of comfort we shouldn't deny ourselves. There's no reason why your social platforms shouldn't be a big virtual hug of all the things that bring you comfort alongside the things that encourage you. Don't deny yourself of connecting with people who share the same beliefs, loves, hobbies, passions and even jobs as you, you deserve an online space that gives you a foundation of protection.
Recognise When It's Too Much
This could be as simple as recognising your daily screen time is much higher than it needs to be or as complicated as recognising a link between your negative mood and your time online. Sometimes we only realise things are too much for us to take on when we've already hit our limit and crashed and then we find it impossible to deal with what brought us to that point fully. I think once we begin to normalise that no one online is perfect just as we also ourselves also aren't, we can start to realise that spending too much time online offers us no benefits. Once we've engaged with the content that has brought us joy, followed a few new people to inspire us (yes people - never forget there's always a human behind that last post you saw...) and competed any work we had to tick off our list we can be free. If like me you don't often feel free of social media than it's time to recognise that there's either a sense of obligation there (remember no one is obligated to have access to you and your life) or addiction which is far more common than we care to admit amongst our peers. Protect your mental health by taking it day by day, step by step and create a social media world that works for and benefits you.
I could probably go on for pages and pages here about how important this topic is to me but if you feel like your mental health is being negatively affected by your use of social media, then I hope the above might help you to take a step back and reassess how you fit your real life around it. This last year has taught us just how important social media can be in our lives but also how important our real life is to us too. I know I for one will forever appreciate and cherish every in person moment I eventually get to have and how good they are for my own mental health, alongside the privilege of having an online community I love being a part of!
Images taken on a magical PR trip last January to beautiful Finland with the Lumene team.