How to Navigate Social Media’s Effects on Your Mind

The five children in the picture are lined up by height, dressed in their Sunday best. They’re all displaying ear-to-ear smiles for the camera.

“This picture is fake,” Michael Reiffer told the audience assembled for a recent PR Connect presentation in Grand Rapids about social media and its effects on mental health.

Sure, the picture really did happen. It’s of Reiffer’s own children on Easter, but the social worker from Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services explained that it didn’t tell the full story. It doesn’t show you the time it took to wrangle five children into their dress clothes or the 30-minute photo session that also produced a lot of outtakes.

Reiffer said we see these types of images daily on social media and it presents a skewed picture of happiness and perfection that just isn’t realistic. While he’s not anti-tech, he cautioned that over-reliance on social media and other technological advances is changing the way we process the world and interact with one another.

Many people think of smart phones as morally neutral, Reiffer said, meaning it depends on how you use them that determines whether they’re harmful or not. He prefers to compare smart phones to scalpels – they’re amazing tools, but you should know to exercise caution. There can be danger or negative outcomes associated with obsessive technology and social media usage, so we should handle with care, he explained.

Signs of social media or technology over-reliance could include:

  • Skipping social times or other activities you enjoy.
  • Becoming particularly irritable when you’re interrupted in real life as you’re engaging on social media.
  • Reaching for your phone or gadget at the slightest hint of boredom.
  • Saying things online that you wouldn’t in real life.
  • Routinely spending more than three hours of your day engaging with the technology.
  • Not being able to disconnect – even for one full day.

Feeling the need to post your every move on social media can make people feel an over-inflated sense of self-importance, Reiffer said. It also compromises privacy. If you’ve ever noticed people dining out together all looking down at their phones, you’ll understand what Reiffer means by being “alone together”. He worries we might be raising a generation of people who don’t know how to be where they are with atrophying intimacy skills and the ability to make real connections.

So, what can you do to break the technology and social media cycle?

  • Make sure to connect regularly with friends, family and loved ones in person – put your phones down and enjoy a meal or walk that’s heavy on the conversation.
  • Establish “no tech” times for yourself and your family. Remember what it feels like to be bored or how the pages of a book turn between your fingers – no swiping!
  • Take nature breaks, which Reiffer said can have a mitigating effect on an over-abundance of technology time.

Social media may feel unavoidable but by raising your awareness of its effects on your mental health, you’ll be one step closer to engaging with it in a safe, healthy way.

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Editor’s note: The author of this post is a board member of PR Connect, an advisory board to the Pine Rest Foundation. 

Photo credit: R4vi

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