The year’s coming to an end, and as I look back on the past year, one thing that stands out to me is how much I’ve been on social media. I took an extended hiatus from it several years ago, and just recently rejoined the world of social media this past summer. It was a refreshing break that helped me focus more deeply on my own life and my close relationships. But, it also left me feeling cut-off from the world in many ways.
While I’m thoroughly enjoying my re-engagement on social networks, I also know there’s a lot of talk about the negative effects it can create. It’s got me thinking about how important it is to consciously choose to make social media work for us. So it doesn’t slowly and unwittingly begin to work against us. And, I’m thinking about how doing that probably means conducting some sort of social media cleanse.
Not necessarily a total time-out, like I took. It doesn’t have to be that extreme. I’m thinking something more subtle, more like a pruning or a careful curation of digital feeds. Interjecting an intentional balance in terms of time spent, as well as how and with whom we interact. Paying attention to how we feel and how we react to the images and ideas we come across.
A social media cleanse can work much like a dietary cleanse. We’re just looking at what’s healthy and unhealthy for our mind, instead of for our body.
Social Media is a Double-Edged Sword
The truth is, social media is a powerful tool for connection. It allows us not only to stay up-to-date with friends and family via little snapshots into their lives, but to organize as groups with common interests. To share ideas. To catch glimpses into places and events we might never encounter otherwise.
On the other hand, it can also be a petri dish for negativity. It can pick at our insecurities and contribute to or exacerbate mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. It’s a double-edged sword, I guess you could say. But, we’re the ones who get to choose how we wield that sword. If we’re mindful about it, social media can be a source for inspiration, happiness, and a deepening of our appreciation and compassion for our fellow human beings.
There’s a saying that health isn’t only about what you’re eating. It’s about what you’re thinking and saying too. Because what we think, what we say, and what we expose ourselves to energetically impacts our holistic body-mind-spirit system. I can’t think of a more fitting context for which to contemplate this adage than our social media world, where we both absorb and project so many ideas and images. It seems vital to our overall health, then, to seriously consider how social media may be contributing to, or detracting from, our overall well-being.
If you’re wanting to get more intentional about using social media to support your health and happiness, this simple 6-step social media cleanse can empower that process.
What is a Social Media Cleanse?
When I started up on social media again, I’d been absent so long it was almost like starting all over. And in terms of Instagram, it was starting from scratch, because I’d never had an account on that platform before. Coming back to my Facebook feed, I noticed early-on the variety of posts popping up. There were positive, uplifting ones followed immediately by angry, divisive ones. There were news stories, memes, and announcements. Photos ranged from people’s travel destinations, plates of food, and family outings to professional shoots depicting anything from impressive yoga poses to bikini-clad beach shots. It was a lot to take in!
Facebook had changed in the years I’d been away. The most glaringly noticeable difference was the algorithm. I wasn’t seeing everyone’s posts, even some of my closest friends. And they weren’t seeing mine either. I learned quickly that Facebook serves up a limited buffet of our friends’ shares in our feed, and based on how we interact with them, we either continue to see similar posts or we don’t.
While this at first frustrated me, I quickly realized I could use this feature as a tool to carefully curate my feed. The more I liked certain types of posts, the more I would see similar content. Likewise, the more I ignored content I didn’t enjoy, the less it showed up in my feed. I spent some time consciously choosing what I wanted my Facebook experience to entail, and it paid off. The result is, every morning when I get on Facebook, I feel uplifted. I start my day with positive interaction and get inspired by the posts I see. It’s definitely working for me, not against me.
It’s About Creating a Balance
A social media cleanse can do the same for you. It involves not only curating your feeds as described above, but seeking out forums for interaction that support your health and happiness. To be clear, I’m not suggesting you stick your head in the sand or create a little bubble that keeps you from seeing or hearing differing points of view. Or, from learning about some of the less positive things happening in the world. That would ultimately be unhealthy. But, finding a balance that maintains your peace of mind and encourages you to show up for life as your best self everyday is healthy.
Additionally, a social media cleanse involves shifting the way you relate to what you see. This means paying attention to how the people and posts you are interacting with impact you. Being honest with yourself about it. Especially when your reaction is in some way interfering with your health and happiness. Sometimes, it’s not the content itself that’s causing a problem for us, but our own mindset.
Why Do a Social Media Cleanse?
For most people, be they tweens or retired adults, social media has become a massively influential part of daily life. The rise of influencers as a major marketing force around the world provides testimony to this fact. According to Pew Research, 7 out of 10 adults in the U.S. report using Facebook, and 67% of adults aged 18-29 are active on Instagram. The majority of these users are visiting these platforms daily.
With these sizable statistics, researchers have begun to look at what sort of impact social media is having on society. And what they’re finding doesn’t look good. This study published in the Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology found that spending extensive amounts of time on Facebook led people to feel depressed. Further, that the depressing effect resulted from people comparing themselves to others.
Another study presented in the same journal found decreasing time spent on social media led to a significant decrease in symptoms of anxiety and depression. This study found social media use to be significantly associated with increased depression, and another connected it to increased symptoms of anxiety. Including a greater likelihood for symptoms that reach the threshold for a clinical diagnosis of anxiety disorder.
In a world where anxiety and depression are already so prominent, the awareness that social media use might be contributing to and exacerbating these conditions can’t be taken lightly. And not just for people who’ve been diagnosed with these conditions. There appears to be something inherent in the social media phenomenon that elicits anxious and/or saddening responses in people. If we’re not paying attention to this, and in turn altering the ways we use social media, we risk inviting such disturbances into our lives.
A social media cleanse not only raises our awareness of how social media is affecting us, but it helps us take charge of our social media experience. There’s so much positive and helpful content being generated and shared everyday. It’s just a matter of seeking it out. And, making sure we don’t fall into some of the traps that can lead to negative side effects.
1. Curating Your Feeds is Priority One for Your Social Media Cleanse
The first step for your social media cleanse is to start the process of curating your feeds. This can take some time both to complete and to see the results of your efforts. If you’ve been engaging with certain people and/or certain types of posts for a while, it may take the algorithms a little while to figure out your tastes have changed.
The process here is pretty simple. By liking and commenting only on posts that feel supportive of your well-being, you’ll teach the social networks you’re active on what you want to start seeing more of. What might be a bit more challenging, however, is following through with your intention when it means you may have to stop engaging regularly with people you’re used to interacting with. Especially if they’re in your circle of friends or family members.
How to Decide What Content to Cut-Out
Obviously, this is a very personal decision. And there are no absolutes here. The best way to consider this is to start paying attention to how you feel when you see different types of posts. Do you feel happy, inspired, connected, encouraged, bettered, or informed in a meaningful or actionable way? If so, these types of posts will likely support your health and happiness. The ones that leave you feeling saddened, angry, helpless, hopeless, overwhelmed, or somehow feeling less-than will likely grate at your sense of well-being over time.
Of course, we’re all complex creatures, which means the types of posts we share can vary from day to day. And the world is a complex place, which means the news it produces will sometimes be positive and other times, downright heartbreaking. As mentioned before, the intention here isn’t to stick our heads in the sand of denial, refusing to look at anything that might upset us.
However, certain accounts may have a tendency to gravitate toward negative news or take an angry, depressing, or divisive view of the world. Some accounts might present such a picture-perfect take on their life you find yourself frequently feeling as though you fall short in comparison. It’s worth considering how beneficial it is for you to feed yourself such mind-food on a daily basis.
For me, what it came down to was this. If it’s not helping me in some way, why do I need to see it on a regular basis? Some news I do need to see, even if it’s upsetting, so I can stay informed. But, do I need to see every awful thing that happens in the world? Do I need to hear every thing that this or that politician or celebrity does or says wrong? I don’t think so.
How to Disengage Tactfully
It can be hard to choose to cut someone off on social media. But at the end of the day, you’re the one living your life. It’s okay to make your well-being a priority. They don’t have to know you’ve stepped back. Just quietly unfollow them. On Facebook, you can even unfollow someone without having to unfriend them. And, your disengagement can happen slowly over time, as you engage with less and less posts, if that feels more comfortable. Keep in mind, for those people you want to hang onto, you can always visit their account from time to time to like a few of their more neutral or positive posts.
Another option is to be upfront about what you’re doing. You can let certain people, who you think might notice your disengagement, know you’re doing a social media cleanse. Tell them you’ve started a challenge or an experiment to see what happens when you only engage with happy or uplifting posts on social media. Who knows? This might even open their eyes to how much negative content they’re circulating.
2. Take Advantage of Groups to Supercharge Your Social Media Cleanse
I can’t say enough good things about Facebook Groups. This is another feature I discovered upon my return to the world of social media, and I’m LOVING it. Why? Because it’s an opportunity to connect with people who share my interests and mindset from all around the world. And the groups I’ve joined sprinkle my feed with positive messages, insights, new perspectives, and helpful information.
Joining Facebook groups that are targeted to your interests is a great way to ensure your feed shows you the kind of content you know will support your health and happiness. There are millions of groups on Facebook, so you’re bound to find at least a few that interest you. Whether it be related to your career, hobbies, wellness, or simply a positive mindset, they’re out there.
And what’s really cool about groups is they have established rules for engagement every member agrees to, as well as moderators who enforce them. That means, if someone comes into the group and starts posting a bunch of offensive, off-topic, or otherwise problematic content, the moderators can take care of curating that for you.
Just to give a sample, I’ve joined groups related to yoga, meditation, holistic health, hiking, and blogging. I’ve also found some that focus broadly on heart-based wisdom, achieving happiness, and self-improvement. I not only learn valuable information from the articles shared in these groups, but I find inspiration and mood-boosting memes. I’m reminded daily there are people out there like me, from all different cultures and age-groups, who value the same things I do. It’s where I feel the power of social media’s interconnecting capacity the most.
3. Seek-Out Positive Accounts to Follow
This is the flip-side of step number one, which focuses on filtering-out the more negative accounts appearing in your feed. An effective social media cleanse isn’t just about what you take-out. It’s also about what you add-in. In this step, you’re looking for opportunities to connect with people who consistently share positive, helpful, or otherwise supportive content. And there are tons of accounts like this out there.
Since starting my blog, I’ve had the opportunity to connect with so many bloggers who are putting their energy into planting seeds of positive growth on the Internet every day. I’ve been blown away by how amazing it feels to open up my Facebook and Instagram feeds each morning and discover so many little gifts of wisdom, insight, helpful tips, and you-go-girl words of encouragement. In terms of mind-food, this stuff is my daily dose of power greens, vitamins, and fiber served up on a silver platter.
I encourage you to find a few of these types of accounts to connect with as well. Bloggers, healers, authors, artists, life coaches, counselors, or just accounts with a decidedly positive perspective can all work. Find people who make it a point to put out content that serves your health and happiness. That way, every day you’re sure to find something in your feed that makes you feel good and encourages you to be your best self.
How to Find Positive Accounts to Connect With
There are several ways to find these types of accounts. One is to search hashtags that relate to the type of content you’re looking for. Another is to check out the accounts your friends are following, especially when you see a positive post they’ve shared. A third is to think about some of the authors, healers, or other thought-leaders you’ve already been exposed to and seek them out on social media.
Scroll through their profile to get a feel for what type of content they consistently post. If it feels like a good fit, connect!
Here are a few accounts I follow and have found to be a source of daily inspiration:
- KayaQuotes (Instagram)
- She3.0 (Instagram)
- Shellie Lynn Wellness (Instagram)
- Happy Science Mom (Instagram)
- Journey With Healthy Me (Instagram)
- Learning to Be Free (Instagram)
- Abundant Heart Space (Instagram)
- Cozy Simple Calm (Instagram)
- The Remote Yogi (Instagram)
- Humanity Healing (Facebook)
- Community of the Awake (Facebook)
- Enlightened Consciousness (Facebook)
4. Your Own Mindset is Also an Important Part of Your Social Media Cleanse
While making sure we’re connecting with supportive accounts and messages is key to a good social media cleanse, we also have to take responsibility for our own mindset. Engagement is a two-way street. Once we encounter content, it’s up to us how we process it internally.
I hear a lot about comparison-syndrome when it comes to social media. I’m not sure that’s a technical term, but the notion points to our tendency to compare our own lives to those of others when we see what they’re posting. And because people mostly share their best moments, that comparison leaves us with a sense of lacking.
Research actually supports this, as studies have shown both men and women feel pressured to conform or measure-up to standards seen on social media. This phenomenon often leads to lowered self-esteem. Beyond that, there’s the matter of content that’s emotionally charging. The stuff that gets us riled up, leaves us feeling saddened, or produces anxiety.
Scrolling through social media can be such a mindless activity. And here I mean mindless in terms of the opposite of mindfulness. We generally don’t pay attention to what we’re feeling and thinking in the present moment as we scan through our seemingly endless stream of posts. Even when we have a particularly emotional reaction to something, we move quickly past it to the next and then the next.
How Your Mindset Can Support You on Social Media
If you’re not paying attention to how you’re being impacted, it doesn’t mean you’re not being impacted. It just means it’s working beneath the surface, making it much harder to manage in a healthy way. And when you do notice the effect but simply scroll forward, without taking the time to properly process it, you’re allowing yourself to be influenced mindlessly.
When we come across content that’s triggering, it’s important to take a few moments to sit with the emotions. Let them have their space to be felt. If we don’t do this, if we just stuff it and move on, it’s going to show up later in other interactions. Our mood or mindset’s going to be effected, and we may not even realize why.
Once we’ve consciously registered our reaction, it’s important to acknowledge our mindset. How are we internalizing what we’ve encountered? For example, if you’ve been struggling with a certain aspect of your life, and you see pictures of a friend who seems to have it all together, or at least that part of her life working smoothly, you might feel a twinge of jealousy. Or, a sense of being incompetent or less worthy somehow. That’s an awful feeling.
Re-framing Your Mindset
Taking ownership of your mindset in this situation would mean first acknowledging what you’re actually feeling. Then, broadening your view to allow for a more supportive and encouraging perspective. You might remind yourself that your friend is showcasing her best moments. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t have her own struggles as well.
You might also focus on the positive efforts you’re making, as well as on the other areas of your life that you’re feeling good about. And, you might think about the fact that life ebbs and flows. While you may be struggling now, you’ll be having your own highlights to share again too. This can help open you up to being inspired by your friend. And, appreciating that she’s blessed to be enjoying such a positive period in her life right now. Your mindset then shifts from woe is me to good for her! The more we celebrate the successes of others, the more we invite success into our own life.
5. Setting Boundaries for Your Time Empowers a Social Media Cleanse
Getting intentional about your social media cleanse has to include reflection on the amount of time you’re spending on social media. An honest assessment not only of the overall amount of time, but what that time is taking away from in other aspects of your life. And, what purpose it’s serving for you.
This study linking excessive social media use to loneliness and depression recommends a maximum of 30 minutes a day. I’m sure the optimal amount of time varies from person to person, especially depending on how they’re using it, but this study does bring to the forefront an important point. There is such a thing as too much social media. A threshold that, once crossed, means you’re getting diminishing returns on your investment of time, if not negative side effects.
It’s More About Quality Than Quantity
The key, I think, is to start paying attention to how much of your time is being eaten up by your social media use, and whether or not what you’re honestly getting from that activity is truly benefiting you. Part of this assessment includes looking at why it is you’re on social media to begin with. Is it to feel connected? To catch up with your friends’ lives? To get inspired or find out what’s going on in the world? If so, at what point have you truly reached that goal?
On the other hand, if you’re getting on social media because you’re bored, procrastinating, or merely out of habit, it’s worth considering if this is the best use of your time. What opportunities for face-to-face connection are you missing out on with your nose stuck in front of a screen? What low-grade anxiety is being maintained by your continued procrastination? Are there other ways you could spend your time when you’re bored that might be more beneficial?
Setting a limit on overall time spent on social media can be a great starting point for this part of your social media cleanse. Imposing that boundary can jerk you out of habits that may have settled-in and give you a rule to remind yourself of when the old impulse pops up. Otherwise, simply staying mindful of your intention for being on social media in the first place can help guide your management of time. Once you’ve gotten what you need from it, simply stop and move on to other more meaningful or important activities.
6. Include Your Own Content in Your Social Media Cleanse
Doing a social media cleanse is all about taking conscious responsibility for this sphere of your life. Since you’re both a consumer and a producer of social media content, taking responsibility means curating the content you’re putting out there too.
By participating in this grand exchange of ideas on the Internet, you’re contributing to the noosphere – the collective mind of the world, if you will. Just as the things other people post can impact you, what you’re posting can impact others. And, your social media content serves as a public record of your life. It’s important to be thoughtful about what you’re projecting into the world.
What We Say on Social Media Matters
I’ve thought often about the strange predicament this digital age has put our adolescents in. At a time when their pre-frontal cortex hasn’t yet fully developed, giving them good decision-making function, they’re sharing images and ideas with the whole world that can come back to haunt them decades later. And sadly, the perceived mask of anonymity social media provides can amplify the worst in them, as evidenced by the epidemic of online bullying we’re seeing .
But even for adults, strong emotions, opinions, and/or general carelessness can lead us to post things we later regret. Or things that, if we really thought about it, might be doing more harm than good. It can seem so easy or inconsequential to just post whatever comes to mind or whatever feels right in the moment, without considering if it’s really what we want to be putting out into the world. Either as a record of our life or as a message to humanity.
As you’re conducting your social media cleanse, take some time to think about what you want to contribute to the larger conversation. How do you want to be remembered? What legacy do you want to offer the world? How does what you’re sharing likely impact other people? Social media is, after all, a conversation. Though it might feel somewhat one-sided, there are people out there on the receiving end. Is what you’re posting aligned with your best intentions?
Consider What Motivates Your Posts
Facebook and Instagram have gradually been moving toward hiding from the public the number of likes we receive on our posts. This comes in answer to growing evidence showing social media interaction can lead to lowered self-esteem. The thinking is, if other people can’t see how many likes we’re getting, we might stop using the number of likes we accumulate as some sort of measuring stick for our own self-worth.
That’s a step in the right direction. But, even when this change takes full effect, we’ll still be able to see on our end how many people have liked our content. It’s a band-aid for a much deeper problem.
The whole point of this social media cleanse process is to start using social media in a way that supports your health and happiness. If at some level you’re using social media as a way to validate your self-worth, or to project an image of yourself you think will make you more likable, this might be a good time to evaluate your motivations for posting.
Are you addicted to the chemicals that get released every time someone gives you a like? Do you feel deflated when you don’t get the response you’d hoped for? We’re all wired to want this sort of positive feedback. But social media has amplified this desire to a whole new level. Left unchecked, it can erode our happiness and mental health in sneaky ways, just like any unhealthy addiction can.
If you notice this tendency in yourself, you can shift your motivation from seeking likes to something that’s ultimately more empowering. You can give yourself the validation you’re wanting prior to posting. Share what truly makes you feel good to share, because it’s an expression of your beautiful, wonderful, unique self. Then, it doesn’t matter who responds to it. The act of expressing yourself becomes its own reward.
Social media has opened up a vast portal of communication across the globe. It truly is a marvel when you think about it. But, just like the world itself, social media is populated with all kinds of people exchanging ideas that reach across every possible spectrum. Some useful, some harmful. It’s up to us to glean from that massive swirl of content that which best helps us create and support the kind of life we want to be living.
A thorough social media cleanse ensures what we’re feeding our mind on a daily basis is the healthiest food we can find.
Tell me what you think in the comments section below. Have you done a social media cleanse? Or, can you see the benefit of doing one? How’s your social media world supporting or not supporting your health and happiness right now?