Recently I’ve received two (not tons to be clear, just two) messages noting my relationship to social media seemed healthy and balanced. And I can say with certainty that it was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. But it wasn’t always been that way.
When I first started my account, I was posting 2 (sometimes 3!) times a day. I was active on twitter, pinterest, and snapchat. I responded to every DM. I responded to every comment. I commented on upwards of 100 photos per day of similar accounts. Granted, this was before tiktok and reels were even options. But it was a lot.
During this time, I was a young twenty something living at home with my parents after college. I was trying (and failing) to recover from a really devastating break up. I was working part time at a hospital, taking prerequisite classes at a community college that I needed for PA school, and starting my online Master’s in nutrition. Every single waking free moment, I would hop on social media. At the time it was an escape that I thought was “healthy” and “productive”. I needed to fill every second of space in my life to avoid sitting with how sad I was.
On the flip, and more positive, side, it was kind of a place where I grew to know (and like!) myself again after feeling so, so, so lost.
But. And I repeat. IT WAS A LOT.
During the above description, my account was certainly growing lot. In fact the majority of my growth came within the first 3 years. Again, the game has changed a lot since I began my account 6ish years ago. The algorithm is different, there’s a constant essence to be on! Creating! Doing more!! But there was a lot of growth during that time (more about that here).
And now I’m just on a steady maintenance phase. Okay, let’s face it, I’ve been on a decline for about a year now.
My story views are down, my engagement is a quarter of what it used to be, and my follower count hasn’t seen any real uptick in over a year. And by that I mean I’ve lost over 5,000+ followers in this last year alone.
I think before this year, these statistics would have really bothered me.
However, before this year, I was living in this weird purgatory of having some semblance of what I wanted my career to look like, but still no tangible plan of anything unfolding in front of me. Big ideas and **thinking** I could maybe enact all of my background into one, but it was just a guess! To be honest, I started to think the most impressive and interesting thing about me was my Instagram account, especially in PA school. Oh goodness, in PA school, with identity of just “student,” I felt so incredibly passionless, uninspired, and uninteresting – a complete robot drone making small talk about the weather and just going through the motions.
And my social media certainly reflected this sentiment during this time. I had bandwidth for meal prep and meal prep only. I was trying to keep my account alive as much as I could, but I myself felt so lifeless. HOWEVER, for the most part my account was still growing when I was in PA school.
How? Not sure. My account was 90% meal prep and me crying on stories. It was only until the end of school and after that I started to feel the decline. If this had happened a few years earlier, when I was still raw and vulnerable from a breakup and learning to like/know myself again, I think I would have taken this VERY personally.
And I have no doubt that my content is irritating, triggering, or downright annoying to some. Sometimes that has to do with me. And sometimes it has absolutely nothing to do with me. But there is no way for me to be able to predict this. If I spent my whole day trying to get my content to please all: 1. I wouldn’t be able to create any content because I’d be crippled by analysis paralysis 2. My content would be incredibly boring. 3. My content wouldn’t be MY content. It would belong to an idea of what I thought others wanted from me.
And this is why I can easily step away from social media now, without fear of losing or missing. I can take big long breaks without crippling worry or anxiety (in fact quite the opposite, when my anxiety increases I know it’s time for a complete hiatus).
Because my self worth isn’t my follower count. I have so many MORE interesting things going on that are entirely separate from social media. (It also helps that I have a separate income now so my survival doesn’t feel as 100% linked to the number of times I’m posting on social media, which is a blessing.)
Another thing that is oh so helpful is that I am now wholly dedicated to others from Monday-Friday 8am-5pm (more about getting my first job as a family medicine PA here). Social media can feel REALLY self-involved. So having this dedicated 40+ hours a week when I am mindfully thinking of others, undistracted by the internet and social media, has greatly helped my own relationship to social media, too.
I also aim to be intentional about the WAY I show social media. As someone in healthcare, I know just how profoundly and negatively social media can affect mental health. Which is why I try to emulate using social media in a balanced and controlled way – maybe a little bit in the morning and evening, but for the most part feeling focused and satisfied in my daily life – a supplementation rather than the main event. And always emphasizing UNFOLLOWING someone if you start noticing a twinge of feeling like sh!t about yourself when you consume their content! Being conscious and critical consumers instead of mindless scrollers is so important!!
When I think about what it takes to grow on social media (taken from a recent article I read), I feel nauseated: in-feed posts, stories daily day, 4-7 reels per week, 1-3 IGTV a week (including Instagram live).
LIKE WHAT?! This makes me so angry. This easily requires 40+ hours of content creation. Followed by actually being ON the app in addition – posting, responding, commenting, etc. I almost feel like the app is a social psychology experiment designed to make you feel bad about yourself and send you into a spiral of declining mental health. Those who fulfill the ridiculous quota are rewarded with more engagement and more followers, and those who take a bit of healthier approach get lost in the algorithm.
And how easy it can be to get sucked into the algorithm game! Keeping this in mind, when you start to feel the tickle of your worth, your identity, your self-esteem being tied into a social media account, is when I firmly believe it’s time for a step back.
FURTHER, I have always believed and subscribed to quality over quantity. The energy it would take to provide quality content I’m proud of at that pace is absolutely unrealistic and unattainable. And propels this idea of over-working and over-consuming with no time for BEING!
Because life doesn’t happen on social media. Not even close. The more time I spend on social media, the less time I have to: study medical Spanish, hysterically laugh with my sister about her occasional resemblance to Severus Snape when her hair is short, facetime my grandparents as they enjoy their evening wine spritzah (merlot and sprite), savor a take-out dinner from a new local restaurant, spend time with my mom or dad as they teach me medical pearls, appreciate movement and breath work through a yoga or pilates class, go to therapy, work on being anti-racist, carve out time for people in my life that really matter to me, think about how I’m going to start adding group sessions into my medical practice, research nutrition topics as they relate to medicine. THE JUICY RICH REAL LIFE STUFF! The stuff that adds joy, sometimes pain, but ultimately the real growth and evolution. That oh so very rarely happens on social media.
If I’m incessantly double tapping on social media, I simply don’t have time for things that will advance my relationships and career. And I’ve missed a lot (already) by prioritizing work and social media over humans. Something I’m always working to improve.
Not to say that every decision I make is this intentional cost benefit analysis (trust me, I’ve spent plenty of time scrolling on the toilet…). But for the most part, 80-90% of the time, I try to make it this very aware experience. Of connection, rather than comparison. Of inspiration, rather than irritation.
So now I rarely respond to comments. And the hour (sometimes two) this saves me per day leaves me time to tap back into my own stress management techniques. There are only so many hours in the day. Now that I’m working full time again, I truthfully have 1-2 hours of relaxation time for myself. So I’d rather spend this time researching for a fun new blog post. Or taking a medical Spanish class at night. Or a hip hop class! I try to get to as many DMs as possible, but it’s all about check in in with myself first! Sometimes I just really don’t have the bandwidth after an impossibly long day in healthcare…in the middle of a pandemic…and I’ve had to let myself be okay with this.
So here are some tips that I personally use to check in with myself / evaluation my relationship with social media.
- Reserve specific and intentional time to log on. Chop out the mindless scrolls. Setting boundaries is important.
- Jot down a list of what contributes to your self worth. If social media is on there, think about what that means for you. When the comparison bug starts to crawl in, return to this list and know: You. Are. So. Much. More. Than. Social. Media.
- Have something else during the day that requires your undivided attention. Especially if it means dedicated time thinking about others, even if just for a few hours.
- TAKE A BREAK FOR SAFETY’S SAKE! Again, my intention for using the app is to feel inspired and share such inspiration. When I feel passionless and uninspired, it’s time to do less, not more. Log off, take a hiatus, and remind myself WHY I’m on the app in the first place, rather than mindlessly posting another photo of avocado toast.
- Write down your BIG LIFE GOALS. When you start noticing spending a bit more time on social media, track your time spent on social (especially if it’s mindless and unintentional), and return to that list. Guarantee you start to realize how much time you could be instead devoting to growing and evolving in more meaningful ways. Some of mine are career oriented. And some are human oriented. I want to be a good friend, sister, daughter, provider, ~lover, partner. Time on social media takes time not just away from things but from people. That’s important.