For this week’s Friday Focus, I wanted to bring you guys a flavour of the topic of the panel I was part of at Wellfest two weeks ago as a proud Kindsnacks Ambassador. Myself and my fellow four other ambassadors spoke on the importance of community, (in-person) social interaction, and minding your mental health when using social media. We got such incredibly positive feedback from everyone who came and listened (over 50 people, it was insane and very humbling!) that I couldn’t help but reflect on the topic last week. And as you guys know, when I get reflective, it’s time to sit down, write it out and make sense of those thoughts.
I’d be lying (and FYI, I’m a terrible liar) if I said that I would have the platform I do today without social media. I didn’t start this blog, my social media or my Podcast to get ‘followers’, or become an ‘influencer’ (the word makes me cringe, I’m still teasing out why!). But over time, my following has grown and although I am first and foremost a doctor (one who blogs and hosts a Podcast), I am also an influencer who does use social media to share my content and message with people. And yet, I also feel acutely aware of how time-hungry using social media can be – ever ended up down a total rabbit-hole of scrolling after ‘just logging onto Instagram for a second’? I have. In his book Digital Minimalism, author Cal Newport describes ‘the attention economy’, an approach used by technology companies to figure out how to design their apps/products/services to get as much of our attention (and therefore time) as possible. Once I read that, and started to think about the time and attention I give to work, family, friends, hobbies, down-time as a scarce commodity, I realised I didn’t want to feel like it was something commanded by social media apps on my phone.
In our panel, I shared the two positives I’ve taken from social media, and two negatives. I’m going to share them with you in this article, and with each, a tip for your own use of social media, to hopefully help you build a better relationship with your use of it. I’ve shared an article recently on the need to prioritise productivity over use of social media and the strategies I follow to do so, which you can check out too for more in depth tips and tricks I’ve found useful. This article is more about sharing a balance of the up and downsides I’ve found from social media, particularly Instagram, to give you an insight into our panel discussion. I’m hoping we might bring the topic to my Podcast soon, so stay tuned for that! I think this topic is really, really important – technology and social media updates develop faster than we can keep up with these days, and since we can’t control that process, instead we have to take responsibility over our own use of them, and how they integrate into and affect our daily lives.
Positive #1 – PEOPLE
I have used social media to meet and connect with some absolutely amazing people in REAL LIFE, many of whom are now close friends. That is, quite literally, wonderful, and there’s no other word for it. I wouldn’t have had many life experiences I have without social media, with these awesome people I’ve met. The part about Instagram that I like the most is that you can curate your feed to be what you want to see, and what you think will inspire you. I recently put a question out to my Instagram followers asking them what positives and negatives they have found from use of social media, and the most commonly reported positive was without a doubt one word – inspiration. Inspiration to try a new recipe, get more active, or just to help you see the silver lining on a crappy day. I thought that was actually really heart-warming to hear, and it definitely resonated with me. When I started yoga last year, I found Instagram hugely helpful – chatting to yoga teachers in Dublin helped me find the yoga community near me, and I’m now proudly part of it. I think that inspiration message is one of the key positives we need to focus on from our use of social media, and I’ll discuss this more in my ‘Pressure’ section below.
The bottom line and take-home tip here is this: The people and friends I have met and follow on Instagram do inspire me, everyday, and most importantly, I have met and continue to regularly SEE them in person. I’ve used ONLINE connections made through social media to cultivate OFFLINE, real-world friendships and communities. Use your ONLINE to get OFFLINE.
Positive #2 – PLATFORM
As a doctor, while training I never imagined I would be where I am today. I didn’t listen to Podcasts as a medical student, I didn’t blog, and as a teenager there was no Instagram! I used Bebo, MSN (anyone else remember those days?), and then Facebook came out when I was in college (which I now barely use!). I only began using Instagram after I graduated as a doctor from medical school, and The Irish Balance blog is only 2 and a half years young! Yet as a result of both, I have found this space and platform through which to use my voice, speak and share my message about the importance of public health and a preventive approach to medicine with a lot of people. That’s both awesome and terrifying. But either way, it wouldn’t be the case without social media. My Instagram allows me to direct people to my weekly Friday Focus article, my recipes, my Podcast, events and more. However, although I’m grateful for how Instagram has helped me develop this platform, I’m acutely aware that it could be gone in the morning. That’s the nature of the world we live in – Facebook was the most popular for a few years, and now its Instagram. It’ll be something else next. It’s why I invest so much time in my blog and Podcast (aside from genuinely absolutely loving creating the content) – if Instagram was gone tomorrow I would have both of those through which to keep communicating my message to you guys following.
Take home tip: If, like me, you are a person who uses social media to share a message, or a particular type of content, be aware of the usefulness of it to do so, Instagram especially – but also be mindful of the fact that if these apps disappeared overnight, a back-up plan is going to come in handy.
Negative #1 – PRODUCTIVITY
I’ve spoken quite a bit in a recent article about how much of a time warp social media can be, so I won’t re-hash the point too much. Suffice it to say that both scrolling, and having social media phone notifications on, are two aspects of using these apps that contribute towards a LOT of time wasting. I cut out scrolling last year, and turned off all of my notifications around the same time. It’s been a game-changer. I do watch certain people’s Instagram Stories if I’m on the app sharing my own content, but I do not scroll. I can’t tell you how much time stopping this mindless activity gives you back. The same goes for notifications. We do not need to know the instant someone has liked our latest post, or commented on a Tweet. By turning off notifications you’re taking back some control over your use of social media – you might still find yourself checking into the apps more than you’d like, but at least that’s on your own time, and it’s still a step forward.
Take home tip: If you haven’t already, turn off your social media notifications, + STOP SCROLLING. Your time is precious. You have important things to do in this world. Scrolling through a curated social media highlight reel of posts won’t get that done for you.
Negative #2 – PRESSURE
From a personal perspective, as an influencer of sorts (cringe, as I said), I do feel a pressure to post everyday. But I’m working on that constantly, and in fact, over the last year especially, I think I’ve beaten back that pressure pretty frickin’ well. I used to feel SUCH pressure to post when I was working at the hospital and my following was growing – often I wouldn’t use my social media until the end of the day, and would feel a bit overwhelmed with trying to catch up with the happenings on it. When I started out using Instagram, I definitely posted WAY too much, and over time, particularly after some really insightful conversations with a couple of close friends, I’ve realised the importance of quality over quantity as regards my content. Now, I post only once a day, and although I do tend to stick to that, I don’t overthink it. I prefer to share my posts in the morning, and then go about my own busy day, but again, that’s not a hard and fast rule. Sticking to this ‘one per day’ principle has definitely allowed me to hone my message as a doctor promoting public health and a preventive approach to healthcare, and in fact, I’ve seen people engage with my posts so much more as a result, which is awesome.
The other pressure we ALL feel stems from COMPARISON. Ever exit Instagram feeling worse about yourself than when you entered? Yes, me too. That’s why I stopped scrolling. We need to always, always remember that social media is a highlight reel. Posts shared are curated, filtered, edited photos that represent, more often that not, the ‘best bits’ of our day to day lives. When you think about it, the whole idea is such a bizarre phenomenon of the modern world we live in, as is the concept of Instagram stories, but I digress. We need to STOP comparing ourselves to what we see online. If we were all the same – lived the same, ate the same, looked the same, did the same things everyday – how incredibly boring would that be?! We also have to ALWAYS remember that literally EVERYONE has chapters of the story of their life that they do not want, or need, to read out loud.
I went through a major break up last year, and I didn’t share one iota of that process online. Why would I?! It was a personal event in my life, a loss, and 100% irrelevant as regards the content I share as a doctor. More importantly, social media wasn’t going to help me get through a break-up. Family, friendships, talking it out, going for (a lot) of long walks and doing (a lot) of yoga – all in the real world, with real people, OFFLINE – that was my cure. It is so, so important to disentangle when in your life social media is exactly what you DON’T need. It’s even more important that we remember to UNFOLLOW any accounts that do not make our headspace a positive one. I’ve done this, several times over the years I’ve used Instagram in particular, and trust me, it makes a big, big difference.
Take home point: Remember the first positive? People, and inspiration. If you want to maximise that aspect of your social media use, it starts with who you follow, and therefore what pops up into your feed. Recipes, exercise ideas, evidence-based health messages, inspirational journeys and quotes – take your pick, mix it up, but keep it positive. If it makes you feel worse about yourself – get ruthless, and get rid of it.
And that gang is a wrap! As always, I would love to hear from you guys on this topic – what positives and negatives has social media brought you? Do you have tips and tricks you use to take back control over your use of these apps? Drop me a line here, or a message on Instagram (@theirishbalance), or email! Have an awesome week.
Ciara 🙂 x