Pop In & Out for Mental Health

by Shelly Mateer
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With so many people suffering from depression and anxiety disorders in the world today, lately I have been thinking a lot about some of the possible contributing factors.  Some research has found that the use of social media may contribute to depression amongst people who use it frequently.  Certainly I have noticed people becoming increasingly more agitated and mad at the world on social media.  I remember while I worked for the Central Intelligence Agency that I, for various reasons, did not use social media.  At the time I had the kind of life most people dream of, and very social media-worthy – life in a beautiful beachfront condo, international travel, plenty of interesting friends and love interests.  The highlights would have made most people drool.  Simply put, I had the sort of life one would love to brag about on social media.  But I didn’t.  And I was, for the most part, a much more content and happy person than once I invited social media into my life, years later.

These days I hardly go anywhere or do anything that would fit anyone’s description of exciting.

I scroll with dismay as YOLO proclamations and outraged shares of flawed news stories fill my feed. I can’t help but feel low when either looking with envy at others’ seemingly glamorous lives or agitated by the enraged tone of other posts.  And don’t get me wrong, I have shared a few outrageous stories and made some grouchy comments myself.

Telling yourself over and over that you are only seeing the highlight reel of people’s lives on social media can only assuage us so much.

Agitated, envious, unworthy, discouraged or just plain low – If something makes one feel this way the majority of the time, why would one continue to participate in that particular activity?

For some, social media is a necessary evil, and it can be an extremely effective tool for businesses to share their products. As a writer and small business owner, I use it quite a bit.

When the blue funk starts to creep over me or the self-righteous anger bubbles up, I turn to the method I’ve developed and adopted for freeing myself from social media. I call it the Pop-In-and-Pop-Out Strategy.

  • Limit your social media time to once a day, if not less.  If you can manage once a week or once a month, that’s even better.

  • Never linger, just scroll on by.  Keep your eyes on your own paper and don’t compare your life to what you see on the screen.

  • Reserve any comments for positivity.  A “Happy birthday” or “You look great” is encouraging and positive.

  • Never drink and Facebook.  This applies to all other forms of social media as well.  Step away from the wine, beer, vodka when scrolling.

  • Just be kind.  Try to motivate or inspire instead of dragging someone down.  You never know what anyone is really going through.

If you find, after employing the above techniques, that you are still feeling depressed after peeking at social media, try removing it completely from your life.  Go retro and do things the old-fashioned way.  Pick up the phone to catch up with friends.  Write an email, or even more old school – a letter!  Keep in touch in deeper, genuine ways instead of using a flash on a screen.

How do you eliminate that itch to mindlessly scroll through social media?  Try replacing it with something else.  One thing I do that never fails to inspire is to take free online classes.  I personally like futurelearn.com and edX.org.  Learning for one’s own sake, not learning to please people can be very uplifting.  Instead of opening that social media app and participating in soul-sucking activity you could spend time learning something you are interested in.  There are classes on everything from learning a language to writing a screenplay.  Are you interested in the Roman Empire?  There’s a class for that.  Want a little light reading about healthy eating?  They have that too.  Have you always wanted to be able to say you took a class at Harvard?  That’s an option as well.  If you are going to be online you may as well make your time useful.

The next time you find yourself mired in the social media muck, try the above suggestions.  I guarantee that you will feel your mood improve dramatically and open doors to positive change in your life.  

Shelly Mateer
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