Sharing is caring, right? At least, that's the premise behind social media when it comes to sharing pics of belly bumps and cute babies in 1-month-stickered onesies -- that people care about our lives, that we should care about sharing our day-to-day with a curated audience. But is all this sharing really caring? Is it fulfilling our basic and vital human need for connection?
Here's the thing: I'm not here to tell you one more thing you're doing wrong in this pregnancy/parenting gig -- parents get enough of those messages, thankyouverymuch. How you "do" social media is entirely up to you. What I will say is this: if you haven't looked at how your use of social media may be affecting your general well being, you might want to do so. Research has shown that over-use of and reliance on social media can cause depression, anxiety, self esteem issues, feelings of isolation, loneliness, attention span, and sleep quality. Pregnancy and parenting are stressfull enough -- you need daily habits that help alleviate that stress, not add to it!
So how do you know if your use of social media causes problems? There are a few things to consider.
Time - How much time are you spending on social media every day? Recent research shows that keeping social media usage time to 30 minutes a day can lead to better mental health outcomes (source). Many phones offer a free screen time monitoring tool, you can view your app usage under "battery," or you can download a free tracking app like Moment or RealizD. Look at the cumulative time on social media (including access from an internet browser), including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitter, and so on. If your daily time far exceeds the recommended 30 minutes, it may be time to take a closer look at why, how it's making you feel, how you can reduce, and what you can replace that time with.
Gut check - How do you feel after a Facebook scrolling sesh? How about after posting a picture of yourself/child/activity? Are you checking comments all day long? Are you spending time obsessing over how someone commented -- or how someone didn't comment? Take time to gauge how social media use makes you feel. If you're using social media off and on throughout the day, it may be difficult to assess how you feel until you take some extended time to step away from it to compare the differences.
General emotional and mental health - How are you doing? Do you have good relationships in your life? Do you feel connected to people, to purpose? How's your job? Finances? Often, excessive social media use is used as an escape to cope with life's disappointments and stress. Everyone needs an escape now and then, but if you're always escaping, you're not really coping, which means you may not be handling and addressing the important issues in your life. This can lead to mental health disorders, which are dangerous for yourself and your child. If you find yourself constantly seeking to "escape," it might be time to seek professional help through therapy or counseling.
Ok, so maybe you've done some investigating and you've found that you are using social media too much and it is impacting your life. Now what? Time for a vacation. Not a real vacation -- a tech/social media vacation. Cal Newport, Georgetown University professor and author of Digital Minimalism, suggests doing a 30-day digital declutter in which you abstain from all non-critical technology as a way to create space in your life to examine your relationship with technology, cultivate quality free-time activities, and strengthen face-to-face personal relationships. Additionally, the 30-day break allows you to revise the framework for how you use and how much you use social media when your return from the break. For example, maybe you decide you'll still use Facebook and Instagram, but quit Twitter. Or, perhaps you give yourself a set time and duration for using social media on a daily or weekly basis. Maybe you'll pare down your friends list so that your audience feels more like a close circle. Or maybe you'll find that you're better off without social media entirely. Whatever you decide, the intentional break gives you needed time and distance to evaluate and you will know that your decision for the future considers your best health.
During the Break
When you're a daily social media user, it's not enough just to say "I'm taking a break." You need to make sure you remove access (it's just too tempting to peek) by removing apps and/or blocking pages. More important, you need to figure out what you'll do when those knee-jerk impulses come to access your Facebook wall or Twitter feed. Maybe instead, at first, you check the weather instead. It will satisfy the habit of checking something, but after a short time, you'll find that knowing the up-to-the-minute weather doesn't have the same appeal as scrolling through endless memes. As your habit begins to fade, consider adding filling your new free time with quality hobbies and activities. If you're pregnant, this could be something related to pregnancy or preparing for your new baby -- or not at all, like reading for pleasure, crafting, or hiking. If you're a new parent, this could be sleep or a phone call with an adult human -- things all new parents need!
As you go about your 30-day break, check in to see how you're feeling -- what's different? What's the same? What do you love? What do you miss? This kind of input will help you decide how you'll use social media in the future.
Technology, of course, is here to stay and it's ever-evolving. Taking a look at how you use technology, like social media, doesn't mean that you should give it all up and go back to the dark ages. It means that you're being a conscious consumer, taking into consideration how and how much you consume impacts your health, just like you would consider the same for food, exercise, medicine, skin products, cleaning products, etc.
Have you ever taken a social media break? What did you notice? What did you change?